The Spear divides the nation

2012-05-20 16:18
Brett Murray painting. (Denis Farrell, AP)

Brett Murray painting. (Denis Farrell, AP)

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Johannesburg - Schoolchildren, high-powered businesspeople, fashionistas, grandparents – a 1.85m tall portrait of President Jacob Zuma has made them all art critics.

Joburg’s Goodman Gallery was packed on Friday and on Saturday as scores of people headed to the space on Jan Smuts Avenue to see the portrait that caused all the trouble.

Cars lined the streets outside the gallery and inside people stood in clusters around Brett Murray’s work.

Some ventured along corridors and into corners to see other pieces in the exhibition, titled Hail to the Thief II.

There were audible gasps and giggles.

Some people pointed and said, “I like this one”, while others shook their heads at the more audacious works.

Undoubtedly, though, the exhibition’s main attraction was The Spear – a portrait which, if the ANC has its way on Tuesday, will be removed.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe believes it should be banned.

Curious visitors jostled for space alongside camera crews, and journalists armed with microphones and notebooks.

“It’s a bad piece of art,” said Philani Mdingi, arms folded across his chest.

“It’s ridicule disguised as art.

“When you look closer and piece the other pieces of the exhibition together, it starts to become a bit infuriating as it talks to post-colonial perceptions that have been ingrained about black people,” he said, citing a sculpture of an ape holding its genitals to prove his point.

“It’s quite hard-hitting, flabbergasting,” said Nombini Habangana, who visited the gallery during a one-day visit to Johannesburg from Bloemfontein.

“Like in a James Bond movie, it looks as if he’s about to pull a weapon out and the weapon looks like his phallus. It’s a bit disrespectful, considering he’s the president,” she said.

Others loved The Spear.

“It’s very brave and I’m impressed. It’s very clever – shocking – but I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” said Launa Doyle.

“I love it!” giggled Reba Wilderson, a little shyly.

“They have been asking for it. It’s what everybody has been saying. Everybody’s had their opinion, but one man decided to put it in pictures.”

She added, though, that she thought it was disrespectful and hoped the painting would be taken down “sooner rather than later; burned, and not seen or toured around South Africa”.

For others, the main attraction was a little underwhelming.

“It’s okay. I don’t think it’s worth the controversy, but I think that’s what he [Murray] wanted. He did this for the publicity. He’s going to sell a lot of work with this. It worked,” said Thomas Chapman, who described Murray as a “pop artist”.

“It’s quite a cheap shot, but it’s mostly funny.”

The gallery’s director, Liza Essers, rejected the idea that Murray’s work was racist.

“That is outrageous. [The work is] definitely not racist. The gallery is known for its art against apartheid through the 80s, fighting against the apartheid regime – as did Brett Murray,” she pointed out.
 
Read more on:    brett murray  |  jeff radebe  |  jacob zuma  |  johannesburg  |  zuma painting
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