Murder also paints a picture at gallery

2016-12-06 06:01

An artwork remembering murdered sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo will take centre stage at an exhibition at the Iziko South African National Gallery.

This follows calls by the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) for the removal of artwork by Zwelethu Mthethwa, accused of her murder, in the Our Lady exhibition currently on show at the gallery.

Sweat and the Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement of South Africa threatened to protest outside the gallery on Thursday.

Mthethwa is currently on trial for Kumalo’s murder in Woodstock in 2013. He allegedly kicked her repeatedly and stepped on her. She died within seconds due to a very heavy blow. Mthethwa was apparently caught on CCTV cameras as he parked his Porsche in Ravenscraig Road, according to testimony heard in court.

Mthethwa’s artwork forms part of the exhibition Our Lady at the national gallery.

Bringing together a selection of artworks from the permanent collections of the gallery and the New Church Museum, Our Lady reflects the evolving body of artworks of women spanning more than 170 years, Iziko Museums says in a statement.

Sweat has called the inclusion of Mtethwa’s work “deeply offensive”.

“In the light of Mthethwa’s ongoing murder trial for allegedly beating a sex worker to death, we feel the promotion of his work is not only in bad taste but deeply offensive. In their attempt to ‘celebrate empowered female capacity and artworks that counter and contextualise the current status quo’ the national gallery has in fact served to prioritise the notoriety of the accused rather than respect for the victim.”

The inclusion of the artwork is a platform for critical engagement, the gallery says.

“The New Church Museum and the Iziko South African National Gallery are not prepared to pretend that the abuse of women does not happen, and hence the curators have critically assessed the work in question and welcome dialogue about what is happening within the constructs of the artwork’s ‘frame’, and what is happening outside the ‘frame’,” the gallery says in a statement. “We cannot pretend that these problems do not exist or that artists are exempt from sexual violence towards women.”

Sweat, Sisonke and the gallery have now agreed that a portrait of Kumalo – painted by Astrid Warren and commissioned by Sweat – based on the only photo of her, a police mugshot, will be exhibited as part of the upcoming At Face Value exhibition.

In addition, a public discussion will be hosted by the national gallery.

In a statement by Sweat, the organisation says: “We are in agreement that art should challenge, educate, provoke and disrupt discourses, prompting debate. However, platforms of debate do not arise in a vacuum, and the inclusion of marginalised people is not automatic. In addition, both parties recognise the invisibility of Kumalo and women like her. Viewers of Mthethwa’s work will have the opportunity to place his work in the context of his trial for her murder.”

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