Cape Town - A painting of President Jacob Zuma in traditional attire with his genitals exposed went on display at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town on Monday night.
City artist Ayanda Mabulu’s painting Umshini Wam (Weapon of Mass Destruction) is part of an exhibition called Our Fathers, which features works by artists such as Brett Murray, whose controversial painting The Spear sparked protest action against the Goodman Gallery in May.
The Spear, which also depicted Zuma with his penis exposed, was later withdrawn by the gallery, removed from the City Press website and classified by the Film and Publications Board as unsuitable for under-16s.
Mabulu is no stranger to controversy. In May 2010 his painting of the late AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche’s head on a tray was barred from an exhibition in Truworths in Cape Town.
Mabulu, who lives in Dunoon, said Umshini Wam, priced at R75 000, did not show a lack of respect for Zuma.
“The painting… is a respectful one. He is clothed in his culture. He is clothed in his manhood. Only a Eurocentric viewpoint would see him as naked.
“He is not naked; I did not paint him with an uncircumcised penis. “This is a metaphor that shows he is not a boy; he is a man, an elder, a father, a leader,” Mabulu said.
“Through this painting I respectfully, as one of his children, ask my father why he is starving us, why he is negating his duties to his children, the citizens of South Africa.”
Dedicated to the miners who died in the Lonmin tragedy, the painting aimed to “strip” Zuma of his suit and tie and bring him to the level of ordinary people, he said.
“I represent people all over South Africa who feel the sting of what the president is doing to us. We still live in matchbox houses,” Mabulu said.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said: “Why repeat the same thing? There were marches and a lot of inconvenience. We need productivity. I sympathise with the president. This is too much. He doesn’t deserve this.”
ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe said: “Sometimes people think derogatory gestures are a beauty contest. If that artist wants to be in that contest, allow him.”
AVA Gallery director Kirsty Cockerill said if Umshini Wam provoked controversy, as The Spear painting had done earlier, the gallery would have fulfilled its mandate of facilitating dialogue. “Our Fathers is a curated exhibition with 24 artists and 40 artworks. There are many artworks that could be interpreted as insensitive, even if The Spear saga had never taken place,” she said when asked whether, in the wake of The Spear, Mabulu’s painting could be interpreted as insensitive.