‘Bullying unintended’ – ANC

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Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers and ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu speak to the press. Photo: Mujahid Safodien

The ANC never meant to bully the Goodman Gallery during its campaign to have a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed removed, the party said on Wednesday.

The party has halted court actions against the gallery and the City Press newspaper, which had published a picture of the painting and posted the image on its website. The website image was removed earlier this week.

The gallery has meanwhile confirmed that the painting’s German buyer wants it in its defaced form.

In the latest development in the art saga, DA MP and justice spokeswoman Dene Smuts has accused the ANC of using the debacle around The Spear to trample on the constitution.

“The ANC is rewriting the constitution with its feet. The constitution is a dead letter when the ANC abandons its court application because it has achieved its ends by other means,” said Smuts.

Earlier, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu met with gallery director Liza Essers and they both addressed the media.

“I don’t think marches and boycotts are the way forward. I think that’s bullying in a way,” Essers said to Mthembu.

She said she felt “conversation” at an earlier stage would have been better. Mthembu agreed, adding he wished both parties had engaged with one another instead of working through lawyers.

When asked if she would have done things differently, Essers said: “I stand by freedom of artistic expression.”

During the briefing, the ANC and the gallery announced a settlement agreement on the controversial artwork by Brett Murray, who was “saddened” by the saga, said Essers.

The ANC said it would not make sense to continue with a court case against the painting in light of the settlement. “Indeed, we are no longer taking the Goodman Gallery to court. We are no longer taking City Press to court,” said Mthembu.

Essers said the painting would not be displayed in the gallery because it had been defaced a week ago.

The settlement agreement with the ANC did not include an agreement on removing the picture from the Goodman Gallery’s website. However, she said the image would be taken down from the website at some point.

During the briefing on Wednesday, Essers admitted that the gallery and its employees were threatened (not by the ANC, but by others) about the Zuma painting.

Mthembu condemned these threats and said the party had distanced itself from calls for violence, adding that the march to the Goodman Gallery on Tuesday was also peaceful.

“People must not trivialise what has happened in the last two weeks. I’m stronger today as a result of this agreement,” he told Essers.

On censorship, Essers said the gallery was never asked to take down any other paintings on exhibition.

She said the gallery had not engaged with the ANC on the matter, but the owner has a legal right to the painting.

This came after SA Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande called for the painting to stay in the country and be destroyed.

Meanwhile, the Film and Publication Board was expected to decide by the end of the week on whether the painting should be classified.

News24 also announced they had removed the painting from their website. The website’s editor-in-chief Jannie Momberg said it was done “in a spirit of healing and nation building”.

“We maintain it is our right to publish The Spear within an editorial context… although no one has asked us to remove the images. The Spear episode will hopefully serve as a catalyst for South Africans to see freedom of expression and human dignity as two sides of the same coin and not as competing forces in our democracy,” Momberg said.

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