Keep your dick in your pants

Unless you have been living in North Korea, I doubt you have yet to hear about the controversy surrounding the picture of our dear President Jacob Zuma by the rather talented and possibly unemployed Brett Murray.

Basically the picture titled“The Spear” displays Zuma in a Leninist stance with his ‘bits’ hanging out. I’m sure all of you remember the hours spent in English Literature in high school, or for those of us who took it for four years in university the months and months spent trying to decide what the artist meant in one line of a three page poem. It always comes down to the fact that we have no idea what the author of the poem meant. Similarly we have no idea what Brett Murray’s intentions were when he created the piece, although I am rather certain his intention was not to receive death threats.

Gwede Mantashe, secetary general of the A.N.C., said the painting played into stereotypes of black men as hypersexualised. “It is rude, crude and disrespectful.It has an element of racism. It says that black people feel no pain and can be portrayed walking around with their genitals in the open. They are objects of ridicule. I can tell you that if you were to draw a white politician in that way, the outcry would be totally different.”  And how would you know my dear Gwede?

Anyway here are just a few thoughts I have on the whole issue.

1.Lenin is more important than a penis.

Since when did a picture of a penis become more controversial than Vladimir Lenin himself, you know the guy who lead the Russian Revolution, was leader of the Bolshevik Party, and first ruler of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The dude who was possibly was partly to blame for a little thing called The Red Terror, you may have heard of it…if not get out of North Korea. Now I’m not going to get into a argument about the negatives and positives of Communism but to me it seems like somehow the point is being missed. After all one could say that roughly half of the world’s population has a penis, there was only one Lenin.

How is this not the issue?

2. The painting insults African culture?

Talk about a broad statement by Sonwabile Mancotywa, ceo of The National Heritage Council (NHC): “In our African culture and tradition this painting amounts to the most extreme indecency and misnomer.”

I’m African and I’m not offended by this in anyway. I did a survey around my office (or as far as the chain that connects me to my desk would stretch) and not one person felt their ‘African culture’ was insulted; in fact most people were simply amused when I showed them the uncensored picture.

What exactly is ‘African culture’? Now I realise this statement will ensue a flurry of angry comments calling me an uneducated fool, but has African culture always been the most modest of cultures?

Traditional African dress usually doesn’t involve much in way of clothing right? Please educate me if I’m wrong! Perhaps the correct statement would have been to say it is in insult to Zulu culture. But even then traditional Zulu garb doesn’t really provide much in terms of coverage? If an artist had painted a picture of Zuma or anyone in traditional Zulu garb with various private parts would there have been such an outcry? Go down to the Rosebank flee market on a Sunday and you will be greeted by an array of naked paintings of women, walk into CNA and your eyes will be assaulted by half naked women in the men’s magazine sections and for that matter the women’s section too.

Shock! Horror! Boobs!

Sock! Horror! Boobs?

3. So what if he’s the president?

If the painting was of a nameless face I would not be writing this post in angst. Since when did a picture displaying genitalia become such a hot topic. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon have produced what I would term much more explicit and provoking than Brett Murray?

Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Virtual Man has his penis hanging right out there for all to see, it’s even included in school textbooks but no one seems to have any problem with that. There are even half naked depictions of Jesus Christ himself yet you don’t see people vandalising the Louvre and causing all out anarchy.

I do believe there’s a little clause in our well guarded constitution called freedom of speech, now obviously there are also laws against defamation, but he’s the president of South Africa nogal. What president doesn’t get publically lambasted just about every day that they are in office? Even Mandela had his critics. You are a public figure people are going to say and do things, my suggestion is get over it.

This is art

William Kentridge, (again get out of North Korea) has said that:  “Both the work of the artist and the controversy his work arouses are to be welcomed,” and South Africans are “fortunate to live in a country with a Constitution that acknowledges the importance of open debate on all issues.” Dam right ‘Willy’!

