By Shepard FAIREY

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1989 

was a historical turning point for South Africa and the world...

At the close of the '80's the world was riven with a number of major political and cultural paradigm shifts, including: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, The Tiananmen Square massacre and the introduction of the World Wide Web.

 

In the midst of this unfolding history – In Cape Town, South Africa – a group of Anti-Apartheid protesters marched peacefully on Parliament. They were stopped by Riot Police armed with tear gas, batons, whips, attack dogs and a new weapon — a water cannon filled with purple dye to mark the demonstrators for arrest. In a moment of wild political theatre, one bold protester took control of the purple cannon, turned it on the Police and sprayed them purple.

The next day an iconic piece of graffiti appeared declaring “The Purple Shall Govern”, a clever pun on the key phrase of the Freedom Charter: “The People Shall Govern.” The incident became known as the "Purple Rain Protest”, and it marked a turning point:

 

  • It was the last time the Apartheid government used force to suppress political dissent

  • A week later, Bishop Desmond Tutu, in purple robes, led 30 000 people in the 'Peace March'; The authorities did not stop it

  • Four months later, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years imprisonment

  • Four years later he became President of the new democratic South Africa

It was a masterpiece of Street Art with a powerful though unintended message. The police “painted” the protestors purple. Then the protestors painted the police purple. The result blurred all distinctions of ethnicity, sex, religion, and politics erasing the line between police and protestors further blurring distinctions of race and power the authorities were trying to enforce. Everyone, whether protestor or police, white or black, was indistinguishable: only their common humanity was visible. Everyone was equal.

Shepard Fairey's artwork pays tribute to Nelson Mandela and was inspired by the 1989 Purple Rain Protests, a vivid milestone in South Africa’s historic liberation struggle. The artwork is now available for the first time as a limited edition serigraph.

 

A percentage of the proceeds goes to benefit the Nelson Mandela legacy organizations.