A portrait hangs in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa that many are calling controversial. It depicts the current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, standing in bright colors, with his genitals exposed to the viewer. Zuma and his children have been in an uproar about the painting, created by artist Brett Murray, this month as it has been displayed in the gallery.
The City Press newspaper of South Africa reports that Zuma’s daughter feels insulted and degraded because of the art. City Press quotes Zuma-Sambudla as saying, “My little brothers and sisters are exposed to abuse by other children in schools and colleges when their father’s sexual organs are publicly displayed and discussed on radio stations and talk shows.”
Many citizens that back the African National Congress party have also called for the portrait to be removed. This Tuesday, two men were caught on the gallery’s security cameras painting a red cross over the president’s genitals and face and then “rubbed black paint over the president’s face and down the painting,” according to the BBC. The vandalization of the artwork happened just after a crowd of African National Congress supporters, President Zuma’s party, stood outside the court house awaiting a legal decision on whether or not the painting could remain hanging in the gallery.
The exhibition has been up all of May and was scheduled to continue until June 16. The court will decide on the fate of the painting on Thursday. The artist, Brett Murray, is known for his politically relevant works of art. His website states that he finished his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1989 at the University of Cape Town. His dissertation was entitled, “A Group of Satirical Sculptures Examining Social and Political Paradoxes in the South African Context.”
President Zuma, on the other hand, heads the African National Congress, an all-encompassing party that dominates the country’s political landscape. He has filed defamation lawsuits against media outlets 11 times over the years, and has approached the display of this painting no differently. He claims the painting portrays a hurtful misrepresentation of him as an overly sexual and greedy man.
Advocates for free expression in South Africa and around the world argue that displaying the painting is an artist’s right and the ANC’s complaints are unwarranted. Regardless, the two vandals of the painting, purportedly a middle-aged white man and a younger black man, have now destroyed the artwork with their careless red and black paints. The painting was already sold to a buyer, Reuters reports.
Both vandals are in police custody and have yet to be charged in the case. The ANC has clearly stated that the painting crossed the line of what is acceptable when portraying government officials. It remains unclear how severe the charges against the vandals will be.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons