31 May 2012

Spear” Gallery and ANC bury hatchet, but buyer still wants painting

By Crystal van Wyk

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress will drop its court action against the Goodman Gallery, while the gallery will pull down a painting that was considered offensive, bringing to a close a debate that threatened to split the country along racial lines.

Lizzie Essers, from Goodman Gallery, told a press conference in Johannesburg that, in the spirit of freedom, the painting, depicting President Jacob Zuma’s exposed genitals would be pulled down from the gallery and its website.

The debate has been robust, but the Gallery and Brett Murray never intended for the art work to hurt anyone,” she said.

The controversial 1.85m-high painting, known as The Spear, was part of artist Brett Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition.

The ANC had launched a court application arguing that the painting infringed on Zuma’s dignity, while the gallery used freedom of expression as its defence. Riled by the painting the ANC organised a march on the gallery on Monday and this could have forced Goodman Gallery to reconsider its decision to host the artwork.

ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu said the party was pleased at the turn of events. “It has caused pain and hurt but we appreciate that Murray and the gallery have realised this,” he said.

The painting has sparked massive condemnation, anger, debate and while others claimed it was an attack on blacks reminiscent of the country’s apartheid era.

Two members of the public were arrested after defacing the painting.

Earlier this week, the newspaper City Press also buckled under pressure and removed the painting from its website.

Editor, Ferial Haffajee apologised for “causing hurt to Zuma and his family”. In an editorial in the paper Haffajee wrote, “The Spear is down, out of care and fear”. Some newspaper editors slammed this move.

Mthembu said that its time all “South Africans play a part in rebuilding the country”. He said he would like to see the debate around freedom of expression to continue.

All South Africans must debate this issue without fear”.

Essers agreed and said, “Art is about shifting consciousness and dialogue, the debate needs to continue in the country”. Essers said the painting has already been sold to a German buyer and he still wants the painting despite it being defaced.