A giant "X" has been painted over Brett Murray's The Spear, defacing the controversial artwork that depicts the president with his genitals exposed.
According to eNews, the painting in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg was defaced as the court case in which the ANC sought to compel the gallery to remove the artwork began in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Eyewitnesses told the Mail & Guardian that two men painted a red “X” over the figure’s genital area and smeared the face and private parts with black paint. They were apparently locked in the guards’ hut before police arrived. The gates of the gallery were then locked.
A television journalist working on a story about the controversial painting tried to stop one of the men who defaced the work.
eNews channel anchor Iman Rappetti was in the Goodman Gallery close to the The Spear when a man took out a pot of paint and marked an X in the genital area of the portrait.
She said she grabbed him, while shouting to gallery staff to come and help her. “It was surreal.”
Rappetti described the vandal as a completely “ordinary” looking critic wearing a tweed jacket. Unbeknown to Rappetti, another man was standing behind her with a large pot of black paint.
The second man started “going to town on the picture”, she said. “I was screaming.”
Gallery staff apprehended both men and the police arrived shortly afterwards and took them away.
Rappetti said the gallery staff had told her the first man had identified himself as an Afrikaans journalist. He had visited the Goodman Gallery before.
“He did not sound Afrikaans to me,” she said.
The second man appeared to be working with the first one. The gallery closed after the vandalism, and the public and reporters crowded outside.
Inside the gallery gate were three private and armed security guards wearing bulletproof vests – with one guard carrying a rifle.
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the court case would proceed regardless.
“Whether it is [defaced or removed] or not, it remains in the eyes of those who have seen it. This court case remains important,” he said. “And we have to make sure that people’s dignity is not degraded in such a way in the future.”
eNews footage of the vandalism
In the high court, meanwhile, the case was postponed until Thursday by judge president Phineas Mojatelo, who recused sitting judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane saying that a matter of such national importance required a full bench of three judges.
It was revealed at the hearing that Brett Murray had joined the Goodman Gallery and City Press newspaper as one of the respondents to the application by the ANC, President Jacob Zuma, and Zuma’s children.
As promised by the ANC, hundreds of people carrying posters slamming the controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma toyi-toyied outside the court in Johannesburg.
Wearing T-shirts proclaiming: “President Zuma has the right to human dignity and privacy” in the same red and black as the Brett Murray painting the ANC wants removed, his supporters sang songs and ululated in Kruis Street opposite the court.
Glossy posters with the ANC logo saying “We say no to artistic expression!” were held aloft as a man dressed in military camouflage led the group in song and chanting.
A large ANC branded stage backed into Pritchard Street opposite court and traffic was diverted for the application.
They want the gallery to remove it because it violates his and the party’s right to dignity. They also want City Press to remove images of the painting from its website.
Both the gallery and City Press had refused. – Sapa