By Gillian Schutte · 21 May 2012
Perhaps this representation of the unruly sexuality of Zuma/Black men is an oblique way of giving expression to the anxiety of living adjacent to a hostile ‘other’ population that has the massive potential to revolt against them at any given moment. It is also the fear of an ‘other’ that remains, to the White South African, ambiguous and unfamiliar. The constant threat felt by White men can only be mentioned obliquely by expressing their view of the Black man as over-sexualised and primal and therefore incapable of running a country.
“Whites do not project a sexuality on the Black man which they themselves would like to have, but rather project onto others the faults they fear in themselves and thereby purge themselves of those evils.
Fears of an excessive and uncontrolled sexuality are stilled by ascribing this unmanaged, and possibly unmanageable sexuality to Black men and to other groups that are in disfavour, (as seen in the historical repression of womankind.) Thus White men can be rest assured that they are good, because the evil which they secretly fear in their own nature is manifest in other groups who are for reasons scapegoated.”
The President's Privates
While I'm not really moved one way or the other, I'll have to disagree with the over-philosophising (in my view) of the issue. Yours is a solid argument on the collective white male psyche and the possible quasi-eugenic slant of the exhibition, but I'm not convinced that that's it entirely (my opinion).
I don't necessarily have the words to frame a counter-argument convincingly, so I would rather then ask what's the difference between Brett Murray's painting and 'Ngcono ihlwempu kunesibhanxo sesityebi' by Ayanda Mabulu? - http://www.worldart.co.za/artists/artist.asp?ID=59 - Zuma (genitals supported by a metal construct of sorts). PW Botha, Obama, Bush, Madiba, among others, also depicted.
I don't know...
The President's Privates
Charl, do you have to ask? Ayanda Mabulu is Black and can paint what he wants, Brett Murray sadly does not get the same free pass according to Gillian's logic!
And this is just absurd:
"...the painting is no more than a euphemism for the word "Kaffir'."
"...most insulting manner a man in his culture can be affronted."
Who Holds the Moral High Ground?
Yes, the argument in this article is based on an assumption that the moral high ground lies somewhere in the land of liberal politics. South Africans of all races are feeling jaded about that. White males can no longer afford the cost of liberal politics, and, no doubt, will call this image to mind every time they are called "mlungu" in the street.
I uphold the rights and merits of critique in the arts and in politics, and though I cannot fault Murray's thinking from his white male perspective, all I can say of Murray's work (or Mabulu's) in criticism is, the likeness is not that good...
Is Mlungu a racial slur? In my language it means white person.
Great article...and its unfortunately no surprise that whites are being defensive....sad though.
Funny how european whites treat us black more respectfully and humane than our own white counterparts....everytime i travel to europe, i get a sense that i am considered a human being first...here its a colour first...
somehow in South Africa debates have degenerated to personal insults and each race defending its turf...
Fantastic article. Thank you.
Good Grief Girl
Honey, most men stand back and look in awe of his excellency's just slightly more endowed than the normal willy...but miss thing let me tell you, he is not the only one with a hint of ding dang dong hanging out...Suggesting that the big dick-ness of black men is an insult to white men only means you don't know many friends of Dorothy. Just ask honey and I'm sure more than one of our rainbow's rainbow people will whip one out and disprove your hypothesis.
I must congratulate you on tackling the issue that seems to have been missed by other coverage of this story - that of the projection of the sexuality and the fear thereof onto the Other. I would have like to have read your opinion of the reference of the pose used in the Spear - the iconic forward march pose that depicted Lenin. It is obvious that Murray is using the visual language of various socialist movements to juxtapose the idealism of socialism with what he interprets is currently happening in South Africa - do you agree that some of the pieces which subvert South African Struggle artworks felt more disrespectful?
Finally, do you think that the lack of context in which this work has been presented in the media weakens or strengthens your argument? Take a look at the rest of the exhibition here: goodman-gallery.com/exhibitions/265
Thank you and I look forward to your response.
Socialist Realism; the reality of Zuma as the socialist choice.
What would Fanny say?
[Lenin's SR (Socialist Revolutionary) nemesis]
This Article Makes Me Despair and Leaves Me Stunned with Disbelief
Has Schutte even done any homework on Brett Murray? Sadly, it seems not. All that does seem to matter to her is what the ruling party wants the public to read. A well constructed argument. A pity that it's a work of fiction.