What I find worrying is that there has been no official statement by Zuma himself. The A.N.C. have  called “The Spear” “distasteful, vulgar, indecent and disrespectful,” and “an affront to the dignity and the privacy of President Zuma in all his capacities, but also as a South African whose right to human dignity and privacy is protected and guaranteed by the South African Constitution.”

So is this

Where are you Jacob it’s your penis we are talking about? Perhaps you have better things to deal with like the unparalleled corruption in your government?

Yes I think there are better things to worry about then a picture of a penis let alone try muse on what the artist was thinking when he painted it.


16 comments on “Keep your dick in your pants

  1. Alex (Con) says:

    Understand where you are coming from, but dont you think “african cultures” nakedness happens on the terms of the people involved? They choose to be naked in ceremonies etc, not sure if they would choose it in this form.

    As for you not being offended, and the people in your office either, yes you are african but you are not black african and thus have not been subjected to countless years of discrimination, ridicule, attack (?) and are sensitive to many issues, including ones that seem to be created by a seemingly entitled white artist. I feel rocks for the president but the painting is crude and doesnt have much artistic merit either. I think JZ’s crew shouldve ignored it (Priorities!) but you cant really question why people find it offensive.

    Sidenote: Lucien Freud painted people he knew, friends, family (Fuct up I know) who actively posed for him, very different to Brett’s subject matter and possibly his intentions. Da Vinci’s Vetruvian man is supposed to be the perfectly proportioned, ideal man, not an object of ridicule and humour.

    • abcitsme says:

      With regard to Lucien and Da Vinci, I was merely noting that the nakedness in the artwork is still considered art and not derogatory.

      You make a good point but again as Murray refuses to comment on what the ‘point’ of his artwork is its all up in the air surely?

      Thanks for the input! Food for thought.

      • Alex (Con) says:

        Sure and I understand what you were getting at with them as examples. I think that a problem also lies in how many people in South Africa viewed, view and will now view art. The view of art being an elitist, whites only business which often pokes fun at the “inferior” beings seems to be a common misconception (Maybe true?), this artwork seems to play into the hands of this idea. A thought process that is dangerous for all involved in the industry.

        I think you are right about Murray’s no comment stance, but the show in general, as usual for Murray, consists of highly critical, political works. Some better artwork than ‘the spear’, on the same show is Murray selling the actual logo of the ANC which I believe is much more interesting. Rather than crude assaults on individuals, more ‘clever’ ways of addressing issues as well as raising important ideas of copyright in the art world (Die Antwoord and Jane Alexander comes to mind).

        Maybe something not touched on is the respect towards elders in ‘African culture’. Apparently it happens in all cultures but probably not the case. I have sworn at, around my parents (not proud), but some of my black friends wouldnt dare think of it. Even if the man has done stupid things I think many people still maintain the ideal of respecting elders. The multiple comments on social media like “What if it was your father who was painted?” seem to highlight this point for me. If asked the same question, I’d probably reply “I wouldn’t give a shit”. Something the ANC probably should’ve done.

        Great blog!! Love reading it.

    • abcitsme says:

      Just another point no I’m not black but the majority of people I asked were, does this change anything?

  2. Nastasya says:

    Love the comment Con, have to agree with you.

  3. SA Citizen says:

    Honestly I think that the whole reason the ANC has made such a big hoo haa about the damn painting is to distract other issues out there.I don’t think many people knew that Gordhan has appealed to the ConCourt regarding the toll roads or that Zuma’s popularity is at an all time low.It is all tactics – no one is really hurt by the painting ( as president I assume one has a thicker skin than most) but the ANC have seized an opportunity to spin this so their names remain in the papers for things other than corruption and lack of service delivery.

    Just my two cents worth.

