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ANC and Goodman Gallery reach agreement on 'Spear'

Nickolaus Bauer

The Goodman Gallery and the ANC have agreed to make amends in an aim to end the furore surrounding the controversial painting.

Liza Essers of Goodman Gallery and Jackson Mthembu of the ANC brief the press on the agreement reached between the two. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

The debacle over Brett Murray’s controversial Spear painting took a reconciliatory turn on Wednesday as the Goodman Gallery and ANC announced an agreement that aims to end the furore surrounding the matter.

At a joint press conference, gallery owner Lisa Essers and ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said photos of the painting will be removed from the Goodman Gallery’s website and urged a national dialogue to be formed on the issues surrounding The Spear.

“I am sad by the real hurt and humiliation that has been caused to individuals by this exhibition. Although nothing was ever mentioned in the agreement about our website, I have personally considered my own position and have decided to remove images of The Spear from our website as a gesture of goodwill,” Essers said.

Mthembu confirmed the ANC were dropping their court interdict application,which demanded the image be removed from the gallery and the City Press website.

“We have found closure and we can now concentrate on other things. All we are asking of South Africans is to understand this pain. To understand where we are coming from,” Mthembu said.

This agreement follows a protest by the ANC on Tuesday which saw several thousand supporters march on the gallery.

Mthembu said an agreement could have been reached sooner through dialogue, but reiterated the great offence and pain the artwork caused.

“People who say we wasted time and energy maybe never felt the pain of being a second class citizen in their own country, it touched a raw nerve,” Mthembu said.

The ANC argued the painting, which depicts President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed and forms part of Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition, violates the president’s right to privacy and dignity.

The City Press and Goodman Gallery argued it was part of their right to freedom of expression to exhibit and publish the painting.

The ANC will not being taking any action against those still harbouring a digital version of the image or distributing the spear via social networks.

“If people want to continue distributing it on internet, then so be it. We don’t have time to take everyone to court. Hopefully they do it with understanding of our pain,” Mthembu said.

Mthembu said the uproar caused by the painting was valid, as it ignited a necessary debate on the limits of South Africa’s Constitution.

“We respect this agreement, but we still think there is still a lot of talking to do as South Africans. This matter has opened a number of debates. We think they must continue,” Mthembu said.

Mthembu said there are plans to launch a formal national dialogue on how South Africans view each other and how their apartheid history impact on their views but couldn’t provide further details when it would happen.

Mthembu said the ANC would undertake repeat mass action, should a standoff similar to the one emanating from the painting ensue again.

“We will take the same action if this happens again – we just hope it doesn’t. We have learnt from this and hopefully we can move on,” he said.

However, Esser said the Goodman Gallery would continue exhibiting art that pushed the boundaries of artistic licence.

“Our artists will continue to make controversial pieces and we will encourage that,” she said.

Essers said the gallery is “considering their position” regarding the criminal case of Barend la Grange and Louis Mabokela, who defaced the painting as well as George Moyo, who graffitied an outside wall of the gallery.

Despite calls from the ANC for The Spear to be destroyed, the painting will still be sold to an unidentified German buyer, who Essers confirmed still wanted the piece despite it being defaced.

“The buyer has a legal right to the painting, having paid for it already and we will will respect that,” she said.


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