An Old Story
This is a story taken from the diatribe of liberals in the '80s (when I was in the midst of university political drama). I recall that then deconstructivism of this sort was fashionable, if not useful, or accurate. I recall also, during a student union rally of that time, after a white liberal woman had harangued the crowd about the rights and demands of disenfranchised South Africans, she was publicly accosted by the people she sought to defend, telling her she didn't know what she was talking about and had no right to assume that she could speak for them. I learned this lesson at university: few people have ears for liberal politics when the colour of the lips spouting it is the wrong colour.
But Is It Really that 'Big'?
The overwhelming thrust of Gillian's argument is that the presidential penis as illustrated is large/humongous/monstrous et al, and that this is what sets the stage for her appalled critique of the implicit racism in the artists approach - either as a purveyor or critic of these perspectives himself.
But is it a big dick really? Surely that is a matter of experience and perspective - of which Gillian seems to have neither. In my opinion (and experience), it is not that spectacular/scary/monstrous etc - and not worthy of comment on its own. It looks quite normally proportioned to me. The fact that it is on ZUMA is what makes me scared.
Take away the "size" issue and does the racism argument still hold? Maybe it does - but in fact the penis could have been rendered substantially bigger or substantially smaller, yet the objective of drawing focus to it as "the spear" would not change, and thus the critique of Zuma as a man - would also not change.
The fact is that the painting is of ZUMA, not just any black person, and the penis is NOT that big, black or threatening, but he certainly does know how to (ab)use it.
Either way, like all important art, it has touched a nerve and its in our faces!
Offloaded Racist Guilt
Hahahaha....and let's hope she feels a little offloaded as far as her racist guilt is concerned!
Scale & Proportionality
Shoji, Gillian refers to scale & not proportionality. A fairly proportioned penis on a 12 foot figure for example would be quite monstrous relative to the average human by virtue of sheer scale.
Lack of Anonymity of Subject
Good article. One thing that you bring up in your article briefly (and when I came upon it I hoped for more elucidation) was the lack of anonymity of the subject.
If we take, say, Robert Mapplethorpe's photos from the 1980's America, the abstracted fetishism and eroticisation of the Black bodies objectify precisely because of the anonymity of the subject(s), and how this anonymity affords a fantasmatic mastery to the viewer's gaze. In this case, the anonymity is clearly not there. Would you say the lack of anonymity (and the further framing of the portrait along socialist/propagandist lines) affects the reading that ascribes to the portrait the objectification of a collective Black body, and perhaps problematises this reading?
Also, perhaps an alternative reading could be ascribed once placed within the rest of the exhibition. For a moment, remove the racial problematic (to the extent of a lack of anonymity), and the subversion created by invoking the genitals appears as humanising the political abstraction of the Party and its so-called socialist ideals.
The alternative here places a more complex reading on the mechanism of disavowal, removed from the racial problematic. An argument could be made that any collective party/ideological system/politic functions upon the mechanism of disavowal, the displaced remainder that supports the system and requires active disinvestment by the public in order for the system to continue. This reading gains weight if we consider the current discourse of South African media - we all know corruption and bribery is at play, yet it continues, whereby no active, clearly mediated system has been put into place to rectify these issues.
We might then consider that we are not asked to take up the position of a White male gaze, but of the South African collective against the Party and its ideological functioning, subverted by the standpoint of the public itself.
However, I feel this is not the whole story, and perhaps was not intended by Mr Murray. There is definitely merit to the reading presented above, whereby invoking the image of genitals racialises the body presented
However, it just seems that, if placed within the context of the exhibition itself and the lack of anonymity for the objectification of the body, the erotic aesthetic loses credibility.
The result is that both readings have a weight to them, and this image is by no means simple. There are indeed some intractable issues at play (which often go missed by some commentators).
JZ - The Naked Truth
I am actually responding to the original article and not the comments posted. I must say I have never read anything as unintellegable as this to discuss the merits or not of a painting. What's with the quasi physcological discourse? Wow did you enjoy trying to confuse the hell out of us? And shouldn't you disclose that you are married to an ANC official and therefore influenced by this? But really Mrs. Schutte in plain words next time. And more succint as well.
Ad Hominem Approach
Ah yes, that she is married to an ANC black-dick-ness has to be relevant now doesn't it VicCapeTown?
An ad hominem approach does not add value to the discourse at hand.
Tackle the article on it's merits &/or demerits as you perceive them i.e How is this article unintelligible to you & how does it confuse you? That way, better informed readers may be able to elucidate that which escapes your grasp. I have often found that seeking assistance where I come up short instead of attacking or clutching at straws has served me well.
