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Napoleon Dargan has a piece of art on display in the Nelson Mandela tribute exhibit in Martinez. He is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology and wants to use art as a therapeutic tool.

MARTINEZ -- Artist Yolanda Holley said that her mixed-media piece titled "Brothers United," which depicts two little boys holding a car tire, shows the humility, simplicity and unity of everyday life.

Holley believes those characteristics were the essence of Nelson Mandela. She is one of the artists showing work at the County Administration Building in Martinez this month in "An Art Tribute to Nelson Mandela."

"My work is inspired by my cultural roots," Holley said.

She incorporates mixed-media and uses a blend of collected objects, poly-webbed fiber, acrylic paints, and water-based inks in her work, and said participating in the tribute to Mandela is a great honor.

"At the time I was born, he was in prison," Holley said. "Even though he endured harsh conditions, when he was freed, Mandela maintained his whole manner of being a humble person. He was a lesson in humility. It strengthened him and he was able to reconcile his country."

That's why she chose "Brothers United" to display in the tribute.

"The boys demonstrate unity and the joining of people," she said. "They represent human existence. It represents that anything is possible. If someone sees my work and they want to be an artist, they can be that. If they want to be Nelson Mandela -- they can become whoever they want to be."

Presented by Arts & Culture Commission of Contra Costa County (AC5), the tribute features works from artists all over the county, and aims to pay tribute to the late South African leader, as well as celebrate African American History month, said arts commissioners Y'Anad Burrell and Tess O'Riva, the exhibit's curators.

"We received responses from about eight artists and two commissioners," said Burrell. "We ... came up with the theme of this exhibit as it was very appropriate given Mandela's recent death."

Napoleon Dargan of Pittsburg displays five of his abstract acrylic paintings that embody some of Mandela's philosophies.

"I just find myself relating to him in many ways," said Dargan, who works with Contra Costa Health Services' Art of Health and Healing program.

Dargan, who's pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology, wants to use art as a therapeutic tool and to increase awareness about community issues. Micro-mosaic fine artist Nana-Dictta Graves, who was born and raised in Ghana, said that artists use their creative wisdom to make the world a better place. Her "Birthday Wraps" features pieces of birthday wrapping paper cut into smaller pieces.

"When you look at the world, there are so many gifts that are naturally given to us," said Graves, who lives in Antioch. "Our duty is to use them to empower the world. My goal is to rekindle the imagination that some people are on the verge of losing."

When artist John Finger heard about a call for artists for the Mandela tribute, he created a couple of drawings inspired by the image of the former South African president. One of his drawings features a famous Mandela quote: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

"I spent a lot of time looking at his quotes and thought this was appropriate," Finger said.

If you go
WHAT: "An Art Tribute to Nelson Mandela"
WHEN: Through Feb. 28
WHERE: County's Administration Building, first floor, 651 Pine St., Martinez