The SA National Gallery’s Art of Disruption exhibition was vandalised by a disgruntled political party in a week that genderqueer performance artist and photographer Dean Hutton’s work F*ck White People also received numerous violent threats from right-wing and white supremacist organisations and individuals.
Even a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the US joined in.
And Hutton says criminal action will be taken against those sending threats of death and violence, as well as the vandals, who have in turn said they will bring hate speech charges against the artist next week.
On Tuesday, part of Hutton’s installation – a simple print of the words “f*ck white people” – was vandalised by the Cape Party that advocates for a sovereign state of Western Cape.
The party is led by 32-year-old Cape Town businessman Jack Miller, with advocate Carlo Viljoen joining him in action at the Cape Town gallery.
The party took part in the 2016 municipal elections, but did not win a seat in council.
In a video filmed by party supporter Werner van Tonder and uploaded on the party’s YouTube channel, the disruptors are seen pasting a sticker reading “Love thy neighbour” over Hutton’s print.
Two national gallery security staff are held at bay, one physically restrained by the vandals who demand their right to protest.
Hutton says the artwork is intended to provoke a conversation around white supremacy, racism and white privilege.
“This is my artwork. But these are not my words. Last year I photographed a student, Zama Mthunzi, wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘F*ck White People’ smeared in black paint.
"He was threatened with expulsion and a case at the Human Rights Commission. None of the complainants said anything about the front of the T-shirt which read ‘Being Black is Sh*t’,” said Hutton in a statement this week.
But Miller responded telling City Press, “This is a pretentious way of trying to shirk the responsibility of making an overtly racist piece of work.”
Hutton said further action would be taken against the party and there is already a criminal case.
Miller seemed perplexed about accusations of damage to property, saying: “We specifically used a soft adhesive, so you could remove it. It peels off easily.”
The party will file charges of hate speech against Hutton next week. “Quite simply it’s a blatant case of racist hate speech, purely owing to the content on display.
It’s identifying a specific race and using offensive words to attack them,” said Miller. “We find it sad that no one is talking about a rainbow nation anymore.”
The gallery said in a statement: “The works [we] exhibit may awe, illuminate, challenge, unsettle, confound, provoke, and, at times, offend. We defend the freedom to exhibit such work.”
In separate developments, Hutton has been on the receiving end of numerous threats. The drama around F*ck White People began with an angry statement from Freedom Front leader Dr Pieter Groenewald, who called the work racist and irresponsible.
Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke then tweeted a picture of Hutton with the words: “What a disgusting sloppapotamus. I’d be ashamed looking like that too.
I wonder what it’s gender or ‘pronoun’ is... #SmashCulturalMarxism”
Hutton has recently been listed on Judas Watch, an international online database “that documents anti-white and anti-Western activities” and written about angrily on the white supremacist website White Nation, which said Hutton was “a pathetic example of wasted white skin”.
Other threats, sent on email and social media, include a bullet being put through Hutton’s brain; warnings that Hutton should be “guillotined”; that Hutton is a “faggot” who “should be tortured to death, very slowly”; numerous anti-black slurs and countless transphobic and body-shaming messages.
In response to the body-shaming, Hutton said: “It is my fat, queer body, I accept who I am, and that is beautiful and powerful.”
The gallery says a public discussion about Hutton’s and the other works will be held on February 16.
* This article was revised on January 26 due to factual inaccuracies.