by Lerato Themba Kuzwayo
I think Brett Murray is a Genius, probably the artist of the year world wide. You may think, what is this guy rambling on about. Bare with me for a moment and I will clarify things for you.
On an evening around the fire, under the shadow of a hill, down GaRankuwa, we caught up on things that passed us by whilst out of touch with each other, the “Spear” made a jolt and took another stab at our conversation. Intrusive truly as a spear ought to be under any man’s Skin. A trespass, of your mental real estate. The old Man figured the entire exhibition should have been bought by the ANC and after the exhibition be in the Apartheid Museum as a testament of post Apartheid art and critique. The Grand master was simply being futuristic, he could already see the books of South Afrikan history quoting or making reference of Brett Murray’s exhibition as a mark in the chronology of our politics.
In fact Brett Murray was rather conservative in his approach to provocative artwork. During the time I was under the cloud of smoke like everyone else and what I inhaled I coughed out very reactively, thoughtfully too, but mostly reactively. I could not see the entirety of the process because I was involved in it, engulfed In the debate and enjoying too. I too like everyone else had found a reason to protect our positions and our ideas. The most enjoyable for me was that everyone for a week or two had actively been engaged in my profession, the profession of the Arts, involved in a body of work that sought to include each and every South Afrikan. Everyone was in my knack of the woods now and this was our domain to protect.
I took a stand behind Afrikan Art. And I started lacing my points about questioning the Afrikaness of the work, since people were throwing in point on cultural traditions into the debate. Art has always been a matter central to culture, though some were saying that this ArtWork was uncultured. Of cause, in Afrika Being a cultured being is being one that inculcates themselves into the artworks that arise within your community seeking to comment about you. You sit and you look at the image and you ask yourself, “Self, what does this artwork say to me about myself”. As much as I have my contentions about The “African-ness” of people who are of European decent, I would also have to concede with hind sight that Murray’s work has entered itself in to the realm of Afrikan Art. This leads me into even deeper thought about this idea and all my other contentions about any ones origins and what name we should call them by. So this was just Art engaging Human Kind. I realized even on a broader scale that this is the same for everything I consider to be Afrikan, to be something that is at its core Humanistic. This is uBuntu.
It is an engagement into the process of existence with another as equals, and if any has been made unequal by any means for any reason whatsoever needs to be brought back to par with all other people. This is the divine balance of a Society, being brought back to the status of equality needs also to include a strict protection of your identity. It means not mimicking others to be an equal. It means be equal in your own right and identity. It is about being the vast millions of colours that the human being seems to be individuated into, each not being stifled around its existence. No pot calling teapot any blacker. Just Human.
I make these conclusions about the artwork due to the fact it unanimously affected the general community across all lines and Boundaries. The middle class Black guy who thought it was okay and his counterpart thinking it was utter nonsense, the poor who could not give a rats digestive tract as to why the art should be given such prominence. Old man made the point that why is everyone trying to protect the kids so deeply when these kids do more heinous acts on their cell phones referring to the Soweto Video rape Seven. Why are people trying to be such hypocrites about what it is they allow kids to be exposed to and what they are not, when we clearly have no control over what they themselves create and expose others to? These are the questions that arose from the artwork.
The Sunday Times Columnist Marvin Meintjies gave thanks to Murray for making President Zuma a victim once more just months before the Party elective conference, saying that JZ will now milk the situation to its most extreme. He rose to the throne by making use of his victim hood. The artist had now factored himself into succession politics. Another testimony to why the artwork will be better suited in the apartheid museum. If JZ manages to stay afloat and be voted up the throne by sympathetic voters he essentially changed the course of the country politics with a brush stroke.
Future generations will look at the youtube video of the defacing of the image and read about the councilor that wept in court, they may be going through archives in the of the online and newspaper debates. This painting seems to have also given rise to the sleeping giant of race that ran amock in the under currents of all political and social questions. Reminding us that the non racial reality is not yet fully realized.
There is quite a deep metaphor in the entirety of the body of work that seeks to say that that which politicians thought was hidden is thoroughly exposed, much like the genitalia, even as the defacers sought to place a veil over the exhibit, with very little success in fact. The Taxi Driver and Business man that were brought together by a performance art, creative event also mark the grey areas covered by the painting. They entered the gallery with similar intentions with colour coordinated paints for the defacing as though to expand the artwork. As Sir Ike pointed out, that this was a work done by three artist, Lefifi, concluded by saying “the other two artist just never got a chance to sign their great artwork”. Insisting even, that it is the better painting than it was when the Brett Murray finished it.
The point for me still remains that we all know what lies beneath the black and red paint, and nothing can be hidden anymore. Just as we now know what lies now behind the valiant flag of the ANC and perhaps even the reasons to why Sobukwe chose to leave the party. There is another suppressive government behind the smiling faces, that seeks to ban artworks in a democratic society, place an age restriction on the human anatomy in a country where 9 year old girls are falling pregnant, as Unathi Msengane noted on the Metro fm breakfast show, these girls clearly being victims of “statutory rape”, 4 500 the figure was as I remember it. Why no rush to arrest and prosecute the offenders, she asked? A government run by a historically banned organization goes around banning images, when one with a reach of the internet can Google some of the sickest images in our society. Some even make their way on to the television screens the children consume when they are unattended.
The very act of trying to hide a thing further exposes it to those you are trying to hide it from. Every man takes care of his dignity, is my word, though I fully acknowledge the hurt that every one conceded to in the week that out of court agreements were made and apologies spoken along with harsh words rescinded and intentions, though there is a deeper hurt being inflicted on the poor people of this land by the ”President (Associates) and Sons Pty.ltd.”, that seems to have been neglected. As much as we would like for this to be non racial point, most of the lesser of these here my brethrens are of Afrikan descent (Black)…The wretched of this earth.
This artwork has not only been controversial, the entire exhibition of work is rather historic. Each time one seeks to speak of the artwork then a myriad of other issues seem to get conjured. From culture to race relations to politics and to basic human rights along with, what art and artists mean to all these factors affecting the South Afrikan society. Even if that may have or may have not been the intention, it remains what the social interaction with the painting Became, regardless of how we feel about the issue of the naked ness or the naked truth as it were. My Take though during the height of the Spear-gate was that we had more urgent matters to deal with, but then again the issues that arose around The Spear seem to point to all these neglected issues and the ANC quickly shut that debate down.