Mandela: The Official Exhibition

Exhibit at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation®

  • October 21, 2023-January 15, 2024
  • Time: 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
  • Location: The Gallery by General Motors

Free for members or with museum admission.

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Mandela: The Official Exhibition takes guests on a personal journey through the life of the world’s most iconic freedom fighter and political leader, Nelson Mandela.

An immersive and interactive experience, the exhibition features previously unseen film, photos and the display of over 150 historical artifacts and personal effects on loan from the Mandela family, museums and archives worldwide. Through a series of immersive zones — each one a dramatically different experience — you will be taken on a journey through his remarkable life. His epic story is told in a series of experiential galleries, from his rural childhood home through years of turbulent struggle against the apartheid regime to his eventual vindication and final years as South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

A century on from his birth, what does Nelson Mandela mean today in a world where inequality and injustice are still rife? Mandela: The Official Exhibition asks these difficult questions and examines his legacy. Mandela’s values and commitment to making the world a better place are just as vital now as they were during his lifetime. This is a story we can all learn from and be inspired by.

Your Experience Includes:

  • Fresh insight into the people, places and events that formed Mandela’s character and the challenges he faced.
  • Previously unseen film, photos and over 150 historical artifacts and personal effects on loan from the Mandela family, museums and archives worldwide.
  • Mandela’s suit worn for the opening of the South African parliament in 1996.
  • Mandela’s traditional headdress gifted to him by the king of the Xhosa people, Xolilzwe Sigcawu, as he awarded Mandela the ancient tribal warrior honor of the Isithwalandwe Sesizwe.
  • Mandela’s presidential desk and chair and his iconic beige trench coat, on display for the first time in two decades.
  • Immersive media presentations and scenic recreations, enabling guests to actively engage with and experience key moments in Nelson Mandela’s life.

Inside the Exhibition:

Gallery 1: Meeting Mandela
An introductory multimedia presentation offers an overview of Mandela’s life and times, serving as a preview of the exhibition. It sets the tone by reminding visitors of the evils of the apartheid government and then quickly walks through Mandela’s accomplishments, from freedom fighter to president and humanitarian.

Gallery 2: Early Years (1918-1941)
Learn about the people and places — Mvezo, Qunu and Mqhekezweni — that shaped Mandela as a child and young man, and the roles these places played in defining his personality, philosophy and style of leadership.

Gallery 3: “The Struggle Is My Life” (1941-1964)
The making of Mandela. See Nelson Mandela’s transformation as a lawyer and activist, a rising star in the African National Congress and a thorn in the side of the nationalist government. Also learn of the heavy cost of his defiance: the loss of family and liberty that would profoundly affect him for the rest of his life. Nelson Mandela made a defining life choice — to do what he believed was right, no matter what the consequences, even at the risk of sacrificing his own life.

Gallery 4: 10,000 Days: The Prison Years (1964-1990)
For many years, a life in prison without hope of reprieve seemed to be Nelson Mandela’s fate. Explore how his personality and determination helped to shape and steer a particular culture on Robben Island. See how his determination and intellect set him apart, not just as one of the leaders of an outlawed freedom-fighting movement, but as a man determined to show respect and kindness to all, and in doing so, encouraging others to engage and change.

Gallery 5: Freedom? (1990-1994)
Nelson Mandela may have appeared to be a free man the day he walked out of Victor Verster prison, but it was not his destiny to lead a quiet, normal life. What happened next was extraordinary. Realize just how close to the edge of total civil war South Africa was before the landmark 1994 election. As South Africa’s newly enfranchised population went to the polling stations, did anyone really know what freedom looked like? Did anyone have any real idea about what would happen next?

Gallery 6: Healing a Nation (1994-2013)
Reexamine Nelson Mandela’s presidency and the following retirement years when he was anything but retired. This extraordinary chapter in his life is characterized by huge energy, the endless movement of international travel and his dedication and determination to fulfill his life’s mission.

Gallery 7: The Meaning of Mandela
Conclude your journey through the exhibition with a reflective and emotionally resonant experience where Nelson Mandela sends you off in his own words and inspires you to carry on his work.

Public Speaking Events and Programs


Collections Connections
Ongoing through January 15

Themes from the exhibition are prevalent across the museum. Look for signage outside of The Gallery by General Motors that directs you to these other artifacts.

#MyMandela Leadership Connections Tour: Taking Risks
Daily, November 13-December 17 at 1 p.m. Meet at the Museum Plaza.

