Gallery won't remove Zuma painting

By Drum Digital
18 May 2012

Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery will not remove a painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed because that would be censorship.

"We feel it is censorship to take the image down," gallery spokeswoman Lara Koseff said on Friday.

The ANC earlier sent the gallery a letter from its lawyers demanding its removal. The ruling party also wants an image of the Brett Murray painting titled "The Spear" removed from the City Press website.

The newspaper refused, saying it would leave it to a court to decide.

Koseff said their attorneys had informed the ANC the painting would stay. The gallery had stuck by its artists during and after apartheid, and still supported them.

Although the opinions of artists were not the gallery's, it welcomed the discussions that accompanied works such as Murray's.

Visitor numbers had increased significantly since the ANC demanded the painting's removal. A guard with a bullet-proof vest had been posted at the door as a precaution.

Koseff said the president had not been in to see the work, but Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile had called to express concern. The gallery and the minister had agreed to a meeting to discuss the issue.

Koseff said when she was walking through the gallery before the exhibition opened she thought of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who had been hounded for portraying the Chinese government in a negative light.

"I did think it was fortunate that we are in the position that we are in, that we can have these conversations. But now some of that is reversing."

One of those viewing the exhibition, Bryan Maritz, said he had come to see the work as a fan of political satire.

He described the Zuma painting as "striking", and said he found Murray's other pieces "very hard hitting".

A father who was there with his five-year-old daughter said Murray had "balls". He said he had brought his daughter because they were always debating and she was always asking questions. Asked what she thought of the painting he said, "She just wanted to [attend] for a milkshake".

Cosatu condemned the painting.

"The Congress of SA Trade Unions is disgusted at the demeaning portrait showing President Jacob Zuma, in the pose of Lenin, with his genitals hanging out," spokesman Patrick Craven said in a statement.

"This picture is offensive and disrespectful not only to an individual, but to the democratically elected President of South Africa and therefore to the whole country and the people of South Africa."

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