No connection between Spear vandals - lawyer

2012-05-22 22:44

Johannesburg - The lawyer for one of the two men arrested for vandalising a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma at the Goodman Gallery said on Tuesday that there was no connection between the two.

Artist Brett Murray's depiction of Zuma, with his private parts exposed, was defaced with red and black paint, obscuring the face and waist of the figure.

A third person was arrested later for apparently trying to spray the word "respect" on a wall of the gallery.

The men were released on bail of R1 000 each and will appear in the Hillbrow Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.

All three were charged with malicious damage to property.

Krish Naidoo, representing Lowie Mabokela, who smeared black paint over the portrait, said his client is a taxi driver from Limpopo and had come to Johannesburg to see the portrait.

He said there was no connection between Mabokela and the second man - who has not yet been named - who painted a red cross over Zuma's face and genitals.

"It was spontaneous on both their parts, they just happened to be there at the same time," said Naidoo.

"His family members are involved in art. He drove all the way from Limpopo to see the portrait for himself and that's his reason for being here," he said.

Naidoo said Mabokela had laid charges of assault against the security guard who apprehended him at the gallery.

"We've asked the police to consider arresting the security guard. We are considering taking civil action against the gallery for the assault," said Naidoo.

Gallery closed

The arrests came within an hour of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg setting down an application by the ANC to have the painting removed from the gallery for hearing by a full Bench on Thursday morning.

The application had just been postponed when word spread that the painting The Spear , part of Murray's exhibition Hail to the Thief II, had been defaced.

The gallery has now removed the painting saying it has been taken "to a safe location pending the court case".

It also temporarily closed its doors to the public, amid safety concerns

Gallery owner Liza Essers said the move was prompted by numerous threats and the defacing.

"The extent of the rage has astonished me and upset me very much," she said.

Essers said the painting had generated a debate that clearly engaged with important legal and constitutional issues.

"I furthermore never imagined that this debate would transform into harmful physical action," she said.

"This is over and above questions of political power, which formed part of its original dialogue."

The gallery said it had recognised how "incredibly divided" the country has become about the issues this controversy had raised.

"We are thankful for the support that we have received so far and also reiterate that we did not anticipate the harm that has been caused, or the offence that has been taken," said Essers.

"We have decided to do this [temporarily shut its doors] as we feel that the Goodman Gallery, its staff, as well as public visitors are at risk."

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