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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.