Zara Nicholson, Baldwin Ndaba, SAPA, Shain Germaner, Theresa Taylor and Kristen Van Schie
The painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed – the focus of a court battle to have it removed from the Goodman Gallery – has been defaced.
In a brazen gesture at the gallery this morning, in front of a crew from e-tv’s 3rd Degree programme, two men used red and black paint to destroy The Spear – a painting by Cape Town artist Brett Murray.
The well-dressed pair managed to make their way though the gallery with cans of paint.
Whether or not they planned to be filmed remains a mystery, as e-tv journalists Debora Patta and Iman Rapetti were at the gallery when the portrait was defaced in front of their camera crew.
Footage, which has been flighted on e-tv, shows a man painting a red cross over the depiction of Zuma’s prominently displayed genitals and then another over his face.
His accomplice then steps forward to spread large globs of black paint across and down the portrait with his fingers.
As the men go about ruining the artwork, Rapetti is seen stepping forward to ask the men what they are doing, but they continue silently. Gallery security then wrestled the men to the ground and a short scuffle ensued.
They had missed the small pot of red paint and paint brush and the black paint bottle when checking visitors to the gallery.
“I’m a supporter of the arts and this is a disgrace,” said witness Abby Taylor, who was near the painting when it happened.
The shock action happened shortly after today’s Johannesburg High Court hearing to have the The Spear painting removed from the Goodman Gallery and from the City Press website where it was decided that the matter would be heard on Thursday before a full bench.
This morning journalists, lawyers and students crammed into a small courtroom to watch the Presidency take on art.
But the case quickly stood down.
“In view of the public interest in the matter and the national interest, the decision was taken by the Judge President to deal with the matter in front of a full bench on Thursday,” said Judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane.
This meant that three judges would now hear the matter.
In the meantime, a lawyer representing Zuma’s children will also apply to take part in the case, as will Cape Town artist Brett Murray, arguing why his painting should not be removed.
This morning, as promised by the ANC, hundreds of people carrying posters slamming the controversial painting toyi-toyied outside the High Court. Wearing T-shirts proclaiming: “President Zuma has the right to human dignity and privacy” in the same red and black as the Murray painting the ANC wants removed, his supporters sang songs and ululated in Kruis Street opposite the court.
Glossy posters with the ANC logo saying “We say no! To artistic expression” were held aloft as a man dressed in military camouflage led the group in song and chanting.
A large ANC-branded stage backed into Pritchard Street opposite court and traffic was diverted for the application by Zuma and the ANC.
They wanted the Goodman Gallery to remove it because it violated his and the party’s right to dignity, they said. They also wanted City Press to remove images of the painting from its website. Both the gallery and City Press have refused.
Murray has also spoken out about the portrait, saying he did not intend to cause any “hurt or to harm the dignity of any person”.
He said the work was “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 owner of the Goodman Gallery, Liza Esser, included a statement from Murray who was initially silent on the divisive debate.
“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 said in the affidavit that he had felt “shocked, personally offended and violated” when he saw a copy of The Spear.
He said it depicted him as “a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect”.
Murray said: “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.”
In her affidavit, Esser 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”.
She admitted that Zuma had a right to express his opinion of The Spear and accepted that he might well be outraged by the work.
Esser said the gallery had no intention to cause him or his family any “hurt or offence”.
Instructing attorney Titus Mchunu of Mchunu Attorneys, speaking on behalf of his clients – the ANC and Zuma – said the defacing of the painting was unlikely to impact on any way on the current court application.