Media tribunal back on agenda after report on painting

2010-07-10 09:59

A painting on the cover of the Mail & Guardian depicting former

president Nelson Mandela as a corpse undergoing an autopsy has strengthened the

ANC’s resolve to establish a media tribunal, senior party spokesperson Jackson

Mthembu said.

“We strongly condemn the practice and promotion of the freedom of

expression and freedom of the arts which knows no bounds and only sees itself as

the most supreme freedom that supersedes and tramples other people’s

constitutional rights to dignity and privacy, and undermines our values,”

Mthembu said.

He continued: “We therefore remain resolute and unmoved in our call

for an independent arbiter in the form of a media appeals tribunal to monitor,

regulate and chastise the kind of gutter, soulless and disrespectful journalism

of Mail & Guardian.”

The painting, on display in the Orpheo Twins store in

Johannesburg’s Hyde Park Shopping Centre, is a modern take on a 17th century

Rembrandt canvas called The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, which depicts

doctors watching an autopsy.

In Damaso’s version, the late Aids orphan, Nkosi Johnson, performs

an autopsy on Mandela while Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, President Jacob

Zuma, his predecessor FW de Klerk and politicians Cyril Ramaphosa, Trevor

Manuel, and Helen Zille look on.

Former president Thabo Mbeki is depicted

looking away.

The ANC described the painting as being “in bad taste,

disrespectful and it is an insult and an affront to values of our


Cosatu outraged

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) also expressed


The union federation’s spokesperson Patrick Craven said: “It is

despicable that the artist, and the Mail & Guardian who published it, should

exploit our icon’s image to produce a painting which he must have known would

provoke an angry reaction and thus increase its profitability.”

Cosatu called for it to be removed from public view.

The painting was “deeply offensive” to all South Africans and

caused distressed to Mandela’s family and his admirers across the globe,

according to Cosatu.

Several people called the Hyde Park Shopping Centre this week to

complain about Damaso’s work, including a woman who claimed to be close to the

Mandela family.

She chastised the artist for upsetting the family while it was

still mourning the death of Mandela’s great-granddaughter Zenani last


Damaso said: “The person on the phone told me that she was a friend

of one of Mandela’s daughters and that the daughter was very upset about the


I was told that they had recently had a death in the family and that

they are still very bereaved.”

The mall’s marketing manager, Nicola van Kan, told the Mail &

Guardian: “We feel it is a controversial piece but we support freedom of

expression and art. He explained the piece and we were happy with that.”

Damaso told the Mail & Guardian: “The eventual passing of Mr

Mandela is something that we will have to face, as individuals and as a


In 2000 Damaso produced a series of paintings depicting Mandela,

who turns 92 next week, with dreadlocks and wearing boxing gloves. He said the

Nelson Mandela Foundation complained about these.

Damaso said: “They told me that his image was copyrighted. But how

can you copyright the image of a public figure?”

Mail & Guardian deputy editor Rapule Tabane said the artist was

grappling with the state of the country’s current politics and the meaning of

Mandela in that context.

He said: “You might say that it asks the question ‘what killed the

special spirit that Madiba brought to our national life?’

“It should not be seen as a reflection on or anticipation of the

literal death of Madiba as a person but as an enquiry into the state of the

nation and its iconography.

“That is the kind of work artists do all the time. We draw no

conclusions as to whether this painting is good art or not but we believed there

was a story to report and that to do so without reproducing the image made no

sense under the circumstances.”

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