Not even the most powerful should dictate content – Goodman Gallery

2012-05-21 13:32

The owner of the Goodman Gallery, where Brett Murray’s controversial art work The Spear is on display, says her gallery cannot be a “gallery of integrity” if she allows “any individual, even the most powerful” to dictate its content.

In her affidavit before the South Gauteng High Court, Liza Essers also speaks of her “amazement” at the fact that since the controversy surrounding the painting began on Thursday, so many people, both within South Africa and abroad, have seen images of the artwork.

President Jacob Zuma and the ANC have launched an urgent application to obtain a court order against the Goodman Gallery and City Press for the removal of the painting, The Spear, which is part of Murray’s exhibition, titled Hail to the Thief II.

The painting depicts an image of Zuma with his genitals hanging out of his trousers.

The exhibition was reviewed in the City Press’s lifestyle section, Seven, two weeks ago, and an image of The Spear was published on its website.

Zuma and the ANC want the image deleted from the website.

In court papers, Zuma says that he was “shocked and felt personally violated” when he saw the piece which he says depicts him as a “philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect.”

The case will most likely be heard on Wednesday before Judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane.

In her affidavit, Essers says Murray, who has a decades-long reputation as an artist and art teacher but whom her gallery has represented for six years, has a “local and international reputation for thought-provoking and satirical art”.

Before the controversy started with the release of a statement by ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu on Thursday, Essers says that the “exhibition proceeded very much as exhibitions usually do at the Goodman Gallery”.

“It was viewed by no more than a few hundred people and its inclusion on our website is an ordinary incident of exhibiting artistic works. I understand that it was ironically largely as a consequence of the launching of this application that there has been widespread national and international dissemination of the work,” she said.

“As (Zuma and the ANC) say, the image is now accessible to millions within and outside the country. No one is more amazed at this than me. But the number of people that have come to the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg is a tiny fraction of the number of people that have seen copies of the work on electronic media.”

Essers, however, said that as for the “personal offence and hurt” Zuma has suffered after viewing the painting, “the Goodman Gallery had no intention to cause him or his family any hurt or offence”.

But still, no member of the public should be allowed to dictate the content of an exhibition.

“However, if this Court tells me that Brett Murray’s painting ... has infringed (Zuma and the ANC’s) rights unjustifiable and should in consequence be taken down, that is a different matter. I will of course respect any order of court.”

The Spear, Essers says, is a composite image, referencing a well-known iconic image of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, upon whose image genitalia were pasted.

“The depiction references an ongoing public discussion in society as to the relationship between political power and the sexuality that accompanies this power,” Essers said in court papers.

“The relationship between political power and sexuality is one that has been much discussed in recent times, for example President (Bill) Clinton and Monica Lewinsky; (former International Monetary Fund head) Dominique Strauss-Kahn; and the former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi.”

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