Mandela: Struggle for Freedom

Thursday, 10 October 2019 10:00 – Tuesday, 07 January 2020 13:00
Location: Meridian Arts Centre, 5040 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Category: Art Exhibit


Nelson Mandela’s fight for freedom showcased in new exhibition

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom - a major exhibition developed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg in collaboration with the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa – will open in Toronto at the Meridian Arts Centre (formerly the Toronto Centre for the Arts).  Currently on exhibition in Winnipeg, Mandela: Struggle for Freedom opens in Toronto October 10, 2019.

A rich sensory experience of imagery, soundscape, digital media and objects, Mandela: Struggle for Freedom explores Nelson Mandela’s fight for justice and human dignity in South Africa. At Robben Island Prison, a former leper colony and animal-quarantine station off Cape Town, Nelson Mandela – Prisoner 466/64 – was kept by South Africa’s white-supremacist regime for eighteen years.  Among the exhibitions many dramatic visual features and original artifacts is a replica of Mandela's eight-foot by seven-foot prison cell. 

Born 101 years ago (b. July 18, 1918, Mvezo, South Africa, d. 2013), Nelson Mandela was one of the most famous human rights defenders of the 20th century and the face of a movement against racial injustice that rocked the world.  In 2009, in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 18 "Nelson Mandela International Day."

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom looks at Nelson Mandela and the movement that formed around him. Follow Mandela into hiding after he is declared an outlaw. Experience the bittersweet joy of his release, after 27 long years of imprisonment. Finally, witness South Africa’s first democratic elections, and find out about Mandela’s efforts to rebuild a nation shattered by racism and injustice. In addition, you can take a stand in front of a replica of a giant armoured vehicle, make a virtual protest poster on a digital light table, and enter a secret apartment for freedom fighters forced underground.

Nelson Mandela is one of only five people to be made honorary Canadian citizens and he travelled to Canada just a few months after his historic 1990 release from prison to thank Canadians for their continued support.

“Nelson Mandela forged a strong relationship with Toronto through his multiple visits,” said TO Live president and CEO Clyde Wagner, “We are honoured to be given the responsibility to present the exhibit, Mandela: Struggle for Freedom immediately following it’s extended engagement at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.”

Highlights of Mandela: Struggle for Freedom include:

  • Five zones – Apartheid, Defiance, Repression, Mobilization and Freedom – house interactive exhibits, artifacts and objects, oral histories, video and art. Each zone corresponds to a different colour of the South African flag, adopted with the first democratic elections of 1994 to symbolize unity. Visitors start with the stark black-and-white of apartheid oppression and end in the full living colour of freedom.

  • A five-metre-high "wall of laws" is covered with signs and laws, based solely on skin colour, which dictated how people had to live their lives, including where they could go and what they could do under South Africa's former system of apartheid. Apartheid was used as a system of racial segregation and labour exploitation, imposing control on all aspects of life – as evidenced by the number and diversity of laws. A replica bench at the exhibition's entrance sets the tone by inviting "Europeans only" to sit.

  • The scene of young Mandela's famous first TV interview in 1961 in a clandestine apartment location is recreated in front of the actual film footage of the then-42-year-old lawyer’s interview with British reporter Brian Widlake.  At this time, freedom fighters are moving underground. A "covert" area in this gallery zone features hidden objects and peek holes.

  • A tiny prison cell with rear-projection scrim walls comes alive with silhouettes of Mandela moving about in his daily routine, then relays a story of continued resistance in the face of repression. Visitors are exposed to the dehumanizing conditions of Robben Island, the tools of hard labour, the censored letters, the meagre contents of the cell, and a little-known plot to escape.

  • Tanks against trash-can lids: Music, rhythmic toyi-toyi dancing, and rich "schwe-schwe" fabrics enliven the story of action and uprising. A massive, tank-like truck emerges from one wall, where visitors can grab a trash-can lid as their only protection, like students had done during the Soweto Uprising.

  • Original artifacts include a battered ballot box used in the country's first democratic elections in 1994 when Mandela became president; a letter in Mandela's own hand, sent from prison to a union leader involved in anti-apartheid mobilization; a notepad Mandela used during negotiations for democracy; and a message Mandela wrote in the Canadian Senate during a visit shortly after his release from prison in 1990.

  • In-gallery activities include a virtual poster-making station on a digital touchscreen table, with the ability to project your poster among others displayed in the exhibit (this can also be done online). Poster-making was a major part of the South African community resistance. People with few resources would gather to make inspiring posters that called people to action and solidarity in the struggle. Hundreds of examples still exist.

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom at the Meridian Arts Centre received financial assistance from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, a program of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, administered by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund Corporation.

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was generously supported by The Asper Foundation, TD Bank Group, Travel Manitoba and Air Canada.


Mandela: Struggle for Freedom

October 10, 2019 – January 7, 2020

Exclusive Media Preview: Thursday, October 10, 10AM

Officially opens Thursday, October 10, 1PM

Exhibition hours: Tuesday & Wednesday1PM – 6PMThursday – Sunday10AM – 6PM

Meridian Arts Centre, 5040 Yonge Street

General Admission Tickets: $10 • $5 (students)


Tickets for all TO Live events are available online at www.ticketmaster.ca, by calling 1-855-872-7669, or in person at the following TO Live box offices:

St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts Box Office 27 Front St. E.,

Monday-Friday, 12pm – 6pm

Toronto Centre for the Arts Box Office, 5040 Yonge St.,

Tuesday-Saturday 1pm - 6pm


Ticketmaster phone lines operate 9:30am – 8pm Monday to Saturday, 12pm to 8pm Sundays and holidays. On-line sales operate 24 hours per day.

The exhibition will be closed December 24-25, 2019 and January 1, 2020

Schedule is subject to change.


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