IN THE beginning, a room full of posters seemed like an awkward format for an exhibition – one which might not immediately connect with the observer’s sense of their depth and meaning – at face value that is.

Once I delved a little more in the context of the posters, via introductions available on the Creative Week website, my understanding of the origin and the concept of the exhibition deepened: to appreciate what the many powerful faces of Mandela depicted in the 95 Mandela Poster Project represent.

In May 2013, a collaboration of South African designers conceptualised the idea to celebrate Madiba’s life by, “collecting 95 Posters from around the world, honouring [his] lifelong contribution to humanity.”

The independent team, known as The Mandela Poster Project Collective, contributed their time and artistic skills to achieve their tribute to a life rarely as universally celebrated.

The 95 posters, representing each of the years of Madiba’s life, were curated by South African Breweries for exhibit around the world – for appreciation as broad as the legacy of the great man’s reach. On that spinning globe of “stops” the Athenaeum was pin-dropped the opportunity to showcase these internationally recognized posters, right here in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The idea that each of these posters was created by individuals from around the world – each artist having their own relationship with Mandela’s legacy and his contribution to our country’s heritage – offers a profound sense of how one man moved so many. When observed closely for understanding beneath surface level, one can actually see, the different origin countries’ artistic signatures within the pictures, their own unique depiction of who Madiba was to them.

Kay Swarts, a Numb City Productions and Athenaeum intern viewed the exhibition as an outsider, I wanted to see what an everyday person would see viewing the posters for the first time. “While walking amongst the posters, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that Nelson Mandela is no longer physically with us anymore.  The fact that he has touched so many lives and made such a difference, here in South Africa and abroad, makes me think of how my own life will be experienced by others and whether it will it will leave meaning to them.”

Following their travel worldwide, the exceptional posters were eventually auctioned by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust to raise funds and bought by the SABS Foundation. To have them here in Nelson Mandela Bay elevates the city’s art industry status credibility. Hosting this exhibition is a new platform for recognition. The Athenaeum’s opening night guest speaker, Monde Ngonyama couldn’t have said it more aptly, as a well-respected leader in the arts industry: “It makes us proud to fund institutions that are functional. Today honoring Mandela, we further need to be proud of knowing that he never gave up on the good that he was.”

Mandelas “good” has a ripple effect it seems – one felt worldwide – and belonging to, “the Ages” as another great man put it.

-By Sibongile Sontsonga