Take that approach for a test drive some time. Handles like a dream.
I can't believe someone wrote this. Your opinon and conclusion is that the artist...Brett is racist and he is envious of Zumas willy?
Hello that is NOT Zumas willy. It is an artistic representation of it and its not that big. Who have you been having sex with? Get off you moral high horse and listen to the people. The people that he is supposed to be putting first. Not his cultral need to sow his seed. Oh and then shower to protect himself from HIV, and then on top of all of that announce his personal action plan publicly for combating the disease by having a frikken shower. Na you are wrong, but that is just my opinion.
Quite an emotive response there Lara.
If there is racism in the spear it is in the eye of the beholder, nothing in the piece refers to race. How the K word arrives in the argument boggles the mind. There is a significant amount of racism being expressed around this work, predominantly from those who for whatever reason oppose it and are calling for its censorship. That perhaps deserves a thorough deconstruction.
The writer has an incredible imagination. The conclusions drawn in the article are absurd. the "you are a racist" tag appears to, once again, overshadow the real issues. The fact that an artist chooses to express protest through his or her own cultural, social or economic points of reference (racist or not) is a lesser consideration. One may argue that the article itself is inherently racist - the conclusions drawn wild and desperate.
Racism is a Real Issue
Racism cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered a "lesser consideration". When that day comes, we have lost the war against race based discrimination & might as well oblige those of racist leanings by degenerating into the "impending" open race warfare they promulgate in order to propagate their racist ideology.
Agree with Innocent Bystander
I do feel that this articles reading is wild and inflamed. And somehow ignorant of the fact that there are 7 billion plus humans on our shared planet... can the writer share her thoughts on this matter and how it afects our sexual responsibilities?
If there was a popular ubiqitisation of the notion of rampant black male sexuaity that we all referred to, that would be some grounds for consent, and if we did not know about Mr Zuma s at least 23, virtually fatherless children, and his multiple wives in his 70s, then we could say that references to his proclivities were groundless.
But we dont all think about black men in this stereotyped way and we are all aware of Mr Zumas atavisitic personal details and the poor example he sets.
These are worthy of comment, in every medium.
A very interesting perspective. Whether it's correct or not, I don't know.
You state: "The president stands guilty as charged for his transgressions against womankind, homophobia and dubious leadership style, which many point to as the inspiration for the artwork." -- I somehow think it is as simple as that -- but of course I may be wrong about that too.
What is more interesting to me is not the penis, but rather the "Lenin" pose. I would like to understand Brett Murray's thinking about that.
Chelle, my thoughts exactly..why are we overlooking the 'Lenin' pose? The penis, to me, simply shows a President exposed (for what he represents perhaps)...but the Lenin pose is a mystery.. Zuma certainly has nothing in common with him and doesnt even aspire towards his philosophy. Unless Murray is suggesting(although this is rather a long shot)that we can expect a Stalin like figure waiting in the political wings to replace Zuma. There are rumours that Lenin was assassinated by Stalin.
I'm doubt that the picture is racist at all, but we do seem,as a nation, to go gaga over an exposed penis. Probably a throwback to the conservative apartheid era.
It is without doubt a lovely and flattering picture portrait of the President - he should be honoured, and the painting should have pride of place amoungst representations of his predecessors.
Gillian Schutte seems to have some sort of serious problem,and should seek therapy without hesitation.
On The Big Spender
I think that "The Spear" is not only a satirical personal depiction of Zuma and his sexcapapdes but also of the whole style of his government. It is a symbol of the excesses of his whole government, the big spenders of all corrupt politicians, INCLUDING the Presidents Office that went more than R20 million over budget.
Between big Big Spender Zuma and little Big Spender, Malema, and all the rest, Cele, etc, South Africans have been well and truly screwed by this government.
The Spear goes beyond Zuma, and is for me a portrait of the whole ANC 'leadership.'
We all see different things when we look at "The Spear". I think Ms Schutte doesn't know what white males think. This article is all projections from inside her head.
It is right that we all say what we see. Zuma's 'genetic nepotism' may be his culture and his right, but it much of this has been funded by taxpayers and his position in power.
I see in "The Spear" the material and moral bankruptcy ("in the red or in the black ? " see background) not only of the individual, but of the State, the ANC and other individuals who are in power today.
No envy. That is for sure.
