Jonathan Burton

Is it thorny prison bars or the South African leader's profile? Depends on where you stand.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Nelson Mandela, South Africa unveiled this monument last month on a highway near Howick, some 60 miles south of Durban. It marks the site where Mandela, traveling under the pseudonym David Motsamayi, was stopped and arrested in August 1962. He spent the next 27 years in prison before being released in 1990, and became South Africa's first democratically elected president four years later.

Designed by Marco Cianfanelli, the sculpture is composed of 50 steel rods rising over 30 feet into the air from a cement base. To a passersby, it resembles an array of thorny prison bars, before showing, at the proper angle, the contours of Mandela's face, and then sliding back into abstraction. It's not urban, but it's a great example of public art that uses perspective and place to its advantage.

Photo credit: Brendan Copestake

All images, except where noted: Jonathan Burton.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Warren Logan
    Transportation

    A City Planner Makes a Case for Rethinking Public Consultation

    Warren Logan, a Bay Area transportation planner, has new ideas about how to truly engage diverse communities in city planning. Hint: It starts with listening.

  2. an aerial view of Los Angeles shows the complex of freeways, new construction, familiar landmarks, and smog in 1962.
    Transportation

    The Problem With Amazon’s Cheap Gas Stunt

    The company promoted its TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a day of throwback 1959-style prices in Los Angeles. What could go wrong?

  3. an illustration depicting a map of the Rio Grande river
    Maps

    Between Texas and Mexico, a Restless Border Defies the Map

    In El Paso, we call it the Rio Grande; our neighbors in Juárez know it as Río Bravo. It’s supposed to be a national border, but the river had its own ideas.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. An illustration of a turtle with a city on its shell
    Transportation

    Why Speed Kills Cities

    U.S. cities are dropping urban speed limits in an effort to boost safety and lower crash rates. But the benefits of less-rapid urban mobility don’t end there.  

×