Did you know that freedom is not free?
When I was visiting a friend in Australia almost a decade ago, I happened upon the Touch of Mandela Gallery in The Rocks, a touristy, historic part of Sydney. The small art gallery was set up as a temple to Nelson Mandela’s sketches-turned-into-lithographs of the years as a prisoner on Robben Island. I could afford only the postcard reprints, but I am glad that I still have them (and could recall where I had tucked them away for safe keeping!)
He drew these sketches 12 years after his release from prison. The drawings are uncluttered and precise, drawn by a man who had 27 years to sit in a small room and contemplate things, like shading, lines and scale.
As Nelson Mandela has reached his 95th year on earth and his health ailing, I think about him quite often these days. He is a symbol for our time (despite what his detractors may assert) as his philosophy that men and women, regardless of color or creed, be treated like men and women, nothing more and nothing less, resonates deeply for all of us.
Mandela’s long and twisted relationship with his country, first as a prisoner and then as its leader, makes me think about the Koreans who fought and died for their country often at the hands of their own government. Through invasion and colonization, they died so that their descendants would live in a world where free will would triumph over the tyranny, whim, and violence of a cruel ruling class.
I think about Korea’s Tonghak (eastern learning) movement of the 19th century and its creator, Ch’oe Che-U, who taught his followers that “all human beings are equal before the Heavenly Lord…gentry, peasants, and slaves are all the same in their essential nature” (Oh, 1955), and championed “a new pride in national identity” in the face of both western and Japanese imperialism (Muyurama, 1935).
The soil is deep-red saturated with their blood, but they would tell you that this was a small price to pay.
All he dreams about is the freedom of the nation
When every man will be equal in the eyes of the law
As he closes his eyes
For the last time he said again
I’m still here in the house of exile
For the love of the nation
––Lucky Dube, “House of Exile”