Stellenbosch University
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Exhibitions celebrate freedom and democracy
Author: Bongani Mgijima
Published: 21/05/2014

​​​​Stellenbosch University Museum, in close cooperation with the Nelson Mandela Museum, is currently hosting two exhibitions.

The exhibitions, entitled Dear Mr Mandela, Dear Mrs Parks: Children's Letters, Global Lessons and Freedom XX: 20 Pieces of Democracy, will be on at the Museum until 31 December 2014.

The official opening will take place on Wednesday 28 May at 18:00.

The two exhibitions form part of the University-wide celebrations of 20 Years of Freedom, coordinated by Stellenbosch University's Centre for Inclusivity.

The exhibitions also form part of the University Museum's observation of International Museums Day, which is celebrated world-wide on 18 May each year.

The theme of this year's International Museum Day is 'Museum collections make connections'.


Dear Mr Mandela, Dear Mrs Parks: Children's Letters, Global Lessons is a travelling exhibition on loan from the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.

The inspiration for this exhibition came from the hundreds of children around the world who wrote letters to Nelson Mandela and the late Rosa Parks, both internationally renowned for their work in human rights.

The letters reveal why children revere Mandela and Parks, and also highlight young people's desire for guidance and understanding about life.

Dear Mr Mandela, Dear Mrs Parks: Children's Letters, Global Lessons highlights Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks' devotion to freedom, democracy and emancipation. The exhibition raises greater public understanding of the parallels in the struggles for equality and justice in the United States and South Africa through the letters of children.

Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela shared many values and goals, and both cared deeply about youth. Mandela met Parks in Detroit, Michigan, in 1990 when he toured the United States after his release from prison.

The exhibition was developed when the Michigan State University Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum were awarded one of the first four grants from a new programme of the American Association of Museums, Washington, DC, and the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The grants are designed to strengthen connections between people in the US and abroad through museum-based exchanges.

A replica of the exhibition opened in the United States in January 2010 on the occasion of Martin Luther King's birthday and is now travelling through the breadth and width of America. 


The Freedom XX: 20 Pieces of Democracy exhibition is curated by the staff of the University Museum. Each of the 11 staff members (with the exclusion of the Director) was asked to select an artwork or artworks that, in his/her opinion, represented the period 1994–2014. To add more interactivity, they are inviting visitors and members of the public to democratically vote for the artworks of their choice in this exhibition.

By freeing up the curatorial space to traditionally non-curatorial staff and members of the public, this exhibition challenges the monologic authority of the museum to speak on behalf of everybody. The exhibition not only invites members of staff to speak up but extends this rare curatorial privilege to members of the public as part of celebrating twenty years of our vibrant democracy.