Ayanda Mabulu on his explicit Zuma painting: 'I am exposing the naked truth'

Artist Ayanda Mabulu poses with his piece, 'Umshini Wam' at the AVA Gallery in Church Street, Cape Town, in 2012. (David Harrison, M&G)

Artist Ayanda Mabulu poses with his piece, 'Umshini Wam' at the AVA Gallery in Church Street, Cape Town, in 2012. (David Harrison, M&G)

Fine artist Ayanda Mabulu has defended his controversial painting depicting President Jacob Zuma performing a sexual act with businessman Atul Gupta, saying he was merely “lashing the hands of the oppressor until they let loose.”

At a walkabout at Constitution Hill, where four of his paintings are part of a group exhibition titled Post Its No.1: Post-apartheid/ Postcolonial, Mabulu said he did not have an obsession with Zuma, but with “the hierarchical system where if you climb up, you can be looked at as a demigod, and we, the people on the ground, are looked at as nothing.”

  • See the painting here

Mabulu said his other works depict ordinary people and as such, there was no outcry as to their content. The walkabout, due to several media houses’ exclusive focus on Mabulu, turned into a press conference that contradicted the ethos of a group exhibition. 

It was also not without its tense moments, with a middle-aged male participant accusing Mabulu of “inciting violence” and “entertaining people in the wrong way”. Mabulu countered that he was willing to be crucified for what he said.

Expanding on the recurring appearance of genitalia in some of his work, Mabulu said it was an act of unmasking. “When I am stripping them out of their underwear, I am exposing the naked truth that is hidden,” he said. “When you lie to people about who you are so that they can vote for you and when you are there, you fatten yourself, you eat McDonald’s and all these things, and leave people hungry somewhere there, it’s not on.” 

The exhibition, which opened on July 7, is an attempt at “sparking conversations that are poignant to South Africa and talking about experiences that we have,” according to co-curator Asanda Madosi.

This was echoed by Mabulu who said he was “not the cleverest of artists, I’m just talking about what’s affecting people the most because I care about people and I love them.”

The painting’s full title, which relates to its imagery, is Ingwe ayizidli ngamabala isakuluma ikaka okwesihlumi senyama, ayidliwa ikaka nokuba ungalamba ungagabha (Prostitutes)

Roughly translated, it means: a leopard cannot be proud if it eats shit as if it were a piece of meat. Shit cannot be eaten as the act causes one to vomit. 

Mabulu has depicted the President unflatteringly before. His painting Pornography of Power depicted the president in threesome, being fellated by a young woman whose back had been bent and saddled as if she were a horse.

The painting drew the ire of many citizens, including Zuma’s son Edward Zuma, who warned Mabulu that “…Zuma is a parent and one is forced to defend him physically if need be.”

Mabulu said there was a class bias at play when the outrage to his work takes shape. “When you feel the sting of starvation and being excluded and sidelined, it’s only then that you feel like I should act in this way. When it doesn’t affect you, you say ‘Let me walk on by.’ I’m trying to avoid that. We are people with humanity. There is something that connects us.”

ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said Mabulu used symbols of colonial anthropology, which viewed blacks as hyper-sexual beasts.


Post Its No.1: Post-apartheid/ Postcolonial runs at the Constitution Hill until July 24.

 
Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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