Artist slams ‘dark’ ANC stand on portrait

Published May 23, 2012


Kwanele Butana

A CAPE Town artist has slammed the ANC for its “dark and illiterate” reaction to Brett Murray’s portrait The Spear– which depicts President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.

Satirical artist Ayanda Mabulu, who also painted Zuma with his genitals bared two years ago, said yesterday that for the ANC to describe Murray’s portrait as racist was “portraying black people in a wrong way”.

“(The ANC) are dark and illiterate – they must go back to school and come back tomorrow,” said Mabulu.

He said art didn’t know colour or race, as it spoke a universal language.

He argued that if a president disrespected the people he or she was supposed to be serving, then there was no other way of depicting that president.

His own controversial painting, Ngcono Ihlwempu Kunesibhanxa Sesityebi( Better Poor Than A Rich Puppet), was shown in November 2010 in a solo exhibition at the Worldart Gallery in Cape Town.

The exhibition, Un-mute my tongue, portrayed the desire of poor black South Africans for their views to be heard and considered.

The painting featured Zuma, Barack Obama, Robert Mugabe, PW Botha, Nelson Mandela, George Bush, Pope Benedict XVI and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu seated around a table, like the figures in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Zuma’s penis is supported by a crutch, a metaphor used by Mabulu for the perception that Zuma’s sexual escapades were out of control and needed help.

Mabulu said that as a young black artist, he was feeling the sting of poverty, and he used art to depict what was going in the country.

“What other way of depicting the president than how he is understood in the township?”

Mabulu said people in townships had been whispering in their homes about Zuma’s sexual prowess and Murray’s portrait had amplified the conversation.

He praised Murray for his “powerful” portrait and said there was no room for “phony metaphors” when it came to social commentary.

Artists had to “depict the situation as it is”.

Moving from the premise that a man’s genitals symbolised his power, he suggested that to depict accurately how much power Zuma wielded, he would have painted him with between 10 and 100 penises.

Worldart Gallery director Charl Bezuidenhout said Mabulu’s painting had a mixed reaction. “Some didn’t like it, but most did not feel offended and no one was upset.”

Bezuidenhout said the Un-Mute My Tongue exhibition was so successful all the work on show was sold.

“America is sending a rocket into space and we are quibbling about a painting that features a penis. On the one hand it confirms how fragile and young our democracy is and how we need to be cautious. On the other hand, the refusal to see the painting in context and the fact that the real issues and metaphors are not discussed, saddens me immensely,” he said.

ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu declined to comment, saying he did not know Mabulu, nor his artwork.

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