Sunglasses: The controversial Nelson Mandela memorial

Posted by James on 1st Dec 2014

I want to start with a question today: Who do you think is being honored, when you see the above artwork? 

Here are some clues.

  1. The memorial depicts a giant, stainless steel pair of Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. 
  2. The memorial is in honor of an incredible man.
  3. The title of the memorial is Perceiving Freedom.
  4. The memorial is located in South Africa, on Cape Town's waterfront. 
  5. It overlooks Robben Island.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, the answer is Nelson Mandela. 

A very controversial choice

As you may also have guessed, the memorial to the great man has divided opinion. Most people have said that it's an inappropriate memorial. After all, when we think of the life of Nelson Mandela, designer sunglasses isn't something that immediately comes to mind.

The artist, Michael Elion, says the memorial, which features clear lenses is intended to: "symbolize the invisible barriers and prejudices that exist in our perceptions and shape the way we view the world."

Ironically, Nelson Mandela's eyesight was damaged beyond repair from over exposure to wind and sun, during almost 3 decades incarcerated in Robben Island prison.

Of course, art is often too abstract for the general population. However, I believe it's totally understandable that people are frustrated, that their beloved former leader is being memorialized in this way.

And finally

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Photo credit: Michael Elion