The Light Bulb Moment: The Artist's concept

A fabricator busy assembling the mosaic for the Raymond Mhlaba memorial.
A fabricator busy assembling the mosaic for the Raymond Mhlaba memorial.
Picture courtesy of Lesley Perkes

Andrew Lindsay developed the Raymond Mhlaba artwork - a large floor mosaic depicting scenes from the 1952 defiance campaign -  from a concept put forward by Port Elizabeth artist Mxolisi Sapeta, writes Janette Bennett.

Circles of colour have been introduced into the black-and-white mosaic - and within the circles, there are footprints to represent the walk of the campaigners. "I wanted to keep it simple," Lindsay says. The use of black and white evokes the sense of the past; the use of colour brings in light and hope, as well as emphasising the feelings of the time.

The footprints are not evenly spaced; they are placed at irregular intervals to create the sense of a "negotiated walk". Lindsay explains: "It would not have been an easy walk for Raymond Mhlaba and his group."

The artwork was assembled in Johannesburg, the intensely-detailed mosaic picture demanding constant work for about 10 days. The entire image measures 4m by 3m. It was transported by road from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth in 12 panels, each measuring just over a metre.

Scenes of the defiance campaign are created in mosaic. They include scenes of police dogs, a huge fist and running figures. The circles and footprints are placed throughout the image, but do not obscure the scenes.

The work is set into concrete on the large slabs at the entrance of the Red Location Museum, where the black-and-white floor mosaic with its eye-catching circles of colour can be easily seen by any visitor.

The footprints at irregular intervals do more than recreate what Lindsay calls "the tension and negotiation on the famous walk". They also invite people to interact with the artwork. Viewers need to think about how they can get across the picture ... perhaps by jumping or stretching from circle to circle.

back to the Raymond Mhlaba memorial page

"I opened the way for others to defy an unjust system."
Raymond Mhlaba
Raymond Mhlaba
Picture: Courtesy of Thembeka Mufamadi


In this lesson plan, learners will have an opportunity to study Raymond Mhlaba's memoirs as he related them to a historian in 2001. They will be able to think about the value of oral history and how it provides new insights into events.

Lesson plan
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Archive and Artwork Photo Gallery
Images from Raymond Mhlaba’s life and of the Heritage Project’s memorial to his role in the 1952 defiance campaign.
Audio about Raymond Mhlaba
Family, friends and colleagues talk about Raymond Mhlaba and why he is regarded as one of the unsung heroes of the Eastern Cape
Raymond Mhlaba speaks about life imprisonment
In June 1964, Raymond Mhlaba and seven other icons of the struggle against apartheid were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. For them the sentence came as a relief — it was much better than the death sentence they were expecting. In this e
Mhlaba and Mandela on the 1952 Defiance Campaign
In 1952, Raymond Mhlaba launched the famous Defiance Campaign by walking into a whites-only area at the New Brighton train station, knowing that he would be arrested. In this video extract from a documentary by Dali Tambo, Mhlaba and Nelson Mandela remi