Zuma painting back on display
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In an unexpected turn yesterday, Ayanda Mabulu’s controversial political painting about the Marikana tragedy titled Yakhali’inkomo (Black Man’s Cry) finally went on view at the FNB Joburg Art Fair after being banned from display by the organisers.
This occurred following David Goldblatt removing his photographic exhibition from the fair in protest at the organisers’ censorship of Mabulu’s art work.
The internationally acclaimed photographer made the stand early yesterday morning, after learning that the fair’s director, Ross Douglas, had requested that the owners of Commune1, the gallery representing Mabulu, take down the art work before the opening night on Thursday.
The painting features President Jacob Zuma crushing the head of a striking miner under his foot.
Douglas’s request was made to avoid offending or placing in jeopardy relations with government patrons that lend financial support to the event, which includes a capacious stand occupied by the Department of Trade and Industry.
In Yakhali’inkomo, Zuma is fully clothed and pictured among Julius Malema, striking miners and a matador waving the South African flag as he stabs another striking worker.
Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth and Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC leader-turned-businessman who is alleged to have called for police action against the striking workers at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, are depicted observing the bloody action from a balcony.
Blood is seen oozing from the ANC logo pictured at the crown of the tableaux.
Goldblatt, who is represented by the Goodman Gallery and is the featured artist at this year’s fair, disagreed with Douglas’s censorship of Mabulu’s art work before he saw it, as it recalled familiar responses during the apartheid era, he said yesterday at a press conference at the Sandton Convention Centre, where the fair is being staged.
“I had to make a stand against what is a threat to the freedom of speech. Self-censorship is a slippery slope that we know only too well. We cannot make compromises, however uncomfortable it may be to do so,” he said.
The Goodman Gallery expressed its support for Goldblatt’s decision to take down his exhibition, The Frock and other Pictures.
“The Goodman Gallery is dedicated to upholding the South African constitution and the freedom of expression that it allows.
“As a result of The Spear saga, we have learnt many lessons, and are aware that this incident has engendered a culture of self-censorship, which has become increasingly ubiquitous in the South African art world. It is mournful that the FNB Art Fair is influenced by this undercurrent of fear for economic reasons or otherwise,” the gallery said yesterday.
Douglas, director of Artlogic, the company behind the fair, depends on the Department of Trade and Industry, the Gauteng Provincial Government and the City of Joburg to support the event financially via their Arts Alive programme.
These government entities support the inclusion in the fair of arts institutions that would not otherwise be able to afford a stand at the event, such as the Joburg-based Bag Factory and various schoolchildren’s programmes.
The government entities also fly in international buyers to the fair to cement its status in the global art scene.
“We wanted the opening night event to be about celebrating the work the government does, rather than attention being directed towards an overtly political work,” said Dr Cobi Labuschagne, creative director of the fair.
Ross confirmed that he did not censor Mabulu’s work because of pressure from any government entity and neither had any representative expressed support or opposition to his decision.
However, a representative from FNB, the fair’s corporate sponsor, had communicated with him, affirming the independence and right of the organisers to censor art at the fair, according to Ross.
During yesterday’s press conference, Mabulu thanked Goldblatt for making a stand against the fair’s decision and seemed pleased that his painting went on display, so as to enable “political change that would take place beyond an art booth”.
However, he expressed regret that the fair’s organisers were “Marikana denialists”.