Brett Murray Photo: Brenton Geach

Cape Town - An impromptu speech at the Open Book Festival at the weekend by Brett Murray, the Cape Town artist whose controversial painting, The Spear, caused a political storm four months ago, has been welcomed by city cartoonists.

In the satirical painting President Jacob Zuma was portrayed with his genitals exposed. Murray, who has declined to speak publicly about the issue which erupted in May, attended the Co/Mix event on Saturday at the festival.

Jonathan Shapiro, better known by his pen name Zapiro, said Murray said he did not want the pressure and threats brought against him to silence other artists and to stop them from speaking out.

“I was happy to see him breaking the ice,” Zapiro said.

He added that he saw similarities between himself and Murray as he (Murray) had court action brought against him for The Spear painting and Zapiro had two cases pending against him by Zuma.

Murray, who had answered questions “off the cuff”, was a fine artist who used cartoonlanguage in his work, said Zapiro.

Speaking to the Cape Times on Monday, Murray said he had been called up unexpectedly to say a few words, and he had commented “in a few sentences” about the issues arising from The Spear.

“It was a really informal gathering,” said Murray. “I felt comfortable speaking to the cartoonists. Some of the cartoons [on display] were based on The Spear.”

Murray said the cartoons provided some “light relief” on a difficult subject.

The Spear painting was defaced earlier this year and a 16N rating was placed on the painting by the Film and Publication Board.

The Goodman Gallery where the painting was displayed is appealing this decision and a ruling is expected within the next two weeks.

The Open Book Festival, which is in its second year, was a five-day event which ended on Monday.

Cartoonist Chip Snaddon, an editorial cartoonist at the Cape Argus, said he was impressed by the conviction with which Murray spoke about The Spear.

Cartoonist Anton Kannemeyer said it was great to see Murray voice his opinion.

“He feels very strongly about his work. It was special to hear him,” he said.

Co-organiser of the Co/Mix event, Andy Mason, said it was wonderful to hear Murray.

“There was no media there, which was a good thing. He was in a safe environment,” Mason said.

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Cape Times