Art and activism clash in South Africa

Washington Blade | Brian T. Carney:


In May 2012, white South African artist Brett Murray launched a political firestorm when he unveiled “The Spear,” a satirical portrait of controversial South African President Jacob Zuma. 


Director Peter Ringbom filming ‘Shield and Spear.’ (Photo by Rebecca Von Rehn; courtesy of Ringbom)

The six-foot-tall painting used Soviet-style iconography to depict the scandal-plagued leader in a defiant pose with his penis exposed. The provocative representation of Zuma, which was later vandalized by two protesters, led to massive street protests and death threats against the artist.

The violent arrest of two protesters and Murray’s trial for defamation have led to widespread discussions throughout South Africa about the role of artists in the fledgling democracy. These debates inspired documentary filmmaker Petter Ringbom to create “Shield and Spear,” which recently had its Washington, D.C., premiere at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art…


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