What Are You Willing to Risk? Leaders Who Were Willing to Risk It All for Their Causes

Nelson Mandela has been an inspiration for leaders around the world. Learn about the sacrifices that he and other leaders made for their respective causes during this free 30-minute tour.

#MyMandela Leadership Connections Tour: Collaboration
Daily, December 18-January 14 at 1 p.m. Meet at the Museum Plaza.

Keeping Frenemies: How Differing Leaders Have Bridged the Gap to Work Together

The old saying goes, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," but what if we tried to learn from those who disagreed with us? Learn how great leaders through time have collaborated with "frenemies" to make great changes.

Musical Performances by Breathe + Move-Ment
Saturday, October 21, 10:30-11 a.m. and 12-12:30 p.m.

Experience two dynamic dance performances by Breathe + Move-Ment as they explore the African diaspora through presentation and instruction.

Musical Performance by Miryam Johnson
Saturday, November 4, 11-11:20 a.m. and 1-1:20 p.m.

Explore #MyMandela through dance and the arts with a performance by Detroit dancer Miryam Johnson. Her work explores the intersection between improvised Black movement vernacular and creating a communal connection.

“Nelson Mandela: Leadership Lessons for Today,” Author talk and panel, co-presented by the City of Detroit Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship Division
Monday, November 13, 1-2 p.m.

Join us for a panel discussion between authors Christo Brand, Andrew Russell and moderator Lucie Howell, chief learning officer at The Henry Ford.

Screening of “Mandela in Detroit: A Mission of Freedom”
Saturday, December 2, 11:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.

From the vault of Detroit’s WDIV-TV (Channel 4), this one-hour documentary sheds light on Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to Detroit in 1990, including its extensive news coverage.

Screening hosted in front of the exhibition.

“#MyMandela Through the Arts,” Impact Discussion with Peace Bell
Saturday, December 2, 11 a.m.

Join poet Peace Bell as she talks about the impact Nelson Mandela's character and sacrifice have had on her literary career. Peace will also recite one of her works.

Bell is a recording artist, two-time Grand Slam Champion, finalist in “Motown the Spoken Word” and writer-in-residence for InsideOut Literary Arts who continues to move crowds with her energetic wordplay.

Discussion will be hosted in front of the exhibition.

#MyMandela Through the Arts,” Impact Discussion with April "Anue" Shipp
Saturday, December 2, 12 p.m.

Join fiber artist April "Anue" Shipp as she talks about the impact Nelson Mandela has had on her cross-disciplinary fine art practice while showcasing examples of her work, including the quilt “Tata: Father of the Nation.”

A fixture in the Detroit art community, Shipp is a celebrated fiber artist and figurative sculptor, centering her practice on designing quilts and soft-sculpture dolls. Self-taught with over 30 years of experience, she creates works of spiritual, political and historical significance and has been shown in museums, galleries and universities across the United States as well as in England and South Africa.

Discussion will be hosted in front of the exhibition.

"#MyMandela Youth Summit: Activism Beyond the Hashtag" Panel Discussion
Saturday, January 6, 11-11:45 a.m.

In the social media age, activists are called to action at the speed of a hashtag. But what can today’s world changers learn from global civil rights icon Nelson Mandela? The road to freedom wasn’t immediate for Mandela — a man who rose up as an early leader of the African National Congress and persevered for a lifetime to end South Africa’s apartheid and lead his country as its first democratically elected president.

In this cross-disciplinary panel, leaders in the arts, politics and faith communities explore the meaning of Mandela today and share real insights for how the next generation can bring lasting change to the world.

The program is moderated by Amber Mitchell, The Henry Ford’s curator of Black history.

The program will be hosted in Anderson Theater in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Musical Performance by the William S. Harrison Chorale
Saturday, January 6, 1-1:30 p.m.

The William S. Harrison Chorale was founded by the Detroit music minister, vocalist, pianist and conductor of the same name, and showcases the exceptional works of African American composers.

William Sean Harrison is an award-winning musician who is recognized locally and globally. His most notable roles include serving as music director of the Catholic Church of the Madonna and Historic Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, both in Detroit; St. Patrick Catholic Church in Bryan, Ohio; and a return to Church of the Madonna, now called St. Moses the Black. He currently serves as music director of St. Patrick Catholic Church in White Lake, Michigan.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. | Programming Series
Saturday, January 13 – Monday, January 15. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

We’re celebrating the life and lasting legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by offering three days of new featured programs, performances and living history demonstrations, plus special tours and screenings in Giant Screen Experience, from January 13-15.

