Dashiki Dialogues: Is the presidential penis sacred?

2012-05-18 13:52

So who wants to see President Jacob Zuma’s penis?

To face it full on – stylised into a black, red and gold poster with the Zulu patriarch and former freedom fighter turned head of state striking a Lenin pose.

The image involves the 70-year-old father and grandfather of many standing astride in the centre of the picture plane like a classic phallic figure.

It’s part of Cape Town-based artist Brett Murray’s new body of subversive artworks, titled Hail to the Thief II.

You can guess what he means by thief. I joined colleagues in a divided debate about how to use the image in these pages last week.

The initial responses raised issues of respect and dignity. Others felt that this was our president and that he deserves our respect.

The body of the first citizen is as sacred as our flag. People caught desecrating it should be prosecuted.

Other views said Zuma’s relationships with multiple partners – beyond his polygamous marriage – make him vulnerable to these jibes.

The man is not new in this neck of the arty woods. Satirists like Zapiro have had their turn dealing with his sexuality as semiotics for larger social problems.

Remember the controversial cartoon that showed him preparing to rape Lady Justice?

Or even Roy Blumenthal’s reversal of that drawing titled Zuma Assumes Position. It has him with his bum showing and about to be sown by Lady Justice with a dildo.

I shared Murray’s image with friends on the internet to gauge their attitude. Their response went towards race relations and power politics.

One pointed out that this was not Zuma’s privates on display. Artworks are symbols and what we have here is Murray, a creative white male taking a shot at post-apartheid black masculinity.

However, I figured that this reading is reliant on us first agreeing to invest the depicted phallus with a more overarching meaning beyond the singular personality. Like how we codify Afrikaner masculinity.

Speaking in a retired tone, another friend lamented the piece as yet another case of whites pathologising black sexuality.
But our art has been here before. Remember the controversial piece Useful Objects (1996) by Kaolin Thompson?

It was a high-gloss red ceramic vagina-shaped ashtray complete with stubbed-out cigarette. It was obviously a black woman’s vulva depicted by a white female.

The work had feminists, politicians and artists livid. The question was how far is too far.

So here we are again.

By the way, Murray’s piece was bought by a German couple for R136 800. So we can imagine our presidential penis hoisted at the Berlin Love Parade in July.

How about that for an erotic dialogue with our naked emperor’s dashiki revealing his royal ligament?

The Spear Twitter Reaction

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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