Artists revolt against censorship

2013-09-29 14:01

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Ayanda Mabulu’s controversial painting, Yakhal’inkomo – Black Man’s Cry, is back on display at the FNB Joburg Art Fair, gracing the same wall it did earlier in the week before being removed to a storeroom and locked away.

The difference is that it is now easily the most famous painting in the exhibition space.

It has almost certainly sold for its R90 000 asking price – there are numerous bids in to purchase it, according to gallerist Greg Dale of Commune.1, Mabulu’s dealers.

The decision to return the painting to public display was made by the fair’s organiser, Ross Douglas of Artlogic.

He was also the one who asked for the work to be taken down ahead of the opening of the fair on Thursday night as he felt it could unsettle sponsors, compromise the “creative economy”, and cause embarrassment to government officials and politicians attached to some of the fair’s development projects.

The painting depicts President Jacob Zuma standing on and threatening workers who are being killed in a bullfighting arena, a reflection on the Marikana shooting.

Douglas yesterday admitted that “my decision blew up in my face”, but told City Press the painting had not been among those submitted by Mabulu’s gallery ahead of the fair.

He said he decided to return the painting to the show because he “didn’t want one work to divert attention from the larger exhibition”.

He also admitted that one of the factors influencing the decision was a meeting with world-famous photographer David Goldblatt.

Artist Ayanda Mabulu with the painting that caused all the trouble. He is seen here in a ‘Joburg Art Fair or Foul?’ T-shirt in a storeroom where the painting was housed after being removed from display. Before the painting went back on display, other artists withdrew from the fair in solidarity. Picture: Denzil Maregele

As this year’s featured artist at the fair, Goldblatt gave a talk on Friday, speaking out againstcensorship.

Yesterday he told City Press he had decided to remove his work from the event in solidarity with Mabulu.

In a statement to City Press, he did not mince his words:

“In my opinion, Ross Douglas has compromised far more than the ‘creative economy’, whatever that is. He has publicly infringed Mabulu’s freedom of expression and, by association, since I am an exhibitor, he has compromised my own. I am not willing to have this done. I am honoured to be the featured artist of 2013 and I do this with great sadness, but I am therefore withdrawing my work from the Johannesburg Art Fair.”

By mid-morning yesterday, staff from the Goodman Gallery, which represents Goldblatt, had quietly removed the 32 photos making up his exhibition, The Frock and Other Pictures.

He was not alone. Contacted by City Press, Brett Murray – creator of the infamous Zuma portrait The Spear – said he was also instructing Goodman to remove his work from the fair in solidarity.

“I am disgusted by the censorship of his work,” Murray said.

A statement againstcensorship was also issued by Nelisiwe Xaba and Mocke J van Veuren, the joint winners of this year’s lucrative FNB Art Prize, which is attached to the fair. Former FNB winner Kudzanai Chiurai spoke out from Zimbabwe, saying he was not surprised by the developments.

“Ross tried to tell me what to put in my booth when I won the prize. He thinks the art fair is a private gallery. Whose ‘creative economy’ is Ross worried about? The government’s?”

He told City Press he had offered to return the R100 000 FNB prize rather than be told what to exhibit.

Douglas countered this by saying that Chiurai’s exhibition was sparse, uncurated and a little sloppy.

For his part, Mabulu – who clashed publicly with Douglas at a press conference on Friday – was overcome with emotion when told of Goldblatt and Chiurai’s support.

“Yoh! Yoh! Yoh! Brotherman is that true?” he said, “Aluta continua! Now I feel much better.”

He then decided to remove the rest of his work on display in solidarity with Goldblatt.

Once Douglas came to his decision, though, Goldblatt also returned his work to the exhibition space.

“I’m very happy with how this has turned out,” Mabulu told City Press. “It’s a battle won, a historical moment.”

Some artists have criticised Mabulu for folding and feel that both he and Goldblatt should have kept their work from show, but Mabulu disagrees.

“People are asking to see the work so they can decide for themselves. To not show them would be disrespectful.”


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