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PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma felt “violated” when a copy of the painting depicting him with his genitals exposed arrived at his office last week.
And, in his urgent application to the Johannesburg High Court to have the work, The Spear, removed from an exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Joburg, he said he was shocked and personally offended by the Brett Murray’s portrait of him.
In addition, Zuma seeks to have City Press newspaper remove the image of the portrait from its website.
In his affidavit supporting the application, the president contended that his constitutional rights had been breached by the exhibit.
Zuma said in court papers: “I accordingly bring this application on an urgent basis for the immediate removal from the display of the portrait and the declaration that such a display is in breach of my right to dignity and privacy as contained in section 10 and 14 (of the constitution)”.
The portrait, which has been on view since May 10, drew crowds to the gallery over the weekend.
Yesterday the Weekend Argus reported that ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu had announced that the application the party was bringing before the court tomorrow was a “last resort” to interdict the gallery from “displaying and exhibiting” the “offensive and distasteful” portrait.
The gallery has vowed to oppose the application, saying it would not give up its right to “decide what art will hang on our walls”.
Zuma complained: “The continued display of the portrait is manifestly serious and has the effect of impugning my dignity in the eyes of all who see it. In particular, the portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests that I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of my fellow citizens, family and children.”
Zuma’s family reportedly criticised Murray’s portrait. His brother Michael said the portrait had “disgraced” the family, while one of the president’s daughters added that the painting was “vulgar and lacks humanity”.
On Sunday last week, the City Press newspaper carried a photograph of the painting and is carrying the image on its website.
Fikile Ntsikilelo Moya, executive editor of City Press, said the paper had decided not to remove the image from its website.
‘‘We intend to argue that it is ‘fair comment’ in court, and that Zuma’s constitutional rights have not been violated… That is not to say that we agree with the artist’s depiction of the president… As a paper we have the responsibility to publish fair comment,” said Moya.
Zuma added in his affidavit: “(I)n terms of the theme of the exhibition, my portrait is meant to convey a message that I am an abuser of power, corrupt and suffer political ineptness.”
The Spear forms part of Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition and is scheduled to remain on display at the gallery until June 16.
“Even if the portrait is removed from the exhibition by the (gallery) on 16 June 2012, the image will continue to exist on the respondents’ other media such as websites,” said Zuma. “It will continue to exist in the minds of those people who have seen it… However, the removal of the portrait will ensure that the harm caused by its continuous publication and accessibility is limited to only those that have seen it or had had access to it.”
Zuma said the violation of his dignity, reputation and integrity meant that there can be “no monetary value attached that I may vindicate and attain damages for their violation through the ordinary process of court”.