Its Not a Black Penis, Its Not Even Zuma's Penis
I enjoy any use of Fanon to unpack an issue in contemporary SA...cause it provides such great insights, but Im afraid Im not buying this particular brand of vodka. President Zuma is many things, including black, and I for one cannot understand why his racial identity is featured as the most prominent in discussions about this painting. Why is it not read as commentary on his masculinity? why not as commentary on his ethnicity? why not as commentary on his role as a husband, or father, or someone in his 70's? And I know that Murray's whiteness makes for an easy point of entry, but we often choose race because its easier than other identifiers, a default position of sorts, and this case is no different.
Gillian, this is the reason I disagree with imposing your rather inviting argument onto the painting...to paraphrase Foucault: this is not a penis, its a picture of a penis. A picture that we are making meaning of and breathing our own latent concerns into. A picture we are crediting with more than it is artistically worth. A picture we are using to further our own "soap-box" causes. Its not a 'big' (by any measurement) black penis and its certainly not the Presidents penis, its a penis that is asking us to ascribe meaning to it, because without us giving it meaning, it is powerless.
Jesus bru, what have you been reading?
Brilliantly written though, you have an intense pen.
The President's Penis
Very thought provoking article. Goes to the root of our anti-culture. It is common cause that the apartheid white's could never envisage an end to their white supremacy and an establishment of a non-racial democratic dispensation. For this reason the continuous bad-mouthing and disparaging remarks about a black government. During 1994 we used the term of whites being bad losers. This is evident in FW De klerk's recent regurgitations. Some people cannot accept defeat or even acknowledgement of their past atrocities which they are hell-bent to perpetuate into the future. They need a reality check.
Dear idealistic, misguided Sam
If we truly lived in a non-racial democratic dispensation, black people in this country wouldn't cry RACISM everytime a white person criticises a black person. Then we would be debating the artistic and aestetic aspects of this painting. Here is my question: if it had been a black painter depicting Helen Zille's balls (i believe she has some), would it be an act of racism or just an artistic expression of her testoterone-voice and business-like way of government? See when the artist is black and the object of ridicule is white, then it's not racism! and as long as that is your answer, we will NEVER have a non-racial South Africa. It is the biggest joke next to the idea that majority rule is democracy!
@Sam. Your reference to FW as a 'bad loser' is out of place in this discourse and totally devoid of the truth. You're mindlessly echoing the mouthings of mischief makers. Go, watch Amanpour's interview - there's nothing new. A lie oft repeated becomes the truth!!!!!!
"...a danger to White wealth and social order" - who, Zuma?
The Penis is Evil
What would Zardoz say?
Nothing is sacred, deliver us our machine guns.
What would Zardoz do?
Murray has Plagiarized Mapplethorpe
It would be nice if one could agree with the writer, but regrettably her lack of knowledge about art (and much of South Africa it seems) is evident. Murray's work is a complete plagiarism of Robert Mapplethorpe's photograph some three decades or so ago, of a man wearing a suit with his penis hanging out. It does not show the man's face.
So there is nothing new in Murray's picture and that renders Schutte's heartfelt cry of racism redundant.
But what is important, is that the Office of the President has been brought into contempt by this rather tedious "work' - that I would certainly not dignify with the label of art. It is yet more trite South African copy-cat shock-jock yawn 'art' at work. If the same was done with Obama, Sarkozy, Putin, or anyone else the nation would be up in arms. And so loyal citizens should be, because even if the President is incapable of discretion (and more than a few international presidents past and present come to mind), the Office of the President commands respect.
Murray appears to be a rather boring little person desperate for attention - which the media and people like Schutte have given him in droves. Frankly he doesn't deserve it. The president has the right to be annoyed. Every South African who cares about his or her country should be outraged, because this work of kak dishonors all.
Response to Charlene
While I agree that the painting is unlikely to take its place in the Pantheon of "great art", it should perhaps be viewed in the context of the exhibition as a whole.
With regards your contention that it denigrates the office of the presidency, I respectfully disagree. Zuma himself, ever since his ascent through means both fair and foul (mostly the latter) has done more to damage the reputation of the presidencey than any painting could ever hope to do. He is, in short, a victim of his own all too sinister machinations. If there are those who cannot take Zuma the man seriously, then I would suggest that he looks a little closer to home in order to find the answers why.
As homely as this may sound, I still believe that respect is something that is earned, not something that comes conveniently packaged when one ascends to high office.
In closing, your contention that the work dishonours us all is at best, disingeneous. The truth is that the painting is simply one mans view informed by the all too apparent behaviour of another, to whit, our "President"
While his "perception" is not necessarily the perception of many others is clear but, having said that, I can certainly understand why he painted the way he did.