  4. Andrew (Orks) says:

    To touch on the Con’s comment on the respect for one’s elders being a possible reason for public outcry, I believe that its not only the factor of age, but also the upholding of respect for those in authoritative positions within African culture. Being a white South African with little knowledge on the matter, I’m no expert, but since the reign of Shaka, up until the present day, respect, devotion and grandeur granted to community leaders, elders, priests etc within the African community can clearly help us understand the publics unease within a cultural context.

    In terms of the white elitism within South African art, again I couldn’t agree more. Coming from an artistically informed background I can understand the message behind the piece, including some of my own subjective analogies drawn on the Leninist reference. Again I agree that if I weren’t viewing the work from an artistically inclined, middle-class, white South African point of reference, but rather from that of the majority of the nation, I would take offense to the work.

    • abcitsme says:

      I think you are assuming that all black South Africans have respect for their elders? Does Julius Malema have respect for his elders when he publicly slates Zuma amd Mbeki and is supported by the majority of the ANCYL? Surely respect should be earned and not given just because you are the president of a country?

      Just some thoughts

      • Andrew (Orks) says:

        The first part of my post was purely an addition to the cultural aspects that Con touched on, in a general sense, addressing the question of “What is African Culture?”. Yeah for sure, not all black South Africans have respect or devotion towards their elders or those in authoritative positons, that goes without saying, I was merely touching on it as a contributing factor (on top of the many) towards the public’s outcry.

        This being said, I acknowledge that the piece has no intention of attacking black South African culture as a whole, but I can understand why somebody else, within a completely different cultural context to mine might think it does.

      • abcitsme says:

        Would you say Barend la GrangeandLowie has any ‘African’ heritage/ culture though? Why did he then feel the need to do what he did being a white middle class South African?

        It makes me believe that colour or culture has little to do with the outcry surrounding the artwork…obviously not on every level, but it seems to be fueled by politics

  5. Andrew (Orks) says:

    There is no denying the political backdrop to the outcry, again, I was merely adding to the cultural aspects that may have influenced the public’s reaction, specifically the references to the cultural defamation.

    In terms of La Grange, the lack of offense I took to the work, as well as a personal relation to its content, differs from one person to the next. La Grange (a tasty ZZTop song) may have done it for many reasons, which we don’t know. Some crappy online articles are stating it was for religious reasons, others say he’s a political fence sitter, who knows, but yes, I agree that it isn’t his defense of African culture and heritage. So again, what doesn’t offend me, may enrage someone else whether it be for religious, cultural, political or personal reasons. It’s all subjective.

    Back to work!

    Great article.

  6. Kyle Ferrusi says:

    Very nice website, thanks for share this article with us

  7. alike says:

    This would not look like a comment,I’m sure and that’s because for the first time I’m reading something that sounds like i wrote it.i don’t know whether to call you sweetheart because i have no idea whether you are a man or woman.But you obviously don’t have your genitals sticking out.Now back to why I’m so into your article.i am still struggling to understand why the painting should cause such a fuzz.ido worst things on my computer with my knowlege in photoshop,and i bet the anc would board the next available flight to Ghana and vandalise my computer.Talking about human rights and dignity,what about the pictures scattered over the internet of half naked south African girls all in the name of culture.What if the painting had no face?And to those who say it is a shame to African culture,,,of course yes…it is when it is a president but not innocent girls.Please correct me ,or maybe i am in north Korea,is this not the country where tourists go to see the naked girls? Let those who are crossed spare us.the painting doesnt jz’s name on it does it.?
    And sweetheart I’ll bookmark your blog and read it the article

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  9. Alex says:

    I just don’t get it – have you seen the other Brett Murray artworks in this exhibition? There are many others that Zuma should take offence at – they portray him (correctly I think) as a thieving corrupt leader who doesn’t care about his people and couldn’t uphold the constitiution if he tried. Surely that is more offensive than a penis? It is clearly okay to be a dick but not to have one.

  10. website says:

    Nice post . Thanks for, posting on this blog page dude. I will email you again! I didnt know that!

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