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Mandela artworks are 'fakes', London gallery told
Nelson Mandela has launched a last-ditch attempt to prevent a London gallery using his name on an exhibition of prison sketches.

Nelson Mandela has launched a last-ditch attempt to prevent a London gallery using his name on an exhibition of prison sketches that he claims are forgeries.

The former South African president said he "strongly disassociates himself" from the show, Nelson Mandela at 91, due to open on Tuesday at the Belgravia Gallery. Lawyers for Mandela, who celebrates his birthday on Saturday, said they had written to the gallery asking it to "desist immediately" but received no reply.

Bally Chuene, Mandela's legal representative, said: "He did not sign those artworks. It is important to tell the public that they are being deceived."

The Belgravia Gallery, which also has rights to Prince Charles's art, was unavailable for comment, but has previously said it carried out exhaustive research to prove its collection was genuine.

The dispute centres on a limited series of lithographs produced by Mandela, in collaboration with an artist, depicting Robben Island and the cell where he spent many of his 27 years in prison during apartheid.

The original signed works were bought by international celebrities in 2002 and 2003, with proceeds going to his charities for homeless children and HIV/Aids victims. But his lawyers contended last year that unauthorised reproductions with false signatures were being sold.

Chuene said that unauthorised reproductions are among the artworks being advertised as part of the Belgravia Gallery's exhibition. "They are being very opportunistic," Chuene said. "The purported artwork does not have Mandela's blessing." He added that the works are part of ongoing litigation between Mandela and his former lawyer in South Africa.

The gallery did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian on Sunday. At the time Anna Hunter, managing director of the gallery, said she personally witnessed Mandela signing the works in 2002, and gave a speech alongside him when he launched them in South Africa.

Hunter, who spent 19 months investigating the works' provenance, said : "Accusations were made that Mr Mandela did not create these, which was awful -- that there were fakes and forgeries around. There was negative press in South Africa. We had purchased and paid for the works in full. At this point we decided to take them off the market to give us time to investigate the allegations."

She said she had consulted Mandela's art teacher, his academic printer and a forensic handwriting expert, who verified the signatures as genuine. -