Behind the Scenes at Houston’s “Mandela: Struggle for Freedom” Exhibit

by Abimbola Farinde on December 2, 2020 in Entertainment, Houston,

The landmark exhibition, “Mandela: Struggle for Freedom,” is on view until January 3, 2021 at the Holocaust Museum Houston’s Lester and Sue Smith Campus. The visually stunning exhibit focuses on the fight for social justice and human rights that was the core of Nelson Mandela’s mission.

Conceived by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and South Africa’s Apartheid Museum, work on the exhibition spanned over three years and took museum staff to South Africa a number of times. “Mandela: Struggle for Freedom” launched in 2018, which marked the centenary of President Mandela’s birth, and is being presented in the United States for the first time at Holocaust Museum Houston.

The Mandela exhibition at Holocaust Museum Houston runs through January 3, 2021. Courtesy photo

We spoke with Dr. Kelly Zúñiga, CEO of Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’ Isabelle Masson, curator of the exhibition, to find about the extensive work, dedication and passion that went into creating this rich experience and bringing it the Greater Houston area.

Why did it take approximately two years for the Holocaust Museum Houston to host this exhibit? 

Kelly Zúñiga: The exhibition had to complete its run at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg, Canada first and then be prepared and structured as a traveling exhibition which all takes time.

PhotoJessica Sigurdson, courtesy the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

What spurred the collaboration between CMHR and the Apartheid Museum of Johannesburg, South Africa to create this exhibit?

Isabelle Masson: The CEO of the Apartheid Museum, Christopher Till, visited CMHR for its inauguration in 2014. The idea of partnering to present an exhibition on Nelson Mandela at our own museum quickly gained interest.

Our goal at CMHR was to create an exhibition that would encourage reflection and dialogue on human rights, be broadly accessible to North American audiences and have resonance in current context.

How relevant is Nelson Mandela today in this country?

Isabelle Masson: Mandela led a decade-long struggle against racial oppression in South Africa, a struggle that many joined in Canada and the United States. We believe that this story still is of much relevance to our world today.

The visually stunning exhibit focuses on the fight for social justice and human rights that was the core of Nelson Mandela’s mission.
Photo courtesy Holocaust Museum Houston

What do you hope patrons will take with them from this exhibit? 

Kelly Zúñiga: How precious our human rights are and how easily they can be taken away if individuals do not act as upstanders and speak out against these injustices.  Also, the importance of truth and reconciliation, and forgiveness, in moving forward from the atrocities of the past.

Isabelle Masson: The exhibition encourages visitors to reflect about past and current struggles against racial oppression. We hope that the exhibition will inspire and motivate visitors to take action for change in their own communities.

Photo Graeme Williams, courtesy the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Prior to this exhibit, have there been any other exhibits that have exemplified the same core message of social justice, human rights and freedom?

Kelly Zúñiga: Yes, we featured the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition “Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields / Revolución en los Campos” which shares the compelling story of legendary activist and leader Dolores Huerta and the farm workers movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. It is a quintessentially an American tale of struggle and sacrifice, of courage and victory. In her life as a communicator, organizer, lobbyist, contract negotiator, teacher, and mother, Huerta’s unparalleled leadership skills helped dramatically improve the lives of farm workers. that highlighted her own personal lifetime journey in fighting for farm workers and their human rights.

What is coming up at Holocaust Museum Houston?

Kelly Zúñiga: Our next traveling exhibition focuses on “Stories of Survival” (January 29-April 18, 2021) where Houston survivors are highlighted and their stories. A LatinX juried art exhibit will be available April 30-September 27, 2021, followed by the traveling exhibition, “Blacklist: the Hollywood Red Scare” from October 2021-February 2022.

Cover photo courtesy Holocaust Museum Houston

Abimbola Farinde is a healthcare professional and educator. She serves as a freelance writer and enjoys writing on a variety of topics that include health care, mental health, Houston lifestyle and much more.