Admission and parking to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is also free on the recognized holiday, January 15.

This celebration powerfully coincides with the final weekend of Mandela: The Official Exhibition. In recognition of Mandela’s values and commitment to making the world a better place, our thoughts turn to the American Civil Rights Movement and the inspiration to be drawn from individuals and communities. We invite you to join us to reflect on the words, the songs and the spirit of justice.

Culinary and Retail Experiences

Plum Market Kitchen & Baobab Fare Culinary Collaboration
Through January 15, 2024

We are pleased to partner with chef Hamissi Mamba, co-owner of Baobab Fare in Detroit, to bring African-inspired dishes to Plum Market Kitchen. This collaboration sheds light on how the African diaspora has influenced Detroit’s food culture.

Mamba is a two-time James Beard Award nominee and a recent episode winner of the Food Network’s series Chopped. The chef donated his Chopped winnings to Freedom House Detroit, an organization that helped his wife, Nadia Nijimbere, flee persecution in their native Burundi. Freedom House Detroit is also a proud community program partner of The Henry Ford.

Read more about chef Mamba's story here.

On-Site Chef Discussions
November 9 at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Join chef Hamissi Mamba of Baobab Fare for a live presentation about his background as a refugee and award-winning chef as well as his culinary influences and processes.

The program includes a Q&A session and delicious samples.
Discussion will be hosted in front of the exhibition.

Please note that our scheduled January 11 program has been cancelled.

Themed “Inspiring Stories” Retail Collection
Through January 15, 2024

Shop our collection of Nelson Mandela-themed publications, in-store and online beginning here.

Featured Films at Giant Screen Experience

Invictus (2009)
Saturday, November 18 at 5 p.m.

The inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country.

The Color of Friendship (2000)
Saturday, January 13, at 2 p.m.

Based on actual events about the friendship between two girls, Mahree and Piper, one from the United States and the other from apartheid South Africa, who learn about tolerance and friendship.

Long Night's Journey into Day: South Africa's Search for Truth & Reconciliation (2000)
Monday, January 15 at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Nominated for an Academy Award in the best documentary feature category, this film tells four accounts of apartheid in South Africa, as seen through the eyes of the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With blood spilled on both sides, can there be forgiveness when the full truth comes out? The film contains graphic imagery of violence; viewer discretion is advised.

Admission for both screenings is free in connection with our day of free museum admission on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Connect With Us on Social Media and Share Your #MyMandela Story

Nelson Mandela has touched many lives around the world, but especially right here in southeast Michigan. Shortly after he was released from prison, he embarked on an eight-city tour across the United States and, in June 1990, spoke to thousands at Tiger Stadium.

This moment in history impacted the lives of many who attended and others who continue to reflect on Mandela’s life.

Here at The Henry Ford, we believe that everyone’s #MyMandela story deserves to be heard. Over the duration of the exhibition, we encourage you to share your #MyMandela story with us on your favorite social channels and be a part of this moment in history. Engage with us using the hashtag #MyMandela to share your personal connection, thoughts and feelings about this iconic figure and to contribute to the ongoing legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Looking for Learning and Field Trip Resources?

Click here to access exhibit resources, curriculum standards alignment, lesson plans and activities tailored for educators and students visiting the exhibit. (inHub account and login required; sign-up is free.)

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Exhibition Produced By:

Logos for Exhibit

Mandela: The Official Exhibition is produced by Round Room Live in partnership with The Royal House of Mandela (RHoM) and RHoM Investments.

The Early Years

Scene from The Early Years, a gallery depicting Nelson Mandela’s childhood experiences including his African traditions, culture and heritage.  

The Struggle is My Life

View of The Struggle is My Life, a gallery is dominated by a powerful imagery of apartheid’s oppression.  

The Prison Years

The powerful prison cell immersive animation uses text from Nelson Mandela’s letters as a personal audio-visual timeline his 27-year imprisonment.  

Healing a Nation

Image of Healing a Nation a space that celebrates unification and reconciliation. It highlights Nelson Mandela’s dedication and determination to fulfil his life’s mission.  

The Meaning of Mandela

Photo from The Meaning of Mandela, a powerful, memorable finale where Nelson Mandela narrates a call-to-action film.  

Event brought to you by our Sponsors:

Ford Motor Company Fund