Reflecting on Robben Island and healing through art in commemoration of Mandela Day

To commemorate Mandela Day 2022, 18 July, TB HIV Care, a non profit organisation working to prevent, find and treat TB and HIV and other major diseases, partnered with acclaimed visual artist, Lionel Davis to speak about mental health and art through an online Facebook Live event.


Lionel Davis grew up in District Six where he became politically sensitized through his experience of police violence. In 1964, he was arrested and sentenced to seven years in Robben Island for ‘conspiring to commit sabotage’. There he came into contact with former President, (and then fellow political prisoner) Nelson Mandela. On leaving Robben Island Lionel was put under house arrest for a further five years.


This extended deprivation of freedom was traumatic. Without the benefit of counselling or support for this trauma, Lionel began turning to art to cope with the mental strain. He worked as a community organiser for the Community Arts Project (CAP), at Rorke’s Drift and ultimately completed a BA in Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, exhibiting in New York, Gaborone and Johannesburg. In 2017, a retrospective exhibition was held at the South African National Gallery that showcased 40 years of Lionel’s artwork.


During his Facebook Live talk with TB HIV Care on 18th July, Lionel covered his own experiences of healing through art and gave some insights into how others could follow a similar path.


This topic is a relevant to TB HIV Care as mental health challenges can be both a predictor of greater vulnerability to infection with HIV, and an effect of a diagnosis of either HIV or TB.


“Mental health challenges are commonly encountered with any diagnosis, as people struggle to come to terms with their health status, and HIV and TB are no different” said Alison Best, Communications Manager for TB HIV Care.


“This talk with Lionel, who is such an inspirational figure, helps to destigmatise mental health challenges and provides a positive role model for how negative experiences can be reworked and transformed through creative expression.”

Watch the talk here