21 icons
21 Icons South Africa is a project that honors the accomplishments of 21 influential South Africans through film, literature and photography. Using different forms of art and media, 21 Icons tells each of these leaders’ stories and how they have made life better for South Africans. Among the 21 honorees are Nelson Mandela, Gary Player and, most recently, Nadine Gordimer.

Gordimer was a Nobel-Peace Prize winning author from South Africa. She passed away on July 13 at 90 years old. Her books about social justice and apartheid in South Africa earned her the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991. Though the Nobel committee recognized her achievements, the government of South Africa refused to praise her work at the time. Now, 21 Icons and people all over the world are celebrating her life in the wake of her passing.

The 21 Icons team creates visual representations of their icons and their successes through photography. In the portraits of Gordimer, the author is photographed sitting on top of extra-large copies of her books.

“One of Nadine Gordimer’s defining statements is that there’s nothing bigger than the Word,” said Photographer Adrian Steirn, while reflecting on the project. “I wanted the size of her books in the portrait to reflect that.”

Steirn also documented her story in a short film, 21 Icons: Nadine Gordimer. 

The film also plays on the “Alice in Wonderland” style reflected in Steirn’s photographs. The interviews with Gordimer display a charismatic personality and a clear passion for writing and social justice.

Gordimer is one of four Nobel Prize winners honored by 21 Icons. Other winners on the list are Nelson Mandela, FW Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

21 Icons portrays the stories of these 21 influential people in the form of art. The team makes history captivating and beautiful, thereby appropriately honoring the ways that leaders like Gordimer and Mandela have impacted the development of South Africa.

Though the project honors accomplishments of the past, 21 Icons aims to motivate future leaders to follow in their footsteps.

Since starting the project in 2009, the team at 21 Icons has hoped to use art to create an “open invitation” for people all over the world to learn about the honorees’ works and catalyze greater change in South Africa.

– Emily Walthouse
Sources: 21 Icons 1, 21 Icons 2, Channel 24, All Africa
Photo: BBC