HOUSTON – The Holocaust Museum Houston is hosting the U.S. premiere of Mandela: Struggle for Freedom.
The exhibit takes visitors through a human rights movement that changed history and immerses guests into an interactive, hands-on experience focused on renowned human rights leader, Nelson Mandela and his decades-long fight for justice and human dignity in South Africa.
“We’ve waited nearly two years to hose this extraordinary exhibit,” said Dr. Kelly J Zuniga, CEO of Holocaust Museum Houston. “The fight for social justice and human rights is not over, as witnessed from recent unrest in the U.S. and around the world. While many young people have never heard of apartheid, the movement behind Mandela spread across nations. This exhibition shares an important piece of global human rights history, so its lessons can reverberate today with a new generation.”
The Mandela: Struggle for Freedom exhibition is open until Jan. 3, 2021.
The exhibit was developed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in partnership with the Apartheid Museum in South Africa. It debuted in Canada and Houston is the first stop in the United States. The exhibition in Houston was sponsored by Wells Fargo.
“It is an honor, and we’re very, very proud, and it is integral to our mission here at the Holocaust Museum Houston,” Zuniga said. “The human rights movement actually came out of the Holocaust...because of the Holocaust being so horrific that people didn’t, of course, want to repeat that ever again. As a result, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was formed in 1946, so we have an exhibition talking about that history, but also we focus on individuals, upstanders, people that made a difference in fighting for human rights and Nelson Mandela is someone that is featured.”
What to expect to learn
The exhibit is divided into five zones: Apartheid, Defiance, Repression, Mobilization and Freedom.
Each zone has artifacts, photos, art or interactive visuals to demonstrate the history curated for that zone. A visitor will walk in to see a 12-foot high “Wall of Laws,” which highlights signs and laws that discriminated against people solely based on skin color. The piece dictates how people had to live their lives and what they could do under South Africa’s former system of apartheid, a system of racial segregation and labor exploitation, imposing control on all aspects of life.
“The Blacks were separate and lived in their own spaces, and it became very, very violent,” Zuniga said.
The exhibit digs deep into the history of how the people of South Africa resisted the inequality, showcasing real artifacts and stories from that time period.
The exhibit also includes the scene of young Nelson Mandela’s famous first TV interview in 1961 in a clandestine apartment location. There are interactive components that highlight the way Mandela and other revolutionaries communicated underground including movable picture frames and bookshelves.
Guests can stand inside Mandela’s tiny cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, take a stand in front of a giant 22-foot long armored vehicle and make a virtual protest poster on a digital light table.
Zuniga said the exhibit is meant to inspire change even today.
“There is a lot of hope associated with this exhibition. The fact that one person galvanized thousands of individuals to fight for human rights and make a change and that anyone can do that. If you have the right heart and the right purpose...if you really believe in that, you will ultimately be successful like Mandela was,” Zuniga said.
HMH will be hosting a Human Rights Expo on Sept. 26, inviting more than eight human rights organizations to the museum. Admissions will be free.
“This is an excellent opportunity for our community to see Mandela: Struggle for Freedom free of charge,” said Zuniga. “Visitors will also learn how they can stand up for social justice and get involved with Houston-area human rights organizations.”
Museum visitors will be able to learn more about local organizations that are working to protect human rights and serve the Houston community, including Second Servings, Hong Kong Dossier, Finca Tres Robles Urban Farm, The Texas Organizing Project, Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, The Montrose Center, United Against Human Trafficking and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, according to museum officials.
Guests will need to reserve a timeslot to view the newly opened exhibition, Mandela: Struggle for Freedom. Learn more about the participating organizations and reserve a timeslot to view the exhibition at hmh.org/HumanRightsExpo.
New HMH protocols require all staff and guests above age 10 to wear a face mask upon entry and to practice social distancing. For those without a mask, one will be provided. Sanitizer stations are located by bathroom entrances, at the admissions desk, museum store and café.
For the safety of our patrons, HMH will provide a personal stylus and/or gloves or a finger glove to ensure participation without direct touch of the museums' interactive exhibit elements, according to museum officials.