The controversial painting by Brett Murray, which exposes President Jacob Zuma’s genitals, cannot be classified as art, but a personal attack on a black head of state by a white artist considered by some as a racist.
The painting titled The Spear, is being displayed at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. It is an insult to blacks and their culture and outright abuse of artistic freedom by Murray and the gallery that is displaying it.
South Africa is a democracy and has one of the best constitutions in the world. South Africans have the right to criticise anyone, including the President, but making personal attacks on the head of state and putting such provocative paintings of Zuma with his genitals exposed is just over the limit.
Murray has just gone too far in exercising his freedom of expression. In fact this is outright abuse of the freedom of expression and a violation of the President’s rights and privacy which he is entitled to as a citizen of this country.
Surely Murray’s painting has nothing to do with freedom of expression, but a direct attack on Zuma, his family and the presidency itself. I wonder what would happen if Murray had insulted the head of state of an Islamic country or Prophet Mohammad!
Moslems would have invaded the gallery and beat the hell out of the artist in question, or any official who allowed such offensive painting to be put on display.
The artist would probably have joined British author Salman Rushdie in hiding. Rushdie got carried away while exercising his right as an author. But he went too far when he published his book titled the Satanic Verses.
The book sparked worldwide controversy in the Moslem world, leading to the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, passing a death sentence on him on February 14 1989.
Moslems around the world were ordered to hunt the author down and kill him for insulting their faith and prophet Mohammad. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding and was provided with round-the-clock protection by the British government.
Well, we don’t want that to happen to Murray, but he is also lucky that he lives in South Africa where artists can abuse their freedom of expression and get away with it.
What angers me as an artist myself and writer, is that there are some people, especially whites, who have come to Murray’s defence while his backers have ignored Zuma’s rights as a human being, “father” and citizen of South Africa.
I am not surprised by many black people who have condemned his painting. Murray has been attacked by Zuma’s political opponents, who believe that this time, the artist has gone too far and should be dealt with decisively.
These are probably times when the African National Congress needs people like Julius Malema to deal with Murray, men of conviction.
South Africans of all races should unite in condemning the abuse of artistic freedom by Murray and other artists who hide under the country’s constitution.
Zuma is a public figure as head of state, but he is also a an individual whose rights should be respected by all of us.
You do wonder what would have happened had Murray been living in Zimbabwe or China after attacking the President like that!
Your guess is as good as mine! Such behaviour by Murray has become a recruiting platform for those who take the view that leaders like President Robert Mugabe are heroes of the African continent.
Mugabe does not tolerate nonsense in his country, especially from people who think they are better than other races.
During the apartheid era, white journalists and artists never insulted white leaders using their art. Why are they allowed to insult a black president?
I am not a Zuma apologist, but it angers me as a black person to see a white artist abusing his artist freedom to insult a black president.
I was not surprised when one official of the Church of Nazareth, Enoch Mthembu, called on South Africans to kill the artist Murray for what he called “insulting blacks and their culture”.
Mthembu, whose church has embraced African traditions, said Murray’s painting was an attack on all black people in South Africa and deserved to be stoned to death.
Thabo Kunene is a Zimbabwean
journalist based in Johannesburg