POP-UP Mandela exhibition in 67 minutes by UP Museums

Posted on July 29, 2022

The University of Pretoria (UP) Museums dedicated 67 minutes on 18 July 2022 to plan, install, display and deinstall, a spontaneous pop-up exhibition of three artworks of Mandela within the Institution’s collections.

The time was marked to share the life of the late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013) and showcased the exquisite works of one of the world’s greatest icons. The museum team had to creatively think out of the box and produce an exhibition in his honour within only 67 minutes. A pop-up exhibition such as this one, is a unique temporary exhibition, mostly in a public setting, where anyone in the space can engage with the exhibited work- unplanned. In this exhibition, the university moved works in its collection outside of its permanent galleries. According to the UP Museum Curator, Lelani Nicolaisen, “a pop-up exhibition (similar to a flash mob) usually happens mostly beyond the confines of a museum or gallery setting, where art is displayed for a very limited time to make a strong statement, to draw people’s attention or to celebrate something or someone.” This Mandela day pop-up exhibition for 2022 was the first ever done at UP.

With the pop-up exhibition for Mandela Day, three sculptures were exhibited from the Art Collection by South African artists. Namely, Zelda Stroud’s, Nelson Mandela (2017), Mike Edward’s, Nelson Mandela I (1998) and the most iconic work of Mandela with open-stretched hands by the sculptors, Ruhan Janse van Vuuren and Andre Prinsloo, 2013 titled President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 1918-2013. This work is in fact, a smaller version or pre-study of the statue of 9-metre high bronze Madiba at the Union Buildings. The statue is of Madiba with his arms outstretched is to symbolise his embrace of the whole nation. One of his legs is in front of the other is to indicate a nation on the move- UP is proud to have this smaller version in its art collection. Interestingly enough, the Madiba sculpture at UP with the outstretched hands does not exhibit a rabbit in his inner ear.

This  67-minute challenge was not only the time-set for a spontaneous pop-up exhibition but was intentionally installed outside the usual gallery setting among the garden landscape, smack bang in the middle of the walkway and with passer-byes admiring a quirky display and flurry of curation. Physical security presence, conservation measures for handling, care and display were employed and the exhibition was deliberately set up with plinths, and design in mind, although it was UP recess and campus is quiet- the pop-up exhibition caught the attention of UP staff. 

This creative flow of museum curation to mark Mandela Day for 2022 was fun and at the same time is a reminder of a remarkable man who was filled with curiosity and how UP’s collections are openly available and accessible to engage that same curiosity about art. 

You can come to view the works of Mandela at the UP Museums by emailing [email protected] or browse the Old Arts Building and Merensky Building museum galleries. View the stop motion of the pop-up Mandela exhibition on our UP Museums Instagram page.

Published by Lelani van den Berg

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