Too nude for school

South African learners need to be protected from the naked truth, it seems. The department of education disclosed this week that it has removed controversial ”naked artist” Steven Cohen from the visual arts curriculum’s prescribed list, saying his works are ”not suitable for school learners”.

Performance artist Cohen was removed from the list at the end of the first school term this year.

Penny Vinjevold, the deputy director in the department of education, said that a ”convincing number” of parents had lodged complaints about the explicit nature of Cohen’s art. ”After a school complained that Cohen’s work was not suitable for learners the department investigated the matter and we agreed with the complainants.

”We have also indicated that teachers are at liberty to choose the type of art they wish to use in the classroom. But they should check with the learners’ parents first.”

The chief executive of the Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, Paul Colditz, said children should not be exposed to nudity.

”I am not an art expert and I won’t comment about the relevance of nude art in the school curriculum. But from a moral point of view, no parent would want their children to be taught about nudity at school,” Colditz said.

The exclusion of Cohen — regarded as one of South Africa’s premier living artists — sparked concern in the visual arts fraternity.

His provocative performance art has been showcased across the world in the past 20 years.

Bronwyn Law-Viljoen of David Krut Publishing, which published Cohen’s most recent works, argued that Cohen ”does not do erotica”.

”His work is often ‘political’ in the broadest sense — he demonstrates a great deal of concern about the society in which he finds himself and his work confronts some of the prejudices of that society.

”These include homophobia, but he also addresses racism, xenophobia, genocide and state repression.”

Law-Viljoen said she is certain schoolchildren could learn from Cohen’s work, ”just as one might say that children will learn something from looking at a Picasso painting”.

What they take from his art depends ”on the context in which they are viewing the work, the guidance they are given by their teachers and the knowledge of art they already possess”.

Lené Lordan, national examiner of art history at the Independent Examination Board, argued that it is imperative that students are exposed to such art forms.

Lordan said learners are confronted by all forms of explicit material and Cohen addresses societal issues that are educationally sound to facilitate informed engagement. Lordan said she would rather teach Steven Cohen in the classroom than have learners accessing explicit content from magazines and other sources, that lack meaning.

”I am not interested in making moral judgements on Steven Cohen’s work. Things like body art and body piercing are very much a part of today’s youth culture, she said.

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