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Lionel Davis was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1936. He was a part of the anti-apartheid movement, and was incarcerated for seven years on Robben Island, an infamous prison for political prisoners under the apartheid regime. It was here that Davis met Nelson Mandela.
He was arrested in 1964 and sentenced to seven years on Robben Island for conspiring to commit acts of sabotage. It was during his prison years on Robben Island that he completed his Senior Certificate. After his release, he was restricted under a banning order and house arrest until 1976. In 1968, while still on Robben Island he received a school leaver’s Senior Certificate. At the Evangelical Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift in 1980 he worked toward a Diploma in Fine Arts. His interest in art led him to complete a BA Fine Art degree with the University of Cape Town in 1994.
In 1978 and 1990 he worked as assistant organiser at the Community Arts Project (CAP) in Cape Town. Davis has contributed to literary magazines, books on education, poetry anthologies and calendars. He produced cartoons for a children’s magazine and taught screen-printing at CAP. He participated in the Triangle Workshop in New York City and the Thupelo Workshop in Johannesburg. In 1988 he was deeply involved in community-based children’s education. He exhibited several times from 1981 to 1987, also in Gaborone, Botswana and Pine Plains, New York, United States. In 1995 he worked for the South African National Art Gallery as a part-time art educator. Lionel held his first solo exhibition at The Gill Allderman Gallery in April 2008.
After spending seven years imprisoned on Robben Island, Davis lived there with his family as an employee of the Robben Island Museum until 2006. He first worked as a tour guide and later moved to the Island Education Department as an Education Officer. His work includes developing education materials on prisoners and political imprisonment on the Island. On the Island he is better known as 'uncle' Lionel.
After leaving the island Lionel continues to do his art, participate in many community projects, gives talks on and as well as guides private tours of the Island
He is married to Barbara Davis and they have three children, Sandra, Basil and Leon.
- Eggart, Elise (2008). "Lionel Davis". Retrieved August 21, 2012.