ANC, gallery bury the hatchet

2012-05-30 12:25

The ANC says it respects the right of the Goodman Gallery to display art that contains messages which are critical of the governing party.

Jackson Mthembu, spokesman for the ANC, today said: “We might not like many paintings here but we respect the right of the Goodman Gallery to [show them]”.

This was after late night discussions between the ANC and the Goodman Gallery over the controversial portrait ‘The Spear’ led to a settlement agreement.

The agreement, signed by Mthembu and gallery director Liza Essers, states that the ANC “will withdraw the application currently before the South Gauteng High Court, with no order as to costs”.

The settlement was made amidst confusion over whether the Goodman Gallery would take the depiction of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals showing off their website.

During a march to the gallery yesterday, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told a crowd of about 5000 people the gallery had committed to taking the portrait off its website.

“It is mission accomplished,” said Mantashe, after the ANC leadership had met with and handed over a memorandum to the gallery management.

But lawyers for the gallery later released a brief statement quoting Essers as saying the ANC’s comments “do not reflect the proposals made by the Goodman Gallery”.

At a joint press conference at the Goodman Gallery today, Essers said that although there was nothing in the settlement about her taking the picture off the website, she would do so “at some point”.

“Even though it is not my obligation to do so ... and as a gesture of goodwill and because of the fact that the image is now widely available in the public domain, I will take the image down at some point,” said Essers.

Mthembu said the debate around human dignity and freedom of artistic expression should continue.

“Let South Africa engage, let all of us as society engage with those debates so that one day we can say those are the societal values that all of us embrace as South Africans,” said Mthembu.

The agreement is a climb-down from the position taken by the ANC and it’s alliance partners at the march yesterday.

The Young Communist League’s Buti Manamela said: “If this gallery does not remove all these symbols which are insults, we will close it down.”

He was referring to the rest of artist Brett Murray’s exhibition at the gallery, which includes a depiction of the ANC’s logo with “For Sale” stamped accross it.

There is also a portrait of Solomon Mahlangu, an ANC MK soldier who was executed by the apartheid government in 1979.

Before his death, Mahlangu said “tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight”.

Murray’s depiction of Mahlangu said the people should continue to struggle for “Chivas Regal, Merc’s and kick-backs”.

Mthembu yesterday said that although the ANC did not agree with the gallery’s “bastardisation” of Mahlangu’s message, it respected the gallery’s right to display the work.

Essers said that while the Goodman Gallery also respected those views of the ANC, the message about Mahlangu was an expression of Murray’s dissapointment in the ANC.

She said that Mahlangu had probably been one of Murray’s heroes.

Essers confirmed that the rest of Murray’s exhibition, entitled “Hail to the Thief II”, would remain on display in the gallery.

She confirmed that the now defaced painting of Zuma would be shipped to its German buyer as it was.

Essers also said the gallery was “considering” whether it would withdraw malicious damage to property charges against the two men who defaced The Spear painting.

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