The Spear: Enough and no more! | by ANC Today

by Jun 9, 2012All Articles

ANC Today article says cheap offensive smut peddled as art doesn’t add anything to advance civic liberties
ENOUGH AND NO MORE! The artist, the gallery and the City Press editor
“… propaganda in some form or other lurks in every book, that every work of art has a meaning and a purpose – a political, social and religious purpose – that our aesthetic judgements are always coloured by our prejudices and beliefs.” (George Orwell, “The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda”, 1941
A couple of days ago one of the media houses brought to our attention the existence of what we found to be an extremely hurtful, disturbing, outrageous and distasteful display of the person of Comrade President Jacob Zuma in an indecent manner in which Brett Murray and the Goodman Gallery found artistic.
We learned that since the portrait first appeared in the City Press and in its website, Goodman Gallery has been packed everyday with scores of people from school children, high-powered business people, fashionistas, grandparents to see that portrait and other pieces in the exhibition, titled – Hail to the Thief II.
We requested the gallery remove the portrait and instructed our lawyers to approach the courts to compel Brett Murray and Goodman Gallery to remove the portrait from display as well as from their website and destroy all printed promotional material. We also instructed our lawyers to request the City Press to remove the portrait from their website because we found it hurtful and violating the human dignity and right to privacy of Comrade President Jacob Zuma.
We thus made the artist, the gallery and City Press aware that President Jacob Zuma, his family and children, the ANC and society in general was hurt by the portrait. For Brett Murray to turn around and he did not intend to cause any hurt or to harm the dignity of any person pretty sums up the reckless disregard for the feelings of fellow South Africans by all those who praise this nonsensical anti ANC political exhibition as work of art.
To be sure the gallery owner Esser defended the exhibition saying her gallery was known as a neutral space” that embraces voices of dissent, presenting work that confronts the contemporary socio-political climate”. She continues in this banal vain “the gallery had no intention to cause him or his family any hurt or offense.”
Murray and Esser are pleading ignorance! They are saying they went about creating innocuous worthy work of art and by some reasons so many people are finding this offensive. It was not their intentions! Never mind the genitals that are hanging out in the portrayal of the first citizen of the country, forget the insults hurled at the million and so members of the ANC who are branded as sold and thieves craving for Chivas, forget too the desecration of the memory of Solomon Mahlangu whose words are twisted to imply that he sacrificed his life in vain, he is a fool who did not know what he was doing.
Neutral work of art displayed in a venue that is known as a neutral space not intending to hurt or offend anyone! That is utter nonsense! This is lynching of the President and all those that support him. That’s the symbolism they intended to invoke. “Every writer, especially every novelist, has a ‘message’, whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda.” (George Orwell, 1939)
The other party to this insulting spectacle, City Press, through the self-styled doyen and paragon of virtue, Fariel Haffajee, takes a similar if not even more offending ” I am tired of people who desire to kill ideas of which they do not approve. Besides, our morality and good practice is selective”; before pointing out, importantly, that she like most of us would not hang the said work of art in her living room.
The smut is not good enough for her home but good enough for our homes! What bile! What sick mind would aimlessly conjure, design, commission and construct such offensive imagery without any inkling that someone else will be offended by the imagery?
Art is about insight, introspection, feeling, empathy and considered expression. Without these attributes what art is worth talking about? What other attributes would have driven the so called ringleaders of this spectacle in the name of the so called artists, the gallery and the publishing editor in a major media organisation that is patronised to a large degree by those it sought purposefully to insult?
The answer shouts from their work. Racial and cultural prejudice, superiority complex, wanton disregard for the feelings of other South Africans and a desire to hurt those that they do not empathise with. Taking a statue of Lenin, imposing the face of Comrade President Jacob Zuma and attaching and sticking exposed handing genitals to it is not creative or artistic even by any mediocre standards!
Taking the emblem of the ANC, illegally so, and stamping sold on it is certainly not creative or work of art! Plagiarising the words of Solomon Mahlangu and adding few offensive lines to it is again not art!.
There in lies the rub. No artistic endeavour was ever in the mind of the so called artist and the gallery. Right from the beginning the imaginary was intended to portray a far more insidious serious message: an utter contempt for the political reality of today South Africa, utter contempt for the President of the Republic in person and the office, utter contempt for the political organisation that brought him into power – the ANC, as well as utter contempt for all the South Africans who find the portait distasteful.
