In South Africa, a painting of the President showing his penis caused a huge uproar, while one showing the Canadian Prime Minister’s manhood draws giggles.
The painting of South African President Jakob Zuma by Brett Murray, a leading South African ‘Pop artist’, depicts Zuma as Lenin in a famous pose, but with his genitals hanging out (that’s the top of it above, and here’s the whole of it on Wikipedia). It is called “The Spear,” perhaps a play on “Umkhonto we Sizwe” or “Spear of the Nation,” what was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) during apartheid.
It was on display as part of an show called “Hail to the Thief II,” which took aim at what many critics see as the degeneration of the ANC from its heights under Mandela to today under Zuma. Zuma himself has six wives and at least 18 children. He was tried for rape in 2006. During the trial, he admitted not using a condom with a woman he knew to be HIV positive and said that showering afterwards would cut the risk of contracting HIV.
That episode led one of South Africa’s leading cartoonists, Zaprio, to continually mock Zuma by depicting him with a shower head coming out of his head (or elsewhere).
Zuma and the ANC are suing Zapiro and a case against Murray went to court this week, being stopped when the ANC’s lawyer broke down and wept in court.
This depiction of Zuma by a white artist has provoked widespread outrage in South Africa, largely but not entirely from black people.
Writes Mpho Moshe Matheolane in the Mail & Guardian:
The artwork has brought into sharp focus the issue of black people’s representation at the hands of whites, and what some have called a continued sense of colonial othering.
The ruling elite have been near-unanimous in their outrage, with the SA Communist Party (SACP), of which Zuma is a former member, describing the painting as “sadistic” and “an extreme act of provocation to the overwhelming majority of our people.”
Zuma’s brother, Michael, said:
It’s the most disgusting thing that has ever been published or said about the president. 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.
Many see the painting as a provocative, political act which goes too far. National Interfaith Council of SA secretary general Thamsanqa Mvambo 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.
But not all black South Africans are critics. The ANC also sued the City Press newspaper, which is black owned, and has been the subject of a campaign against it because it published a photograph of the painting and has defended the artist’s right to free speech.
The Sowetan, which covers the black township outside Johannesburg, said in an editorial:
The whole debate goes to show that South Africans are concerned about how their president appears. Those who feel the artwork is justified are happy that Murray has exposed the naked emperor. Those who are opposed to it feel that his dignity has been unjustifiably impugned.
But missing in these opposing points of view is a middle line: How can we elect a president who will be invincible against even the most daring and racist artists?
Zuma is far too vulnerable. And that’s the Gordian knot.
Tselane Tambo (daughter of ANC icon, Oliver Tambo) said:
Do the poor enjoy poverty? Do the unemployed enjoy hopelessness? Do those who can’t get housing enjoy homelessness? He must get over it. No one is having a good time. He should inspire the reverence he craves. This portrait is what he inspired. Shame neh! [sic]
Critics of Murray have circulated photoshopped pictures of white South African leaders naked as ‘revenge,’ including one of the opposition leader Helen Zille.
She has laughed off the pictures, saying:
Now you can see why I try to cycle vigorously for an hour every day. I obviously need more than Botox.
In contrast, a painting entitled “Emperor Haute Couture” by artist Margaret Sutherland, depicting a nude Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, being attended to by functionaries on a chaise longue with a dog drew this tweet from Harper’s office:
We’re not impressed. Everyone knows the PM is a cat person.
Sutherland’s painting, like Murray’s, is derived from a classic. In her case ,it’s French impressionist masterpiece “Olympia” by 19th-century painter Edouard Manet.
Watch City Press interview visitors to the Johannesburg Gallery (note, full image of painting shown):
Watch Global National catch Canadian MPs reactions to a nude Prime Minister (and a slightly too late blurring):
Controversial Portrait of South African President Vandalized