The Nelson Mandela Foundation is hosting the exhibition, Struggle T-shirts: Public Testimony and Political Protest. The exhibition is curated by Frances Andrew and draws on the extensive South African History Archive collection of struggle T-shirts.
The notion of using a T-shirt as a way of making a political statement first came into prominence in South Africa during the anti-apartheid movement, and “struggle T-shirts” were worn not only at rallies and political events, but also at funerals, where special designs were created to celebrate the life and legacy of deceased leaders, and at the release of those leaders who were serving sentences in apartheid jails.
Calls for the release of Mandela and others were emblazoned on many T-shirts both in South Africa and the world.
Described by Andrew as “a political imperative for which the physical self was willingly placed in direct danger in order to resist”, the struggle T-shirt was used particularly to unite activists during mass protests by organisations such as the United Democratic Front, civic associations and workers’ unions.
However, outside of political protests and rallies these T-shirts also become ordinary, everyday pieces of clothing, which, as Andrew explains, is where “the true power of the T-shirt was activated”.
The exhibition had its inaugural showing at the Kalashnikovv Gallery in Braamfontein in November 2018. It will be on show at the Nelson Mandela Foundation until 12 March 2019.
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