This Sunday, December 8th at 3:30pm, all are welcome to gather together on the Rothko Chapel plaza (3900 Yupon) to celebrate Nelson Mandela and the ongoing struggle for justice for all. The community is invited to reflect on Mandela’s impact, listen to a musical tribute, and light a candle in his honor. This commemoration marks 22 years to the day since his visit to Houston and the Rothko Chapel. Chapel founder Dominique de Menil and Executive Director Nabila Drooby decided to invite Nelson Mandela, newly released from jail, to be the keynote speaker for the human rights awards ceremony scheduled on December 8, 1991 in conjunction with the Chapel's 20th anniversary. It was a bold move, yet one so appropriate for the Rothko Chapel.
The tour de force was that he graciously accepted! He came to the Rothko Chapel when the whole world was focused on his every move. His dignity, his humility, and gentleness struck all who were in his presence. Surrounded by President Jimmy Carter, Governor Ann Richards, Dominique de Menil, and the brave human rights heroes honored at the ceremony, Nelson Mandela reached out to the Houston community and the world for continued support, good will, and the importance of human rights issues. Over a thousand people attended the ceremony and it was broadcast on the local PBS station.
Dominique de Menil in an unplanned and spontaneous decision after his keynote-address announced to Nelson Mandela that he would be the recipient of a special Rothko Chapel Award for $100,000. There was a roar of applause by the audience.
In an unexpected and moving moment, one of the youngest and poorest of the human rights heroes awarded at the ceremony that day, Sebastian Suy Perebal from Guatemala, pulled out from his bag four shawls woven in his village as gifts to Nelson Mandela, President Jimmy Carter, Ann Richards, and Dominique de Menil. Nelson Mandela immediately draped it on his left shoulder as was his custom and wore it for the rest of the ceremony. During Mr. Mandela's stay in Houston, he was able to meet with the leaders of Houston's business community and speak at Texas Southern University. He left an indelible mark on everyone's heart.
Every day, 10am to 6pm, the Rothko Chapel receives visitors from the world over who enter its doors for meditation, reflection, and immersion in the transformative power of art. Its plaza, dominated by Barnett Newman’s powerful sculpture Broken Obelisk, is alive with conversation and dialogue. Annually, the Chapel hosts over 70,000 visitors from as many as 85 countries from around the world.
In its 40 years, the Chapel has achieved recognition as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the second half of the twentieth century. In 2001 the Chapel was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Chapel regularly makes top ten lists of places to visit, and is a featured entry in National Geographic’s Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations, published in 2009.
For the last 40 years, the Chapel has provided diverse programs to engage audiences. The institution has distinguished itself by addressing issues and concerns before they were generally recognized and popularized. It has stressed the importance of human rights by issuing awards to exceptional individuals or groups of people not generally well known who have distinguished themselves by their courage and integrity. Events at the Rothko Chapel have brought leaders, heroes, artists, musicians, scientists, and scholars from all over the world including Amiri Baraka, President Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Brice Marden, Rigoberta Menchú, Raimon Panikkar, Nelofer Pazira, Steve Reich, Jonas Salk, Amartya Sen, and Susan Sontag.