The artist laying our history on the table


A wood-cut Robben Island sits atop a glassy table surface, enveloped by gleaming blue swirls of resin. It’s an unusual celebration of one of our country’s most iconic locations. The isolation of the island’s geography and previous prisoners is what furniture designer Ollie de Wit wanted to portray when he created this piece. “We can’t celebrate the future without acknowledging the past,” he says while smoothing the large, aerial view cast.

Robben Island is a World Heritage Site with a sombre history. During apartheid, activists fighting the regime were imprisoned there almost seven kilometres off Cape Town’s coastline. De Wit’s creation maps the significant aspects of the island. Notable buildings, streets, and the prison block of former president Nelson Mandela are engraved on the surface. In further recognition of the struggle hero, De Wit only made 18 tables, one for each year that Madiba was detained there. Each piece is a physical manifestation of the designer’s vision to transform furniture into art.

The creative process from conceptualisation to production took two and a half years of research and experimentation. “I wanted to portray something that was very special to our country,” De Wit says. Staying true to his vision, the artist has created more than just a piece of furniture. This is an ode to our political history and the courage of our struggle icons.