Monday, April 15, 2013

White Zuma, Mandela Painting Rejected

April 15, 2013.

Johannesburg - A painting depicting President Jacob Zuma and former president Nelson Mandela as whites has been removed from an art exhibition in Nelspruit, it was reported on Monday.

The art work, created by Kobus Myburgh, was in an exhibition scheduled to open at the Van Riebeeck Hall on Monday, as part of the local municipality's celebration of World Art Day, Beeld reported.

 Kobus Myburgh with his painting which depicts a white 
President Jacob Zuma and Nelson Mandela.
 (Mary-Ann Palmer, Beeld))

In the same painting, former heads of state Hendrik Verwoerd, John Vorster, PW Botha and FW de Klerk were shown as blacks.

During an inspection of the exhibition, the council's arts and culture head Themba Mona saw the painting of Zuma and Mandela and two others and decided right then that it was "not suitable" for public viewing.

Mona removed it and locked it in a storeroom.

Myburgh said the painting was created two years ago, long before the 2012 controversy surrounding The Spear painting, in which Zuma was depicted with his genitals exposed.

"It is by no means a protest piece. There is a positive message, to show that we are actually all alike.

"That's why I called the painting Simunye - the Zulu word for 'we are one'. We are and remain equal, regardless of the colour of our skin."

He said he was disappointed his painting would not be seen, but he respected the board's decision.

"It's their gallery and they can decide what may be exhibited."

Council spokesperson Bessie Pienaar said Mona had the right to decide what could be exhibited. - SAPA
Comment: The very point of art is to interpret levels of reality and to provoke thought.

I find Kobus Myburgh's intention behind his painting to be quite thoughtful.  It is a gesture to the grand - if even shaky - ideals of reconciliation upon which this post-apartheid nation-state is founded.

So folks should be engaged and talking about Myburg's painting.

To censor this artist - any artist really - is a betrayal of the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The council's arts and culture head Themba Mona - who is a government employee - has not acted in the spirit of democracy and the constitution.  In fact, he has violated that spirit and should be held accountable.

Who is he to decide what is fit for public viewing?  And on what criteria did he base his knee-jerk decision?

We live in a democracy and the right to engage and express opinions is a sovereign and legal right.

These are troubling times for freedom of speech and expression in South Africa.


UPDATE (April 23):  A News24 report carries yet another instance where an art piece has been 'banned' from public view.  The report says:
A Bloemfontein high school pupil's painting of expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema may not be exhibited at the annual Bloem Show because it is "too political", it was reported on Tuesday. Artist Alta Bonnet, 17, depicted Malema as a fat cat on a gravy train, reported Volksblad.
The decision was taken by "Bloem Show CEO Elmarie Prinsloo who said it was a family event and that controversial art might upset people."


People should be "upset" because someone in the private sector - this time - is making a decision to ban freedom of expression/speech which as I said above is a constitutional right.

In fact is it probably a good idea to just reproduce the relevant section from The Bill of Rights Chapter 2: Section 16 of the South African Constitution here so as to familiarize those like Themba Mona and Elmarie Prinsloo who have taken it on themselves to ban freedom of expression:

16. Freedom of expression
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes ­
    1. freedom of the press and other media;
    2. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
    3. freedom of artistic creativity; and
    4. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
  2. The right in subsection (1) does not extend to ­
    1. propaganda for war;
    2. incitement of imminent violence; or
    3. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
This is a picture of the art piece and it is clear that it meets the above criteria in terms of a basic right extended to all:

 Artist Alta Bonnet, 17, poses with her satirical painting of Julius Malema. 
(Charl Devenish, Volksblad)

Some may not like the politics fingered by Alta Bonnet but hey as an artist she has a right to her opinion too and it is covered and protected by Chapter 2: Section 15, 1: 

15. Freedom of religion, belief and opinion
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
There is no place for banning peaceful - if even controversial - expression/speech in South Africa.  Both these artists should seek legal recourse. It is in the interests of democracy.


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