My real concern here, is that the furore and teeth gnashing that this painting has stirred up, puts us all in a precarious postion with regards the future of freedom of expression going forward. I wonder how many steps we, as a nation are, from burning books or worse, locking up those who happen to disagree with us?
Your Argument is Facile
'Bandwagoning' is what you do best, original though is clearly a foreign concept to you. Accusing Murray of being 'a rather boring little person' is about as acurate as your misguided and ignorant rant. The president has no right to be annoyed.
Link to the Mapplethorpe Work
Man in a polysester suit:
Whichever way you look at it, the painting is rubbish. Any human visage attached to it should not have been that of a real person. South Africa's fledgling democracy is yet too delicate a flower, if the metaphorical melange can be condoned, for satire of this degree of crudity. Let us address our criticism of president and government to matters which can be objectively and dispassionately contemplated, the real issues racing South Africa in 2012.
gillian schutte has obviously not done her homework, Brett Murray made similar satirical comments about white people or rather any people black or white in the early 80s.
Gillian Schutte? Don't you mean Gillian Singiswa? married to ANC senior official Sipho Singiswa? hahaha.. Yes, brett Murray has a long history of calling things as they are, as opposed to making stuff up in his head, like above.
Schutte is a Pseudo Intellectual
I have never read so much drivel in all my life! First of all, how is the K-word relevant to the Zuma painting?
Secondly, Zuma has made his "big dick-ness" the centre of his identity. One cannot help but associate our president with with sex, polygamy, rape and philandering! He has created this image and the world perceives him as such! The painting has nothing to do with being black or white - what rubbish! Get over yourself and stop shooting the messenger!
I totally agree, zuma is disgusting on his own, the painting is just a reflection of his pervert ways.
When I saw this art piece for the first time, racism was not my first thought ... but it might have been yours .. and in that lies the beauty of art ... we all have different perceptions and we all project our own thoughts on how we feel about it.
If You Defend Murray, Answer This
If the piece had been that of your mother with her legs wide open and her womanhood on display, how would you honestly feel? Regardless of what she had done?
Can you honestly say you'd still feel the same? If not, why?
No Defense Required
I would take offense...but then again Zuma is as free to take offense, as Murray is free to draw the picture...that has never been in question...why the whole nation takes offence, is a whole different story!
It's Not about Defending Murray or Anyone Other than Zuma
Murray can defend himself, we don't really know his intentions, although everyone seems to think they do! The general feeling is that it is Zuma's behaviour that inspired the work and so, then it is up to all of us to reflect on him, and decide whether we should feel outrage at the artist and painting, or where it actually belongs; with a president who doesn't act in a manner that is fit for his office!
Regarding my, or anyone else's mother (or father) being depicted like that is to miss the point completely! My parents have done nothing that would inspire such work. If someone were to paint a picture of them like this, then surely my outrage would be a little more justified? If this painting had been of Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela, then EVERYONE, from all corners of our society & the world would be justifiably outraged, because they are honourable men who's behaviour inspires respect and not scorn!
Missing the Point
@Anon, It appears as though you are missing the point here, nobody is saying that President Zuma, the ANC or relatives of President Zuma, should not feel offended by the painting. The point that many people are making is that the painting does not necessarily have a racist meaning behind it.
If You Defend Murray, Answer This
The point of the matter is that it is not a photograph or Zuma's actual penis on display here but a painted, imagined one. If it has been a actual photo of the man with his real penis, then it would be a serious breach of his dignity. Tis is not the case. The work is flatly painted and it is a "sign" of a penis, not a real one that is/was shown here. The trouble with most South Africans is that they are art-illiterate, and their lack of sophistication in these matters breeds intolerance. Blame it in our bad education system. When last was a major ANC official ever seen in one of our public art galleries? It has become a culture-free party in no time at all.
Wow such a lenghly tome using big words and every cliche in the psuedo psychological manual! Smacks of a little too much me, myself, I. Thou protesteth too much!
Never mind the fact that JZ is depicted as a WHITE RUSSIAN....
Is The Spear racist because it was painted by a white artist? Would it still be racist if it were painted by a black artist? Should public critique of black public figures (insensitive or otherwise) be the sole domain of black artists because if a white person does it it's racist? Will white artists' depictions of black people always be reduced to as caricature and stereotype because postcolonial theory says that this will always be so? Is there a way of moving beyond that?
