Political Exiles had tremendous personal significance for Mangravite. Prompted by childhood experiences on Lipari, this work was the artist’s response to prolonged periods of seclusion, displacement, and limited freedom. At the beginning of the century, Lipari was the location of a penal colony, where political prisoners were kept. The rugged beauty of the island, about twenty-five miles off the coast of Sicily, had great impact on young Mangravite. Asserting his freedom from family and authority, Mangravite openly associated with the prisoners, enjoying the opportunity to converse with independent thinkers. One prisoner gave him his first art lessons, and art later became the means to escape his restricted environment.
The rhythmic brushwork, uneven impasto, and rich colors convey the violent surf, ripping wind, and hot sun of the island. The hilltop citadel and the armed guard policing the beach are looming presences that elicit a sense of claustrophobia. The viewer's attention is directed toward the foreground and middle distance where three prisoners are isolated physically and psychologically; they seem small and vulnerable. Toward the center of the composition, a man sits humbly before a low wall near a modest building, perhaps his home, his face partly in shadow, appearing dazed and immobilized. At the lower right, another prisoner with his back to the viewer watches furtively. His position below the side of a bridge is not visible to the other men; however, his freedom seems thwarted by the wall he faces as well as by the picture edge, which cuts off part of his image. The most prominent figure is a man, presumably a political exile, who stands quietly on the bridge. His mask-like face and downcast eyes suggest he has escaped the pressures of his confinement through the activity of his mind. His spirit is not broken. The bridge supports him both symbolically and physically, and seems to provide a vehicle through which he can escape.
Political Exiles anticipated social realist art of the 1930s in its exposure of political repression and its emphatic belief in the power of the human mind to overcome societal pressures. In Political Exiles, Mangravite illustrates his seething anger about the plight of the prisoners, as well as commitment to the portrayal of his experiences. The concentration on people ostracized for their political beliefs transcends the personal and becomes an early manifestation of Mangravite's interest in human rights.