Koos Kombuis

What Ayanda Mabulu's painting really means

2016-07-20 15:44

Koos Kombuis

Once again, the ANC is up in arms about a piece of visual art.

And yes, this time Ayanda Mabulu is once again the culprit.

Many, even some of those who are not Zuma loyalists, claim that Mabulu’s latest painting is “banal”, “disrespectful” or just plain ugly.

Of course, it is all of that. It is probably intended to be exactly that.

Perhaps one should tread lightly here. In many South African cultures, showing disrespect towards an older person is a grave social offence. Leaving aside the fact that Jacob Zuma is our head of state, the very fact that he is so much senior in years than the artist should, in the eyes of many, have been enough reason for Ayanada Mabulu not to even consider creating a painting like that.

What gets to me, however, is the fact that just about everyone seems to be fixated on the sexual act depicted in the bottom half, the foreground, of the picture Mabulu has created. No-one seems to notice what is going on in the background, the top half of the picture. It is that part of the artwork I find particularly disturbing. It shows an empty airplane cockpit, with the pilots absent. As the airplane is hurtling through the air, another plane is approaching in the distance. The two planes are apparently on a collision course with each other.

There is very clever social commentary in this depicted setting. This is the real message the artists wants to convey. And, if I understand it correctly, it is a very serious, very urgent message.

What Ayanda is in effect saying is this: These guys (Zuma and the Gupta guy) are supposed to be the captain and co-pilot of this plane. It is probably Zuma’s new plane, possibly bought and acquired as advised or even with the assistance of the Guptas. Right now, however, no-one is at the steering wheel. It is about to crash.

In other words: South Africa is about to crash, because right now there is no clear leadership, not from our designated president neither from his friends or anyone within his sphere of power.

Because Zuma is preoccupied with pleasing the Guptas (as denoted by the sexual metaphor in the work), our country has launched itself on a collision course with destiny. We are about to annihilate ourselves because our leaders are occupying themselves with pleasure and trivialities.

As a satire, this urgent message should outweigh all other considerations, ethical or aesthetic. This is a work of art created, not by someone who is deliberately banal, nor by someone simply wanting to show irrational disrespect for his elders, but by someone who is truly aghast by the direction his own country is taking.

I feel that this painting by Ayanda Mabulu is indeed a very important warning which we as South Africans should heed.

It is time to stop sweating the little things, and concentrate on the big stuff. The really important stuff. It is time for us as a nation to grow up and appreciate voices like Ayanda’s. We must respect his satire for what it is, and not for what people imagine it is.

This was brought home to me forcefully only last week, when I burst a tire on a highway near Jeffreys Bay and had to spend a long time waiting by my car for help to arrive. I was finally aided by a man who said his name was Ayanda. He said his name was derived from an African word which means “to grow up”, or to "help the family", or to "bring increase".

What a coincidence, that, days later, I should open my social media pages and be confronted by a work of art created by a man with the same name: Ayanda.

For me, personally, there is a message in this. It is time to grow up, to act in an adult and responsible manner with the increasing dangers facing our country.

This, I know in my heart, is Ayanda’s real message. And we, as South Africans, better pay attention... 

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