Zuma's family fumes at The Spear

A visitor photographs a painting of President Jacob Zuma at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg on May 18. (Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters)

A visitor photographs a painting of President Jacob Zuma at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg on May 18. (Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters)

The daughters and brother of President Jacob Zuma have criticised the artist of a painting of Zuma that depicts him with his genitals exposed, the Sunday Times reported.

Zuma’s brother, Michael, said the painting was disgusting and had brought disgrace to the family.

“It’s the most disgusting thing that has ever been published or said about the president,” he said.

“As a family, we are still in shock, because in our culture the parading of private parts is something that is a shame and is considered as showing disrespect to that person and others.”

The 1.85m-high painting, entitled The Spear, is part of Cape Town-based artist Brett Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

Michael Zuma told the Sunday Times that the family were planning a meeting to discuss the matter as the painting had put them under a lot of stress.

“I have been asking myself what kind of human being would do such a cruel and disrespectful thing about a president of the country and a father with little children,” Michael Zuma added.

‘Negrophobia lens’
Zuma’s daughters said the painting was not an issue of freedom of speech or expression but a depiction of Zuma in a “disrespectful, savage-like manner [and] something that can only be justified through a Eurocentric and negrophobia lens”.

The South African Communist Party on Sunday said the painting was “sadistic”.

“The SACP is outraged at the insulting, disrespectful ... disgusting, and sadistic so-called portrait of President Zuma by Brett Murray,” spokesperson Malesela Maleka said in a statement.

“This portrait is deeply offensive and an extreme act of provocation to the overwhelming majority of our people. To us, Brett Murray has simply crossed the line.”

Maleka said the SACP condemned people who defended the portrait under the banner of freedom of expression.

“Freedom of expression has never meant freedom to insult and harm the dignity of another person,” he said.

National Interfaith Council of SA secretary general Thamsanqa Mvambo said the portrait did not help in bridging the divisions created by the country’s past.

“The freedoms for which many of our people suffered and died should not be abused by those who clearly harbour deep seated hatred for democratically elected leaders,” he said.

“At a time when we are attempting to heal the divisions of our wounded past, such images do not lend themselves to building social cohesion and national reconciliation. If anything, the painting has succeeded in widening the wedge amongst South Africans.”

On Friday, the ANC launched an urgent court application in an attempt to stop the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and the City Press newspaper from displaying the painting.

The hearing would be held at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday, spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.

The ANC earlier sent the gallery a lawyers’ letter demanding its removal, but gallery spokesperson Lara Koseff said its lawyers had responded that it would stay until the show was over.

“We feel it is censorship to take the image down,” said Koseff on Friday.

Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers said in a statement: “It is a sad day for South Africa when creative production is being threatened with censorship from our ruling party. While the views expressed by our artists are not necessarily those of the gallery, we support our artists’ freedom of speech and expression and encourage them to show work that challenges the status quo, ignites dialogue and shifts consciousness.”

The painting was widely condemned on Friday by, among others, Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, the presidency, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the African Christian Democratic Party and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union.

The Sunday Times reported that the painting had been sold for R136 000 to a German buyer.

Murray told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday afternoon that his work “speaks for itself”.

“Have a look at my show and see what you think. How I articulate myself is through my work. Those are my ideas.”

 

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