Tribute to a World Statesman

After the A and B components have been mixed, the liquid rubber is poured into the molding box in a thin stream until it completely covers the head.

Before he could begin working on the bust, though, Rucker had to receive permission from the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The project was also sponsored by the Bavarian State Chancellery as part of the bilateral relations between the Free State of Bavaria and the Western Cape province. Anglo Platinum, a mine operator in South Africa, agreed to provide the precious platinum, which was then covered by Mannheimer Versicherung, an insurer. Staatliche Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen, a porcelain manufacturer, came on board to make the porcelain bust. Finally, the platinum welding device was provided by Alpha Laser, Puchheim near Munich, while Wacker Chemie AG provided the silicone for molding the bust.

Rucker also presented his project to the General Consulate of South Africa in Munich. In January 2010, he flew to Pretoria with no more than a single telephone number in his notebook, and three days later found himself sitting in the living room of the South African President, Jacob Zuma. “Hi, I'm Jacob - Welcome to South Africa” is how Zuma greeted him the first time, recalls Rucker, looking at the photograph of the meeting.

Vision of an Icon

Shortly after, he was invited by the Mandela family to the civil rights icon's birth-place and private home in Mvezo, Eastern Cape. There, he sat for hours with the nephew, Chief Mandla Mandela, discussing the future home for the bust.

After that, Rucker spent a total of 14 months working on the life-size bust. At first, he thought to use recent 3D scans of the then 92-year-old freedom fighter – obtaining those was actually the purpose of his trip to South Africa – but he soon abandoned that idea. He decided instead to make a bust depicting Mandela at the pinnacle of his political career in the early 1990s. A photo of Mandela visiting his former prison cell on Robben Island, some twelve kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, shortly after his election as president in 1994 served as a template for innumerable sketches and drawings. The 4-square-meter cell is where Nelson Mandela spent the bulk of his 27 years in penal servitude as a political prisoner. For Tom Rucker, Mandela's thoughtful gaze out of the cell window epitomized the greatness of the South African statesman and what he intended to reproduce in the bust: Mandela's vision of reconciliation between racial groups, a reconciliation made credible by virtue of his own lifetime of suffering.

Three-Dimensional File

Using a special 3D software program, Rucker generated a three-dimensional file of Mandela's head from his sketches and drawings. Birmingham City University in England, where rapid prototyping a 3D printer - rather like an ink-jet printer - used the data file to build up an exact life-size copy of Mandela's head by printing layer upon layer of a wax-starch mixture in the space of several days. In this rapid-prototyping technique, a wax-starch mixture is built up additively in countless layers by a type of ink-jet printer to form a three-dimensional 1:1 copy of Nelson Mandela's head.

In the next step, which was by far the most time-consuming of the entire project, Rucker laser-welded the precise contours of Mandela's face out of 0.2-mm-thick platinum wire over the original wax-starch mold of the bust. Roughly 1.9 million microscopic laser-spots were necessary and Rucker sat six hours a day at his Alpha ALM 200 laser-welding machine in the cellar of his workshop. Overall, he spent eight months welding in total darkness.