This article is but an extraction of a much larger experimental essay which is a comparative study of various juxtapositions - Zapiro with Black Face, 'The Spear' with Mapplethorpe's Man in a polyester suit as well as representations of pornography, and examines South African contemporary film representations of black men and women through the white male lens. In this essay I have in fact, read various works and borrowed from multiple author's critiques to bring them into a contemporary and local critique. In the larger framework, I make a comparison with the way in which Murray has appropriated the picture of Lenin and Mapplethorpe's photograph and manipulated the image into a contemporary usage to push his ideology. The critique then becomes a linguistic 'play' on inter-textuality placed within the context of race representations through satire - in comic, film, language and fine art -- and the analysis becomes a multilayered literary performative piece in itself. I will paste a link to this when the work is complete.
The readings for some of the work I have incorporated thus far in both the larger piece and this abbreviated article are:
* Kobena Mercer, "Just Looking for Trouble: Robert Mapplethorpe and Fantasies of Race."
* Revealing Male Bodies: B Nancy Tuana
* Frans Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks
* Sander Gilman: Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-century Art, Medicine, and Literature.
In answer to the questions posed in Mike R's post - my view in this piece is that in 'The Spear' the artist has placed himself as central to the representation in a self-congratulatory display of bravado and machismo - and then offered up his view to the wider public as an invitation to lynch a non-anonymous Zuma with the knowledge that most would be in agreement with his gaze/take on the ANC and black men in general (Judging by that response in the media he was successful in doing this). Thus it becomes both a private/individual gaze coupled with a public gaze controlled through the artists central positioning of himself. The fact that Zuma is not anonymous in this piece but revealed facially as well as through an exposed penis - speaks to me of the artist's lack of regard for black men in general. Its place in the larger exhibition further pushes this dynamic between individual and public gazing. The artist had no doubt in his mind that his constituency would wholeheartedly agree with his personal bias thus he created it with the public gaze in mind as a public spectacle but under his auspices. Of course there is much more to say on this piece but an article does not provide the space.
For the record Vic: I am not married to an ANC official. My husband is an ex-Robben Islander but does not work for the ANC. He is an independent filmmaker and human rights activist and we are business partners. My views are non-partisan.
Good heavens! I haven't read such drivel in years! How can you get over yourself! Who the hell gives you the right to write such absolute K***k! So your husband is an ex Robben Islander... he must be ashamed at your 'dick'headedness.I don't care whether he is an ex criminal or priest - we do not care. Just as I do not care whether Zuma has a 'dick'or not. I know he has no morals. Do you remember the whore that was paid for by the Shaiks that he 'serviced' every month... go and read the court judgement and what happened during the Shaik court proceedings.
Missing the "Point"
I think everyone is missing the point a bit. It's one artwork out of an exhibition of 60, most of which are attacking mis-government/corruption/betrayal of our ideals. The struggle was for equality, fairness, caring for each other, jobs, remember, "doors of culture shall be opened". Murray is reflecting what he sees and, surprise, surprise, the ANC broad church doesn't like it. Shembe, in fact want to stone Murray (let him without guilt cast the first stone). There is an intellectual argument to be made around the (ho hum) black/white penis thing and the hangovers all we whites have about colonialism. But, Murray has shown us through 60 works, the kind of government we have. And the government has shown us through their response, that they are not interested in people governing, they are interested in the business of government (quote from Jeremy Cronin circa 2005, before he began defending the e-tolls). The government should stop this petty bullshit and get on with creating jobs and building houses, and looking after our women and children better, and stop trying to censor artists, journalists and filmmakers.
Missing the Point
Over the past few days I've heard this missing the point argument a number of times. Largely it's been spewed by white people in defense of Murray. The problem here, of course, is the unwillingness of those advancing this argument to appreciate the cultural context of a black South African in relating firstly to exposed genitals and secondly to disrespect of an elder. It is an arrogant assumption that as sexually explicit satire is considered cultured in Europe, we therefore have no reason to be offended by Murray's work. The colonial and apartheid history of this country has taught me that whites have had no regard for black people. When I therefore see a white man denigrating and willfully disrespect the president, who is black, I'm left with no other conclusion that his behavior is racist. Murray's apologists have rushed to dig up his previous works and his credentials as a UDF activist. I must say that I respect Murray for choosing to stand on the side of justice when as a young white man it was not popular to do so. His background however can cover the gross insensitivity he displayed to the values we hold dear as black people in this country.
