Nelson Mandela
1918–2013, b. Mvezo, South Africa
The Limestone Quarry
Pastel on paper
Gift of Cary J. Frieze, in memory of his parents Rose and George Frieze, who encouraged his love of all visual and performing arts, with additional support from of the family of Nelson Mandela, 2019-20-1

He changed it all.

While the stones of Robben Island brutalized his body, Mandela also used them as a site to expand the mind. Mandela was forced to work daily in a limestone quarry, where the searing glare from the white stones eventually damaged his eyesight. On the island, Mandela was almost wholly cut off physically from the outside world. Yet, using texts smuggled in from the mainland, he established “The University,” through which the prisoners taught a range of subjects—including art—to each other.
Despite his decades of internal exile, the memory of Mandela—the lawyer, the activist organizer of civil disobedience campaigns, the militant leader of the armed struggle, the imprisoned martyr—lived on in South Africans’ imaginations. Upon his release, the political platform that those decades of memories provided helped to lift Mandela into the negotiations to establish democracy in South Africa—and, eventually, into the presidency.
Upon his retirement from the presidency, Mandela took up drawing in charcoal, crayon, and pastel, in part as a personal means of reflecting upon his tumultuous and consequential life. This drawing, created upon a return visit to Robben Island after leaving power in 1999, is part of a series of 22 sketches from 2002 that reflect upon scenes of his homeland and memories of the struggle that transformed it.

Unidentified photographer, Nov. 28, 2013
WikiMedia Commons

Lime quarry on Robben Island. The pile of stones was created by Nelson Mandela and other ex-political prisoners upon their return. The cave (on left) is where prisoners were able to speak in private.


  • Title: The Limestone Quarry
  • Creator: Nelson Mandela
  • Date Created: 2002
  • Location Created: Robben Island, South Africa

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