Nelson Mandela a muse and inspiration for artists worldwide

From books and visual art to hit songs and acclaimed films recounting his struggles, Nelson Mandela has been celebrated by artists around the globe.

Inspiring leader's story told in books, films, paintings, poems

Former South African president Nelson Mandela appears with singers Beyonce Knowles, centre, and Annie Lennox on Robben Island in Cape Town in 2003 for the Nelson Mandela 46664 AIDS Awareness concert. (Obed Zilwa/Associated Press)

From books and visual art to hit songs and acclaimed films recounting his struggles, Nelson Mandela has been celebrated by artists around the globe.

Musical powerhouses such as Stevie Wonder, Bono and Annie Lennox and film and TV stars such as Morgan Freeman, Idris Elba and Oprah Winfrey have counted the anti-apartheid icon as an inspiration and muse for concerts, songs, poems, fiction and movies.

Nelson Mandela exemplifies the best of what it is to be human — how could you not be inspired by that?— Singer Raffi Kavoukian 

Musicians especially have been drawn to Mandela's cause and struggles, both during his apartheid-era imprisonment as well as in his subsequent years as South Africa's leader.

"Nelson Mandela exemplifies the best of what it is to be human — how could you not be inspired by that?" said Canadian singer Raffi Kavoukian, who met Mandela in Toronto in 2001.

"He is such a hero for me. You're in captivity 26 years, you come out stronger and your captors feel like they're the ones held hostage. You've got to study at the foot of that guy."

Music for Mandela, a recent Canadian documentary, explores why recording artists have felt so drawn to and connected with the man lovingly known as Madiba.

"All the musicians we interviewed, from street musicians to musicians like B.B. King and Estelle and a few of the bigger names … they were all touched by Mandela and they all had this need to, I guess, to pay tribute to him," said writer-director Jason Bourque.

"Mandela was one of the great leaders and teachers of the 20th century," singer-songwriter Paul Simon said in a statement early Thursday evening.

"He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should reignite a worldwide effort for peace."

Here are six examples of artists and artistic endeavours inspired by Nelson Mandela:

1. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

The most recent film that revisits the life of Madiba, including his lesser known younger years, is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, based on his autobiography of the same name. Hours before it emerged that Mandela had died, the film had its U.K. Royal Premiere, with Prince William and Kate in the audience. Earlier in the day, producers celebrated news that the film had become South Africa's highest grossing picture ever. The drama opens widely in North America on Christmas Day.

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2. Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid

Activist and musician Steven Van Zandt and record producer Arthur Baker pulled together like-minded peers for the 1985 compilation album Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid, filled with protest music by top contributors such as Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Cliff and Bruce Springsteen. Inspired by Mandela's story, U2 delivered a stripped-down Silver and Gold for the effort.

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3. Mandela's stylist

A little-known fact is that singer Lionel Richie helped arrange the wardrobe for Mandela's initial U.S. media appearances after his release from Robben Island.

"He walks over and he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, 'Young man, I want to thank you so much for writing the music and lyrics that you wrote, because it got me through many days of being in prison.' And I started crying on his shoulder. He just grabbed me like a dad. And I lost it," Richie told CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos.

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4. Reflecting Mandela onscreen

Mandela's struggle has been tackled multiple times onscreen, with Oscar-winner Sidney Poitier (Mandela and De Klerk), Danny Glover (TV's Mandela), Dennis Haysbert (the film Goodbye Bafana), Terrance Howard (the film Winnie Mandela) and Morgan Freeman (the film Invictus) among those who have portrayed the South African leader.

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5. We Love Mandela

Earlier this fall, London hosted the international launch of the We Love Mandela exhibit, tracing the story of the man through visual art — including paintings, sculpture, photography, cartoons, prints and more. The show is set to travel the world as a precursor to South Africa's celebration of 20 years of democracy.

"Often people, they know the name Mandela, they have seen the image of Mandela, but who really is Mandela? What I tried to do in this show is to give you different facets of his of his life, to trace a kind of story of the man," curator Natalie Knight told reporters.

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6. Mandela's 70th birthday concert at Wembley

In 1988, a pantheon of music superstars — including Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Sting — marked Mandela's 70th birthday with a giant concert at London's Wembley Stadium that called for his release and an end to apartheid. It was watched by 600 million people in nearly 70 countries worldwide. After his release, Mandela himself participated in the concert tradition and also appeared at shows in his honour over the decades.

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