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The ANC should drop its court challenge to ban the controversial painting “The Spear”, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said on Tuesday.
It said it recognised that the painting had caused much hurt and offence to a large number of people in the country.
The ANC also had the right to mobilise its constituency to publicly protest and show its disapproval at the display of the image.
“But we cannot support calls for the banning of artwork, nor threats to the artist and gallery, nor any attempt to narrow the space artists have to do their work freely and critically,” FXI spokesman Anton Harber said in a statement.
The painting by artist Brett Murray was part of his “Hail to the Thief II” exhibition on show at the Goodman Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
The painting was defaced a week ago and was removed from the exhibition.
The ANC and its affiliate organisations marched on the gallery on Tuesday to demand that the work be removed from the gallery's website and that it publicly apologise for displaying the work.
The ANC had called for a boycott of City Press newspaper for publishing a picture of the painting and for displaying it on its website. The boycott was called off after the newspaper removed the image and apologised.
Harber said the institute decried the fact that City Press was targeted in the debacle over the painting, as the newspaper had a “very crucial right to report on the exhibition and painting in question”.
The FXI condemned threats of violence directed at the newspaper's Editor-in-Chief Ferial Haffajee and her staff.
“The City Press was a messenger in this instance. While readers are entitled to choose to buy or boycott a newspaper, a call to withdraw government advertising is a call to break the law governing government expenditure, which obliges it to be used in a neutral and cost-effective way and make it an offence to use it as a political weapon.”
Harber said the ANC should desist from demanding an apology from the newspaper, as it was performing its duty of informing its readers about what has turned out to be an art exhibition of great public interest.
“The right to protest and the right to express unpopular opinions or produce unpopular and even offensive art are both freedoms of expression that we defend.”
This was a healthier route to nation building than resorting to the courts and emerging as winners or losers over rights that should be enjoyed by all, said Harber. - Sapa