Faith Daniels

Condemn Ayanda Mabulu if you must, but don’t ignore the issue

2016-07-14 12:06

Faith Daniels

Ayanda Mabulu is an artist who provokes through his work with regularity. That’s what he does, and he does it well. We lose our minds every time he releases a painting. It evokes emotion, not always positive, but it dominates conversation and debate.

Almost every time that debate centres around how far those in the creative spheres of our society can go, how far they push the envelope with their craft until it is deemed inapproprate, vulgar or downright distasteful.

And such is the case with his latest work depicting President Zuma licking the anus of a Gupta brother.

So the emotions are running high and people are screaming on social media. But there are also those jumping to the defence of Mabulu, saying that he should be allowed his freedom of expression through his trade.

Another argument put forward is that surely the subjects of the particular work have rights as well? And in the case of the country’s number one citizen – should a different set of rules not guide how we depict him?

Well, no. That’s my view. And here’s why.

In our vibrant democracy we criticise with regularity. No one is excluded from the wrath of our tongues when it comes to expressing our opinions. South Africans are hypercritical. All of us are analysts, just name the topic of the day. Government, and those who represent it, even the highest office in the land, are frequent targets – because we scrutinise what they do and don’t do with vigour. And so we should. Because we are in dangerous territory when we are afraid of expressing our happiness or dissatisfaction with our circumstances.

So why must a different set of rules apply to artists such as Mabulu when he puts into pictures what and how he feels? When he makes social commentary and depicts his views in the best way he knows how?

Some write the most critical pieces on President Zuma and how he and the ANC govern. The words used are fiery, with no holds barred, yet somehow this is deemed less offensive. We are only offended once we are overwhelmed by the visual.

So, not only were strongly worded messages circulating on social media, the politicians also got involved. The ANC Youth League said it was concerned that "such pictures create anger in some quarters" and that it might lead to "confrontational relations between those that continue to create such pictures".

On the bright side, the League urged its local structures to engage with Mabulu. But which artist will engage with you when you respond to his work with a veiled threat?

Mabulu has been unapologetic. He says he will continue to depict Zuma in his work until the president leaves office.

“I starved. To the point where toilet paper became a very essential thing. Black people go through that right now in the hands of the ANC... We’re not gonna beat around the bush and try to have some nice accents talking about the issues that are affecting us.”

He says he wants his art to be like a library – something that current and future generations can refer to, something indelible that reminds us of what has happened under the present ANC rule.

So you feel offended, upset, disgusted and mortified by the picture. And it’s your right to express that view. But you won’t forget, will you? 

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    ayanda mabulu  |  jacob zuma
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