Bonhams and Nifty Gateway to auction off Mandela NFT series

By Raffaele Redi

If all the pieces sell, the NFT series could fetch more than $40m

The Cell, Mandela NFT sample                                 
Five of the six NFTs feature Nelson Mandela’s own emotive watercolours – Photo: Bonhams

London-based auction house Bonhams is launching the first NFTs featuring Nelson Mandela's emotive watercolour paintings, in partnership with Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe Mandela and NFT platform Nifty Gateway.

The dedicated sale, called ‘Nelson Mandela’s My Robben Island’, is scheduled to take place at Bonhams’ flagship auction house on New Bond Street, London, on Wednesday 9 March, and will see the auction of six different NFTs featuring Mandela’s artwork.

The six NFTs will be sold for $699 each, while the auction house will offer the whole set for a discounted price of $3,495. The auction house has limited the maximum number of sets to 10,000, according to demand – meaning the auction could garner over $40m if all of the NFTs are sold.

Nelson Mandela stepped down as president of South Africa on 16 June 1999. Following his retirement, he turned to making art as a therapeutic activity, producing a series of watercolour sketches that depicted his imprisonment on Robben Island.

Bonhams, which has previously sold artworks by Nelson Mandela in physical form, told that the drop will be a one-off, with no other series planned for the future.

Makaziwe Mandela commented: “NFTs are an exciting way to democratise art, and I’m delighted to share my father’s legacy in new forms.”

Giles Peppiatt, director for modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams, said: “Nelson Mandela is quite simply an icon whose life is a source of strength and inspiration to millions of people throughout the world.”

The NFT collection

The NFT edition of ‘My Robben Island’ consists of six items, all signed by Mandela. There are five original watercolour paintings, plus The Motivation – a text written by Mandela that details his reasons for visualising the harsh realities of his 18-year incarceration on the island.

“‘The Cell’ depicts the interior of the prison cell that Nelson Mandela occupied during his imprisonment on Robben Island. In ‘The Window’, Mandela illustrates the view from the window of his cell on Robben Island,” said the Bonhams curators. “‘The Lighthouse’ depicts the lighthouse which warned passing ships of the dangers of Robben Island’s treacherous shores, while in ‘The Church’, the Robben Island church is the beating heart of Mandela’s sketch.“

“Finally, ‘The Motivation’ quotes Mandela saying: “[i]t is true that Robben Island was once a place of darkness, but out of that darkness has come a wonderful brightness, a light so powerful that it could not be hidden behind prison walls, held back by prison bars or hemmed in by the surrounding sea.”

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