Half Way There
The critique of racism is good here (although the academic jargon doesn't help - its just pretentious and its not necessary to make the points). But that's only half the story. The other half is that Zuma is a corrupt and authoritarian leader, with homophobic and sexist views and that lampooning him as such is an important part of resistance to power - as is the case around the world. The response of the ANC - trying to have a painting banned is just incredible. Critiquing it is one thing. Banning it is another.
Maybe Murray should have put Zuma in the pose of Stalin!
I am puzzled as to why The Spear is now construed as racist? The artist has no history of racism - quite the opposite in fact. I'm also surprised at the Presidency's reaction given the President's history: he has never shown any dignity in the past. Big black dick? Looked pretty average to me.
You know, it took me while to form an opinion on this. I'm not sure I have a problem with the painting, its the name... "The Spear" in and of itself associates his behaviour an entire African heritage. Thats just one of the things that concerns me.
All paintings and images and words have literal and symbolic meaning in them, and I have expressed my view of the Spear above. The defacing of the painting by the obliteration of the penis and the face with black paint also has symbolic value, and should be considered to be part of the artwork now. These physical acts of covering up also represent the covering up of the corruption, (see my previous interpretation) of the political leadership's big "splurges" of extravagance and expenditure in government.
One possible symbolism of the paint-over action , well intentioned though it was on Zuma's behalf, however inflicts further symbolic damage upon Zuma by obliterating his persona and his power, by rendering him invisible, by denying his existence, even who he is.
Symbolically, today Zuma was unwittingly asassinated by his own followers in the Goodman Gallery.
The Emperor's Penis
C'mon, Gillian, you need to get out more. It's really not that big. And that pasture's been grazed off to death. We do not live in fear of the BBD - the internet has shown us that there's bigger ones all around, in all races.
Thank you! Thought Gillian has a sort of Freudian antady in this article...
Ms Schutte regurgitates Freudian babble and Marxist catch-phrases as if she were a sandal-wearing Students Representative Council feminist of the '70s! And, just like those haunted, hysterical creatures that once skittered about the varsity corridors, she doesn't necessarily require anything resembling reality upon which to construct her Tower of Terror.
This article doesn't display even a glancing understanding of what Mr Murray's art is all about. The man's even gone public about his painting, but clearly, his explanation is all wrong. I'm sure that he'd be either (a) horrified or (b) amused by Ms Schutte's read on his motives. So, this painting reflects "the insidious and sinister racist and phallic patriarchy of the White liberal echelon". Really? No, honestly?
I think that the next time an exhibition of Mr Murray's is due, we'll get Ms Schutte to tell us beforehand what it's going to be all about, thus sparing him the effort of actually creating any artworks.
Ms Schutte's fantastical ramblings go on to inform us about racism being "alive and well and living on the tips of the tongues of most White South Africans". Of course, the vile, aggressive, misogynistic and racist tweets directed at white South Africans that one reads so frequently, couldn't possibly have issued from the lips of black South Africans, could they now? The truth is that racism is alive and well in SA, amongst people of all shades, and this is probably largely due to the fact that the ANC keeps race on the front burner and plays the race card whenever it's cornered and has no rational fallback position.
For example, when rural folk don't receive the services that they were promised during Zuma's election campaigns, they're told that this is a "legacy of Apartheid", instead of being informed that all their hopes all vanished with the president's last multi-Boeing excursion to the US.
I'm truly gobsmacked. I thought that this style of thumbsuck leftie polemic had drifted into antiquity, though it appears to have survived - and is quite possibly the mode of expression in elite circles such as the Jo'burg Socialist Knitting Collective for Members of Politically Marginalised Gender Groups.
Ooops; by raising the topic of knitting, I have clearly reflected a repressed desire to talk about knitting needles (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) which would be typical of a White phallocentric supremacist...
Pretentious Tosh has it right.
On the Money
Well I tried to say it better but didn't...
The Mere Fact ...
Notwithstanding that, at points, the words appear hurried and the reasoning skimmed, (elaborated on below in one of her responses - that this is an extract from a larger project), the mere fact that one does not comprehend and appreciate the complexities of disavowal, fetishism and interpolation does not render it rubbish.
European Problem Again?
Oh so the problem is European (again). Enough of this tosh! The problem is African patriarchy, plain and simple. Schutte seems to be an expedient so and so...
Same Old Same Old
Agreed! Ms. Schutte, just get over yourself (and your unwanted whiteness). Your sweeping generalisations are a sad substitute for academic debate.
