Following last week’s unlawful protest against a protest, in which COSATU threw stones DA marchers, Wonkie moves its focus to a traditional weapon of different kind: that weapon of mass creation: The Spear, wielded by South African president Jacob Zuma.
An artist, Brett Murray, took it upon himself to cleverly recreate a Lenin propaganda poster with a likeness of Jacob Zuma with some minor modifications: a slightly duller shade of red and Zuma was depicted with his equipment happily hanging out of his pants. This, of course, had local art fanatics gushing with praise. They fondly recollected that yellow room plastered with used toilet paper on their last visit to the Tate Modern in London. “Ah, this is art – so amazing and utterly provocative… doll.”
Needless to say, if more than 3 white people like something in South Africa, one can expect a statement from Gwede Mantashe claiming whatever it is they like is a profound act of racism. South Africans were not disappointed.
The issue however, is where is the line between art and bad taste. Is a permanent shower-head fixture on Zuma’s skull a la Zapiro ok, but displaying a free-balling Zuma on a poster with clear political parallels not? What about Zapiro’s cartoon of Zuma raping Lady Justice – is that acceptable satire?
For those of you that are yelling internally “YES! Of course its acceptable – it’s art! It’s satire!” it may be worthwhile considering the question from a different perspective. Suppose your vindictive ex decides to punish what you thought was just a harmless flirt with your personal trainer. They go ahead and commission Mr Murray to portray you unflatteringly as a whoring mongrel running around butt-nekkid in a not-so-Virgin-Active. Since it’s oh so artistically done your ex goes ahead and has it displayed at your local gallery for all your friends, family, colleagues and current partner to see. For most readers, if they are the subject of what they consider to be an unfair judgement, being on the receiving end of such ‘art’ would hardly be considered acceptable.
With art, boundaries are generally unclear – one man’s artistic masterpiece can quite easily be another man’s rotting garbage. In fact, if you visit many modern art museums it can quite literally be both.
There is certainly some hard-hitting and relevant commentary on a variety of levels with Brett Murray’s The Spear – politically, socially, and even morally. Just because it makes a point though, doesn’t necessarily make it acceptable.
Wonkie feels for Zuma but perhaps it is time for the president to reflect on his own statement about the painting:
“… The portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests that I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of my fellow citizens, family and children.”
Most people in South Africa and abroad, regardless of race, would appreciate the pure irony of Zuma’s statement. Perhaps he should consider not making the bed if he is not willing to lie in it – what do you think?