Zuma 'hurt' by painting

2012-05-20 11:37
Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma says he was “shocked, and felt personally ­offended and violated” when he saw a copy of artist Brett Murray’s painting The Spear for the first time.

The painting, which has divided public opinion in the country, ­depicts him as “a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no ­respect”, says Zuma.

That’s why he and the ANC are taking City Press and the Goodman Gallery, which is displaying the work, to court on Tuesday.

They want the gallery to remove the portrait from Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition and City Press to delete the image from its website.

A continued display of the ­artwork, which shows Zuma’s ­genitals hanging out, will impugn Zuma’s dignity “in the eyes of all who see it”, the president states in an affidavit served on City Press on Friday night as part of court ­papers.

On Saturday the president’s children came to his defence, ­saying the portrait was “vulgar and lacks humanity”.

Destroys his true character

“It seeks to take away our ­father’s dignity, and destroy his true character and stature as a man, a father, and a leader of the ANC and South African society at large,” said the statement, written by his daughter Gugu on behalf of the family.

Advocates for Zuma and the ANC will argue on Tuesday in the South Gauteng High Court that The Spear is in breach of the president and the party’s constitutional rights to dignity and privacy.

The Goodman Gallery - whose owner received death threats over the weekend – and City Press are defending the action.

Zuma says the ANC takes exception “to the symbolism the portrait uses in order to portray the ANC through its president” as responsible for “abuses of power, corruption and political dumbness” – the theme of the exhibition.

Zuma says he realises that the image has been displayed to “millions within and outside the country”, and that despite its removal, “it will continue to exist in the minds of those people who have seen it or had access to it”.

But the removal of the portrait from the gallery and City Press’s website “will ensure the harm caused ... is limited to those who have seen it or had access to it”.

Zuma received support from his Cabinet colleagues and party on Saturday. Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said he wanted the portrait “banned”. “If that thing is called art, it is an insult to the dignity not only of the president but any human being. The dignity of the president has been violated.”

Criminal case of crimen injuria

Radebe said a criminal case of crimen injuria should be opened.

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said while government believed in the right of artists to freedom of expression, it should not dehumanise fellow citizens.

Mashatile’s advisers viewed the exhibition and reported that it was insulting to Zuma and other leaders. They also said it denigrated the national coat of arms.

“If an artwork doesn’t respect reconciliation, it doesn’t contribute to nation building. We can’t have a situation where we are ­insulting each other every day,” said Mashatile.

Renowned poet and cultural ­activist Mongane Wally Serote said the painting was trivial and distasteful, and not deserving of the attention it was getting.

He said Murray’s painting faded into insignificance when viewed against the backdrop of the bigger challenges facing the country.

“We are making something ­trivial important. We are blowing it out of proportion. Whatever ­inspired that art was completely mediocre and distasteful.

Diverse SA nation

“We have a country where there are very important things that must be addressed. For example, we should be asking how we inspire people to build a diverse South ­African nation,” Serote said.

The spokesperson for the ANC Women’s League, Troy Martens, on Saturday said the painting was an insult not only to Zuma but to all South Africans “who have been subjected to their president portrayed in this sexual manner ... The painting is extremely insensitive and an expression of pure prejudice.”

Suspended prosecutions boss Advocate Menzi Simelane on Saturday declined to elaborate on his messages posted on Twitter.

On Friday night he said: “Those who are offended by the depiction of the president’s private parts must boycott City Press.”

In another tweet, he said: “The essence of Brett Murray’s message is that the person of President Zuma has no dignity and CP (City Press) agrees. This must be rejected with contempt.”

Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said the painting undermined the president’s “stature” to uphold the Constitution.

“The government calls upon the Goodman Gallery to take down the offensive artwork and further calls upon the media to stop publicising the untasteful portrait. We also call upon the media to be more circumspect in what they publish as we ­rebuild a South Africa that was ­ravaged by apartheid.”

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the ANC was forced to act because if something similar came up later, the courts would ask why the party did not act.

“We want to test the limits of freedom of ­expression,” he said.
Read more on:    anc  |  jackson mthembu  |  jacob zuma  |  brett murray  |  jimmy manyi  |  paul mashatile  |  zuma painting  |  culture
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