File picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Media
File picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Media

UCT denies banning ‘controversial’ artworks after protests

By NOLOYISO MTEMBU Time of article published Apr 29, 2017

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Cape Town – The University of Cape Town has denied media reports that it banned the display of 75 pieces of artwork on its campuses, following the destruction of paintings during student protests last year.

UCT spokesman Elijah Moholola said the university had removed the artworks for safekeeping.

On Friday, DA shadow minister for higher education and training Belinda Bozzoli said she would write to UCT management about what she perceived as “a shutdown of academic debate and artistic discourse”.

She would ask the university to clarify details of “banned” artworks, and those burnt in February 2016.

However, on Friday, the university told Weekend Argus it had not yet received correspondence from Bozzoli.

According to Moholola, the artworks were not banned: “A total of 75 artworks have been temporarily removed for safekeeping for a variety of reasons. These have not been banned. This coincided with the ongoing transformation process through which aspects of the university community – including artworks – are under discussion in order to forge an identity for the university which reflects the diverse body of staff and students, and create an inclusive community where everyone sees themselves reflected in the institution,” he said.

Bozzoli criticised the university, saying by removing the art, it was limiting debate.

“Banning an artwork is just as bad as taking a book from a library and burning it. Such actions prevent students from critically engaging with arts and literature,” she said.

“It is difficult to comprehend that one of our leading universities, known for its commitment to openness and free speech, and dedicated to the support and curation of the creations of many of South Africa’s best artists, should have indulged this kind of censorship, akin to the censorship and banning of literature, film, theatre and art by the apartheid government.”

The issue of the university’s artworks dates back to 2015 when student representatives provided the institution’s artworks task team with a list of 19 works they deemed controversial. The task team was established in September 2015 to advise the works of art committee.

According to the task team report released this year in February, 23 pieces of art were destroyed during student protests – sparking a decision by the works of art committee to remove artworks in selected places for safekeeping.

“There needed to be public communication about whether the removals were only a measure for securing assets, or if they were part of the transformation agenda. The lack of public communication by the works of art committee incited widespread public speculation that removals amounted to censorship by the council artworks task team,” the report reads.

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Weekend Argus

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