ANC wants members out in force to defend Zuma

2012-05-21 22:34
Cape Town - The African National Congress on Monday issued a call to all members to turn out in force at the South Gauteng High Court for a hearing over a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma.

Artist Brett Murray's depiction of President Zuma with his penis exposed, entitled The Spear, has sparked outrage from the ANC, which was granted an urgent hearing set for 12:00 on Tuesday in an attempt to stop the painting from being exhibited.

On Friday, the party the served the Goodman Gallery and City Press newspaper with court papers over the controversial art work, saying the papers were seeking to interdict both parties from "displaying and exhibiting on their website or any other platform including the online channels the offensive and distasteful so-called portrait" of the president.

Now it has called upon "all its members, supporters and the mass democratic movement structures" to gather at the court "to defend the dignity, reputation and integrity of the president of the ANC and of South Africa".

"We view this portrait and the depiction of the president by the Brett Murray and Goodman Gallery as distasteful, vulgar, indecent and disrespectful.

"It is our view that the continued display and exhibition of this so-called portrait will continue to be an affront to the dignity and the privacy of President Zuma in all his capacities but also as a South African whose right to human dignity and privacy is protected and guaranteed by the South African Constitution," ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

Party secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the depiction was rude, crude, disrespectful, and racist.

He said if it had been a white man depicted, the reaction would have been very different. As far as many people were concerned, black people were just objects, he continued.

"I said how about the idea of going to court tomorrow and as we sit there we can take off our trousers... we can walk around with our genitals hanging out... it's crude," he said.

The party urged members to converge at Kruis Street, in Johannesburg from 10:00 as an act of solidarity with the president and the ANC.

Nothing shocking

City Press newspaper, however, is not budging, saying by publishing the portrait it was doing what it is "constitutionally entitled to do" - reporting on an "interesting and remarkable exhibition that marks a renaissance in protest art".

It said the the publication of work contained in the exhibition, titled Hail to the Thief II, was a "publication of artistic creativity protected by section 16 (1) of the Constitution".

Executive editor Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya said in doing so, "we neither sought to endorse nor adopt the messages conveyed by the exhibition or the portrait. Rather, we allowed the public to judge the matter for itself".

Moya said the interdict, if granted, could not possibly be enforced.

"The horse has long since bolted. As a direct consequence of the media statements made by the applicants and the launch of the present application, the portrait has been given widespread national and international publicity."

Internationally acclaimed South African artist William Kentridge added his voice to the ongoing debate around the painting in an affidavit supporting the gallery’s opposition to the application, City Press' Nicki Güles reported.

"Penises, in the age of Aids when explicit sex education for primary school children is de rigeur, are a dime a dozen. Much of Aids education has been to break down traditional taboos of children being shielded from adult sexuality," he wrote.

"There is nothing shocking in the specifics of the image. The shock is in the metaphor - Lenin and the penis meeting President Zuma.”

Political power and sex

Kentridge, who has been exhibiting his work at the Goodman Gallery since the 1980s, said in his affidavit that "the themes and symbolism employed by Brett Murray in his work are typical of the themes and visual language employed by many fine artists in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. It is a global, modern language".

He said that the overt depiction in Murray's painting is in line with a "change in attitude towards a public discussion of political power and the sexuality that accompanies power", Güles wrote.

Murray made "no attempt to make an image of President Zuma as a private man with a personal life," he claimed.

"The genitals in the image are worn like the coat of Lenin – almost as a badge of office. It may be an incorrect summing up of the president but it is not an illegitimate subject to address."

Kentridge said we are "fortunate to live in a country with a constitution that acknowledges the importance of open debate on all issues”, according to the City Press report.

Güles also reported that the Goodman Gallery's owner says that she will not allow her gallery be dictated to.

Owner Liza Essers said her gallery cannot be a "gallery of integrity” if she allows "any individual, even the most powerful” to dictate its content, the City Press report said.

The report said that In her affidavit before the South Gauteng High Court, Essers also speaks of her "amazement" at the fact that since the controversy surrounding the painting began on Thursday, so many people, both within South Africa and abroad, have seen images of the artwork.

Essers echoed Kentridge's sentiments on the painting, saying "the depiction references an ongoing public discussion in society as to the relationship between political power and the sexuality that accompanies this power.

"The relationship between political power and sexuality is one that has been much discussed in recent times, for example President [Bill] Clinton and Monica Lewinsky; [former International Monetary Fund head] Dominique Strauss-Kahn; and the former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi," the City Press report said.

- Are you at the court? Send us your photos.
Read more on:    anc  |  jackson mthembu  |  jacob zuma  |  brett murray  |  gwede mantashe  |  johannesburg  |  zuma painting

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