Mandela27: A DIY Physical/Digital Installation Across the European Union and South Africa

Jacqueline Cawston, David Powell (Other), Nomatashayina Mfecoe (Other), Werner Ravyse (Other)

    Research output: Practice-Based and Non-textual ResearchExhibition


    Mandela27 is an open source physical/digital hybrid DIY installation. Funded by the EU Creative Culture Fund, it was a collaboration between EU and South African partners based on the iconic story of Nelson Mandela and the globally recognised Robben Island Museum, the aim was to increase awareness of the story of Nelson Mandela and his struggle for freedom and equality.
    The installation involved as its central theme a physical, pop-up, replica display made of the same dimensions as Nelson Mandela’s Cell on Robben Island, where he was incarcerated for most of his 27 years of imprisonment (1963-1990). It was created simply from local wood and metal and housed several screens linked to the digital platform which included a 360 view, videoed interviews of a political prisoner and a prison guard; a crowd sourced timeline, images from the UWC Robben Island Museum Archives; instructions on how to build your own Mandela27 pop-up cell; and a digital game about life at Robben Island Prison.
    The research aim was to take Mandela27 outside the museum institution and re-create it in what may be termed as ‘democratic DIY cultural spaces’ grounded in the community to provoke debate and discourse, set in the context of museum learning and the impact of digital media. Using the DIY installation as the key we enabled otherwise marginalised communities to engage with historical and political content in digital form through their own traditional and disruptive media curation, adapting the installation to new contexts and locations.
    The project was disseminated globally, the DIY installation toured across the UK, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and South Africa. The cell was re-created in a wide variety of venues from Brussels City Hall and the Mandela Museum to libraries in Sweden and sports halls in the Townships in South Africa. At the end of the project it was visited by over 170,000 people across six countries at thirty-seven venues with nineteen of those venues in South Africa.

    Supporting Statement
    Research on Robben Island into the life of Nelson Mandela and the informal learning adopted at Robben Island Prison by the political prisoners during the struggle to end apartheid greatly influenced the team and was translated into the installation. The research questions were framed around: access to heritage through DIY flexible hackable spaces; the ability to create meaning by selecting objects, both physical and digital, from the project resources in order to re-create the history of political struggles; and how this allowed the installation to exist as a cultural space of debate both within and outside the institution.
    Any relatively recent national political struggle can be a touchstone for anger and high emotions, Apartheid, however, is a particularly sensitive and emotive subject to discuss with communities in South Africa. The team therefore had to find a way to present the information and allow Mandela27 to provoke discourse, discussion and examination of the past using the physical and digital objects within the installation.
    We showed that it is possible to take digital archives and museum collections out into the real world, to transpose them into culturally sensitive and context specific pop-up environments, which become more accessible to local communities. This socio-cultural learning not only increased the knowledge of the community about their heritage but increased their resonance and influence. This gave rise to the possibility that 'hacking the museum' is a more democratic and suitable way of presenting cultural history in a postdigital era.
    Mandela27 succeeded in changing attitudes to equality and racial prejudice through school and college installations facilitated by: instructions on how to build your own Mandela27 pop-up cell; a digital platform, plus posters and teacher notes. It was disseminated widely with over 70 press and broadcast articles engaging the public. Impact was created when the Mandela27 physical/digital model was replicated in the Photomediations Flatpack Exhibition (Shaw, 2016), and in the Disruptive Media Learning Lab Busted mobile lab. Mandela27 was also the inspiration for the EU project Grandmas Story which used the concept of flexible pop up exhibitions to tell the stories of migrant families across the EU.

    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherCoventry University
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2016
    EventMandela27 - Brussels, Brussels City Hall, Belgium
    Duration: 10 Jan 201630 Oct 2017

    Additional Information

    Exhibited in:
    Belgium, Brussels Town Hall. BELLvue Gallery, SA Museum National Library in Praetoria
    South Africa
    Half page in the Guardian, 26 Press releases, TV in UK and South Africa


    • Mandela
    • Exhibition
    • DIY
    • pop-up
    • Cultural
    • Heritage
    • Flexible Mobile


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