Speared by colonial claptrap

2012-05-19 09:13

Attacks on a black man’s genitalia is an example of prejudice

The Spear may be distasteful, vulgar, disrespectful or even an infringement of someone else’s right to privacy, but most important is that to me this portrait represents something else.

This piece of “art” is a veiled attack not only on President Jacob Zuma, but on the general populace of black men – there is nothing satirical or humorous about it.

What is further unfortunate and disturbing is that it reeks of classic colonial stereotypes and a typical obsession with the black penis.

The consistent attacks on Zuma’s personal lifestyle represent the early European notion of the black man.

It brings Zuma to the level of a “thing” that is abstract and should be pondered over a glass of red wine while admiring its artistic nature – I’m sorry, is that its penile length and size?

Let’s do a quick tally of Zuma in respect of the typical colonial stages that an emblematic native had to go through to attain second-class status according to European standards.

Well first, Zuma is a black man (the skin colour was just one of the big problems for the coloniser), a self-confessed traditionalist who practises polygamy (another big problem) and “uneducated” according to western standards.

Unfortunately, he is also the president of South Africa, one of the colonial system’s successful projects.

Now, given the obsession with his personal lifestyle – no, no, let me rephrase that – given the obsession with his sexual lifestyle, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Let’s look at few “satirical” treatments of Zuma: the shower (representing a sexual mistake made by Zuma), polygamy (continuously portraying him as some form of stud) and now The Spear (an open attack on his genitalia).

It is difficult for the people of South Africa with their colonised minds to attack one of the oldest ways of black life in the country: polygamy.

An attack on this lifestyle would be an attack on the traditional lifestyle of the native.

However, by strategically making a mockery of the most powerful man in the country and his sexuality, the obsession with the black man’s genitalia (or “jewels”, for City Press) continues in our society.

So when all is said and done, should I as a young black man be worried about the likes of Brett Murray and Jonathan Shapiro?

Decoded, do their veiled attacks – masquerading as artistic freedom – on Zuma reveal a continuous attack on a black man’s sexuality?

Personally, I am not the biggest fan of polygamy, but I am the biggest fan of mutual respect.

By becoming the “first citizen” of the country, Zuma became a public figure. But this does not mean he should be unfairly attacked in public. Especially not in such a historically sensitive area for a black man.

How should I, as a young black man, read The Spear?

I will read it as I have argued above, unless Murray and company explain and decode its meaning. They should do so not only for Zuma but for black men in society.

Do Zapiro and Murray look at the black man with the eyes of the early expansionists in Africa? Is Zuma their case study that represents how they view the black man?

It is sad to see that City Press, a newspaper with historically black roots, has chosen to endorse Murray’s obsession with “us”.

It is also sad that the work was endorsed by the Goodman Gallery. And it is also sad that there are members of South African society who call this portrait “art”.

Whatever we think of him as a man, and not as the president, whether we think he is good or bad, the fact is, he is a product of our society and he can’t be cast aside while people pretend he’s not there.

There are thousands of Jacob Zumas out there: men who make mistakes, men who marry abundantly – and who do not marry victims – and men who live traditional native black lifestyles.

Should “The Spear” be read against those other Jacob Zumas as well? If so, what does it say about them and how they are seen by other sections of the society?

» Tyali is a Ford Foundation international fellow, MSocSci candidate and Culture, Communication and Media Studies (UKZN) writer

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