Zara Nicholson and Baldwin Ndaba
CAPE Town satirical artist Brett Murray has spoken out for the first time over his controversial portrait The Spear – which depicts President Jacob Zuma with his genitals bared – saying he did not intend to cause any “hurt or to harm the dignity of any person”.
The artist says the work “is an attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse”.
In a responding affidavit to Zuma’s application to have the portrait taken down, the Goodman Gallery owner, Liza Essers included a statement from Murray.
Up until now Murray has been silent on the debate which has divided public opinion. “In the apartheid years, I created satirical images which attacked abuses of power. For many years I have used, and continue to use symbols with sexual connotations representative of political power and patriarchy,” Murray said.
Zuma filed an urgent application last week to the South Gauteng High Court for an order to have the gallery remove the portrait, as well as the City Press newspaper remove images of it from their website.
The matter was set to be heard today.
Both the gallery and the newspaper have refused the remove the portrait, saying it would be censorship.
In his affidavit Zuma said the portrait was infringing on his constitutional rights to dignity and privacy. Zuma said he felt “shocked, personally offended and violated” when he saw a copy of The Spear for the first time.
He said the portrait depicted him as a “a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect”.
Murray added: “I continue to create artworks which attack abuses of power and corruption through satire and parody in the exercise of my right to freedom of artistic expression under section 16 of the constitution.”
He said the portrait was a parody of the well-known Vladimir Lenin image.
“It is an attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse. I never intended the artwork to cause any hurt or to harm the dignity of any person,” Murray said.
He added that he was affirming his right to express himself artistically.
In her affidavit, Essers said she was opposing the application on the basis that the gallery was known as a neutral space “that embraces voices of dissent, presenting work that confronts the contemporary socio-political climate”.
“The Goodman Gallery held shows that spoke out against the repressive apartheid regime, and following the county’s entry into democracy, continues to present work that does not complacently accept the political status quo,” she said.
She said Murray’s work was typical of the gallery’s mandate which supports artists’ freedom of expression and encourages them to show work that challenges the status quo, ignites the dialogue and shifts consciousness “Brett Murray has a… reputation for thought-provoking and satirical art. The exhibition includes depictions of political power in its various manifestations, including the relationships between politics and sexual power. It emerges from and engages with a centuries-old artistic tradition of representing and satirising political power, “Essers said.
She, however, said that Zuma did have a right to express his opinion of The Spear and may well be outraged by the work.
Essers said the gallery had no intention to cause him or his family any “hurt or offence”.
She denied that the gallery acted unlawfully or infringed on Zuma’s rights, adding that she did have sympathy for him feeling hurt or aggrieved.
Essers also dismissed Zuma’s case in his affidavit where he said that the more days the work is displayed, the more his right to dignity and that of the ANC is impugned.
She said the continued display of the work in the gallery had little or no effect on Zuma’s dignity as extensive publication of copies of the images were freely available on the internet to millions, locally and internationally.