Lift beyond the exposed genitalia there are other images directly talking to each and every contempt cited above. The images could not be displayed in the living rooms of the artist, gallery owner and editor concerned because the intention was to mobilise and share with others this contempt as a way of influencing the political discourse in the country and to support those promoting disruptions in the internal ANC party processes.
Artistic freedom and media freedom were the victims of abuse by the three! These freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic to protect civil liberties not to advance sectarian chauvinistic views and values. The cheap offensive smut they paddled as art does not add anything to advance civic liberties.
In this case freedom of artistic expression and freedom of the media is used by scoundrels to hide their real intentions. They know these freedoms are not licence to hurl insults, which they do when they call a millions of members of ANC criminals and thieves. They know that these freedoms are not licence to impugn on the dignity of other South Africans, which they do when they present the Comrade President Jacob Zuma in the manner that they did with genitals exposed. They know that these freedoms are not licence to hurt when they invoke the name of Solomon Mahlangu twisting his famous words to achieve their unstated political goals.
They knew that their work was degrading, crude, insulting, trash and an abuse of freedom of expression and media freedom. These are grown-ups who know what hurts and would never imagine themselves subjected to the ridicule they subject others to owing to the powers that they wield as artist, gallery owner and editor. They did not care how anyone felt so long as their political objectives were met. Otherwise why publish to offend so many?
It is greatly disturbing that despite the outrage caused by this ill conceived political attack, the media in general has stuck to its usual behaviour of defending each other and not taking a hard introspection of the issues. Nay they have even dusted off so called Zapiro to add toxic venom as if the imagery in question needs further elaboration!
Social networking sites have been abuzz with discussions on this issue, comments to the pages have been inundated with many South Africans, across the colour-line to be sure, expressing outrage. Even diverse political parties have come forward to condemn this behaviour. Civic organisations and trade unions, church groupings and youth formations have all come out against this trash that has been peddled as art and defended by those involved as an expression of freedom of art and media.
It would be safe to say the three musketeers definitely crossed the bounds of decency, according to the majority of South Africans who have expressed their opinions through the cited platforms. Why would this ground swell of moral and cultural viewpoint not find reflection in our media? Like a broken record the media keep parroting media freedom when faced with a discussion that requires an introspection on how to balance the various rights, culture and norms of a diverse country like ours. They are pre-occupied with their own jaundiced views, parroting in unison and abrogating to themselves the right to tell this society how to feel towards hurt that they themselves inflict!
We want to know where is the diversity inherent in our society reflected in this media? In any normal country, it would have been expected that different media, different editors, different gallery owners and different artists would have come out expressing a diversity of views on the matter at hand. Why such uninanimity?
At least Ferriel Hafegee has confirmed that she is a dictator in her media organisation. Others within City Press, trained journalists and editors at that, pointed out the many problems inherent in this smut trash she calls art. She says herself she overrode them and the decision to publish was hers alone.
The question is who dictates to the other editors to maintain a conspiracy of silence with her? Do we still have a diverse media that reflects diverse views and view-points inherent in this society? Or are we faced with a mafia media baron club that protects itself, advances its political views united by opposition to the ANC at all costs?
In the case where all that matters is the views of editors, shoved down a disagreeing populace we have a duty as citizens to take direct action that will correct the situation. Media also is a market whose conduct is governed by a relationship between those that consume and those that produce. Ultimately as the consumers we dictate the kind of media we get by our conduct. If we are silent in the face of abuse, the editors will continue abusing us imposing their moral, cultural, political and other norms and views on us.
The editors have a right to their views, we have our right to buy media that is not offensive, that is not biased and that is reflective of the rights and responsibilities enshrined in our constitution. Many have hailed those who defaced the trash called art. We can do better! We must stop buying and consuming images that are contrary to our norms and values. Papers like City Press that are biased and prejudiced should be boycotted till they grasp the role and nature of a fair media in a democratic society.
Freedom of artistic expression and freedom of the media does not supersede other rights that are enshrined in our constitution. Irresponsible conduct must now have consequences. Do not throw your much earned money away buying trash.
Enough is enough!
This article first appeared in ANC Today, the weekly online newsletter of the African National Congress. 27 May 2012
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