Bdlive | Neil Achary
NATHI Mthethwa, the former police minister and now arts and culture minister, recently told the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown that artistic freedoms were limited by notions of African dignity. This was in response to artists’ concern about the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) reaction to Brett Murray’s painting, The Spear.
While there is a valid point to be made that black South Africans may have different views about art, one of the functions of art should be to “offend” and challenge traditionally held views on sensibility and to critique aspects of society.
Murray’s piece is reminiscent of propaganda from the Soviet Union, to which the ANC owes its beliefs in “vanguardism” and “democratic centralism”. The exposure of President Jacob Zuma’s genitals is designed to shock, but one can argue that if Mr Zuma did not allow his personal life (having a child out of wedlock and sleeping with the HIV-positive daughter of a comrade) to be open to ridicule in this manner, artists and satirists would find other ways to lampoon him.
Intentional or not, Mr Murray’s work has actually encouraged debate on the concerns raised by Mr Mthethwa and discussions on when satire infringes on dignity.
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