It is time to jump on the bandwagon and wave my spear around.
Here is some background.
A few weeks ago a largely unknown artist named Brett Murray opened an exhibition at the Goodman Gallery.
Quite by chance a local journalist popped in to have a look – probably a lunch hour escape – and alighted on a painting of our esteemed State President, Jacob Zuma.
The painting is a rip-off of one of Lenin, except that our ESP had his willy out. In all its flaccid glory.
The journalist spread the word, the newspapers ran the story and all hell broke loose.
The President sued for breach of privacy and a right to personal dignity.
The arties got all high horsey about freedom of artistic expression and censorship.
Two chaps were caught on a remarkably good CCTV video defacing the painting – really good CCTV footage with close-ups and cool angles and everything.
My tax money circled the drain.
The masses were bussed in for a demonstration and got free t-shirts. They also totally blocked any access from my office to my child’s school. All that did was piss me off.
The gallery refused to take down the picture.
And so it went on.
The President’s lawyer burst into tears.
The prodigal son, Julius Malema, got high-handed about brutal state censorship – but if it had been a painting of him, he’d have gone medieval on the artist – so it doesn’t count.
Personally, the painting is no David, it’s not that great. It was meant to be offensive and it was.
Did it say anything we haven’t heard or thought before?
We know our President is a womanizer and the impending case of fraud hanging over his tenure is known to us all. So what is it about his spear that upset everyone so much?
I could rationalize the painting thus:
The artwork captures the ideology of socialism that underscores the ANC’s founding beliefs, celebrating the virility of the African male and the patriarchal power wielded by the icon of the state.
The painting dehumanizes the President by placing him in a position of ridicule, his flaccid member an indictment of the lack of direction and persistent rumours of fraud that have dogged his tenure. On a larger scale it represents the failure of the ANC to live up to their socialist foundations and values.
So, you see, you can look at it any way you like.
I’d rather not look at it at all.
One of the more interesting conversations I’ve had around this topic was with an African man, who explained that while Europeans have thousands of years of artistic expression behind them and understand the purpose or message of the piece without offense, black South Africans have not. The piece depicts a man who represents our country in a manner that provokes ridicule and is insulting not just to him, but to all South Africans.
The outcome is that the painting has now been taken down and in future galleries will have to notify patrons if an exhibition contains adult content. Fair enough. I don’t want have to explain the President’s spear to my kids either. But, it does raise the question of where to draw the line.
Is all art worthy, or just great art?
What makes it great?
More importantly to my mind, how much were we played by a well-oiled PR machine?
A struggling artist now an international celebrity.
A President with a flagging fanbase is more popular than ever and may hang on his to leadership of the ANC after all.
Everyone wins, but the taxpayer.