The 10 best ... of Brett Murray’s captivating images

2014-02-02 14:00

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Brett Murray, the satirist artist who sparked a wave of controversy with his infamous The Spear, has a new book out. Percy Mabandu looks at 10 of the artist’s most striking images

The damaged controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed. Picture: Brett Murray Book

1 The Spear – Damaged

The Spear stands out as Murray’s most controversial painting. His depiction of President Jacob Zuma with his penis hanging out outraged both the ANC and the wider society. Many felt he, as a white man, was continuing a racist tendency to pathologise black masculinity and denigrate black bodies in general. Others felt he was within his right to freedom of expression to be critical of a bad president. The Spear was defaced by members of the public while it controversially hung at the Goodman Gallery in Rosebank.

Killed twice. Picture: Brett Murray

2 Killed Twice

The poster reads: Biko is Dead. This, as if to contradict the many subversive graffiti tags that sprouted across the townships following the murder of the black consciousness leader by the state apparatus. The tags defiantly declared: BIKO Lives! Murray titled his poster Killed Twice. This to code a message that Biko’s legacy was being killed.

Black Like Me: Colonel Sanders. Picture: Brett Murray Book

3 Black Like Me: Colonel Sanders

The image reworked fried-chicken brand KFC’s old white man, showing him wearing an Afro. It suggests how the white face of capitalism is apparently legitimised by the black face of capitalism. The artist’s survey of cultural identity is captivating.

The Party vs The People, 2010 bronze. Picture: Brett Murray Book

4 Party vs The People

In 2010, with a bronze sculpture of two apes in mid-coitus, Murray had wrapped up his criticism of “the party”, presumably the ruling party. The use of primates and sex as a symbol of his perceived conflict between the two inaugurates a base and coarse language that is contrasted by the smooth sheen of the sculpture’s shiny exterior.

The Struggle. Picture: Brett Murray Book

5 The Struggle

Murray has produced a large body of work reinterpreting struggle posters from the days when cultural organisations like Medu Art Ensemble were active in the fight against apartheid. This one originally commemorated Solomon Mahlangu, who was hung by the government in 1979. It initially read: “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle. My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. A Luta Continua!” Murray changed it to criticise the government’s corruption.

King. Picture: Brett Murray Book

6 King

The sculpture of a menacing ­dark-skinned naked big baby is ironically titled King. It depicts the infant in the nude, complete with a silver crown and a pacifier. It was produced in 1985 in a South African climate characterised by the state of emergency, rumours of Nelson Mandela’s probable release from jail and an agitated political environment.

The renaissance man tending his land. Picture: Brett Murray Book

7 The Renaissance Man Tending His Land

In the politically incorrect ecology of meaning that Murray has made his trade stock, the image of a ­dark-skinned male as a garden boy has particular connotations. The black face and European hair wig complete a loaded identity pastiche. It was even more so when this image was read against the time in which it was made. This is 2008, the same year Thabo Mbeki was recalled from office. Consider that Mbeki was known as a renaissance man because of his African Renaissance projects.

Africa. Picture: Brett Murray Book

8 Africa

The sculpture was commissioned as part of a public-art project in Cape Town in 2000. It stands in the St George’s Mall in the city centre. It mixes an African-ritual figurine with the head of Bart Simpson, the American cartoon icon, erupting like sores out of the limbs of its African host body. The statue provoked quarrels in the city about its meaning. Some felt it offended religious sensibilities of west African communities. Other said the work’s ambiguous meaning would stimulate a healthy debate among residents.

Buy and Sell. Picture: Brett Murray Book

9 Buy and Sell

This work features the silhouette of a large-eyed, thick-lip black face with the logo of Shell, the multinational petroleum company, inscribed on it. The notion of buying and selling black bodies has deep historic resonance. Murray revisits it with a focus on multinational corporations and capitalism’s relationship with the black world.

The Artist as a Zulu Aged Six. Picture: Brett Murray Book

10 The Artist as a Zulu Aged Six

For the postcard invite to his exhibition titled White Boy Sings The Blues, Murray used this image. The minstrelsy and its related bad politics of racial representation are bare and obvious. It’s a voice Murray was associated with.

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