/ 4 March 2010

Xingwana: But is it art?

The Minister of Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana, told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that she was not homophobic, after reports of her storming out of an women’s art exhibition, with some works depicting lesbians, caused an outcry.

‘Contrary to media reports, I was not even aware as to whether the ‘bodies’ in the images were of men or women or both for that matter. My reaction was guided by the view that these ‘artworks’ were not suitable for a family audience. I noticed that there were children as young as three-years-old in the room,” Xingwana said in response to questions from the M&G, sticking to her previous stance that the works are immoral.

Zanele Muholi: Being (tryptich)

‘I was not aware of the sexual orientation of the pictures or the artists and my reaction was not based on anti-gay sentiments as implied in some media reports on the matter.”

The government-sponsored Innovative Women exhibition featured work by 10 artists including Zanele Muholi, photographer Nandipha Mntambo, and painter Bongi Bengu, who also curated the exhibition.

The incident happened several months ago, when Xingwana left the debut exhibition at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg in August 2009, before she was scheduled to speak.

The incident has since made headlines, but Xingwana slammed the media’s coverage.

‘Newspaper reports on my presence at the Innovative Women art exhibition have been mischievous, deliberately misleading and avoiding the facts,” she said.

Xingwana’s statement
‘In August last year, I was invited to speak at the Innovative Women Art Exhibition at Constitution Hill. Upon arrival at the Exhibition, I immediately saw images which I deemed offensive. The images in large frames were of naked bodies presumably involved in sexual acts. I was particularly revolted by an image called ‘Self-rape”, depicting a sexual act with a nature scene as the backdrop. The notion of self-rape trivialises the scourge of rape in this country.

To my mind, these were not works of arts but crude misrepresentations of women (both black and white) masquerading as artworks rather than engaged in questioning or interrogating — which I believe is what art is about. Those particular works of art stereotyped black women.

Further, as a public representative and as a South African, I uphold the laws of our country and the constitution. I have fought for liberation and women’s rights for the most part of my life. However, I believe the rights that have been entrenched in our constitution include the rights of children. This is why we have laws in this country that protect children against exposure to pornographic material.

I therefore would not, for any reason, be part of any tendencies that undermine the rights of people. I accept and respect the rights of people of different sexual orientation. The claims that I am homophobic are baseless and insulting to me.

I have not imposed censorship on any artists and the funding polices of my Ministry and Department are very clear. We support the arts in this country in general since we embrace and promote the policy of Arts for All and the opening of opportunities for all our artists, especially women and youth and those who have been disadvantaged in the past.

What I think is necessary in our country today is a long overdue debate on what is art and where do we draw the line between art and pornography. What do we wish to encourage as a community concerned about the imaginative possibilities of art to shape our nation and our future? South Africans last engaged in such a debate before the democratic era. It is time that we open this discussion in the context of moral regeneration, social cohesion and nation building.’