The Mendi

This remarkable triptych depicts the greatest nautical disaster in South African maritime history. The SS Mendi, carrying 823 members of the 5th Battalion the South African Native Labour Corps, sank en-route to France on 21 February 1917. 607 black South African troops, bound for service in France during World War I, died in the event.

Graham created the work over a five-year period from 1987, and it was first exhibited in 1993 at the National Arts Festival. The Mendi disaster has since become a rallying point in a post-apartheid revisionist history that pays tribute to black soldiers and the role they played in World War I. 

Artwork courtesy of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum.

Artwork Info

Hilary Jackson Graham

The Mendi


Oil on canvas

120 x 510 cm