I'm a young black man and I find this painting totally offensive. In our culture, one of the harshest ways to swear at or disrespect a person is to talk about their parent's private parts. They left Zuma's dangling in the wind for all whites to stare at and to have a laugh and bring them back to the good old days of apartheid. What if it was turned around? Say some young black man from the township was to make a sculpture of FW DeKlerk bent over showing his butt-hole? Now would that be befitting for him?
I have just started work on a sculpure called "A-hole" it will show FW DeKlerk bent over with no pants on showing his anus. Its not racism, just how I feel. Let's see how "white" South Africa will receive it.
I'm white, and I couldn't give a damn who's arseh*le you depict in a sculpture or painting. How one-dimensional and racist of you to assume "white South Africa's" response! There isn't only one response per race, and for you to assume that all white people will be up in arms is as blindingly stupid as the assumption that Brett Murray's painting is racist! One thing I can be quite sure of is that most white folk have more precious things to do with their time than to threaten to throw rocks at anyone's whose views don't align with their own.
Rainbow Nation is a Myth
What a sad state of affairs in SA - the racial polarisation gets MORE entrenched by the day. Please strike the 'rainbow nation' from any discourse because it is bullsh*t.
Pretentious Pseudo-intellectual Garbage
I work as a contemporary art dealer and I try to attend every auction and exhibition in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London. I've worked with almost every museum in the country and on some of the biggest corporate art collections in the country. Out of the hundreds of white male artists, I can only think of three artists who have used images of black male genitals in the last decade, namely Anton Kannemeyer, Conrad Botes and Murray. Assuming Schutte is aware of these artist and their works - surely then they must be the three avant-garde artists that collectively represent what is at "the forefront of the White phantasmal".
Not only is this argument wrong, it's also painfully weak.
I can't believe the SACSIS published this.
Pretentious pseudo-intellectual garbage
I work as a contemporary art dealer and I try to attend every auction and exhibition in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London. I've worked with almost every museum in the country and on some of the biggest corporate art collections in the country. Out of the hundreds of white male artists, I can only think of three artists who have used images of black male genitals in the last decade, namely Anton Kannemeyer, Conrad Botes and Murray. Assuming Schutte is aware of these artist and their works - surely then they must be the three avant-garde artists that collectively represent what is at "the forefront of the White phantasmal". Not only is this argument wrong, it's also painfully weak, because if Schutte can name five or ten or twenty more contemporary white male artists that make use of black genital imagery, it would still not validate this horse-shit. I can't believe the SACSIS published this.
I wish the world was so simple that every thing could simply be put in their boxes, the continued attack on one another is what has got us to this point regarding this painting.
This is a painfully weak argument and just another generalization.
This Bridge Will Never Be Curbed
The truth of the matter is we were slaves. Our masters mastered the art of dealing and directing the minds of our forefathers, which was then carried from one generation to the next. It became an inheritance to both the descendants of the master and slave that we were born servants or inferior. We have been in your kitchen far too long to know and respect what you are a customed to. But if any of you white people can write me a paragraph about any of the nine (our african) cultural ways than maybe I can understand where your word respect really comes from -- preferably based on experience and factual knowledge, not just in relation to polygamy, but overall.
Just yesterday on the News our very own kind was man handled by his own brother whilst the superior of the second was carefully shifted to the left having committed the same crime. This goes back to the segregation of land where we were permanently infected with despise. Your fellow brother is poison. I salute our colonizers for they knew that the seed they planted would be harvested even long after they are gone. I'm sure they foresaw democracy and still they knew the ripple effect of their sowing prevail. Its no surprise to them that we are still slaves in a much liberated manner. This gap will never be bridged. I agree with this article - at 24yrs a youth - and I'm able to see right through the eyes of racial superiors.
Lastly make me understand how Zuma has disrepected any of you ?
This potrait has risen black advocates. Even those who were anti-Zuma are united in racial outcry. Little Malemas are born from it. I never understood Malema till today...
How did Zuma disrepect you?
Inferior indeed! Take off your self-pity blinkers. If you can not understand that President Zuma manipulated the justice and completely disrespected the public prosecutor's office by shamelessly protecting a corrupt criminal, or the countless sexists and homophobic slurs he has made in public it is either because you have an inferior intellect or because you choose not to understand. Judging by your comments, I suspect it's both.
Sarah Bartman 2
Although I do not see how Zuma's marrying 4 wives has brutalized women. I however agree with the argument of this article. This twisted fascination with Black/African sexuality goes centuries back. Sarah Bartman was exported to France to be paraded naked to the amusement of Europeans. (I'm using export deliberately here)
Her sin was well developed breasts and buttocks. The poor women was ordered to turn around so that the twisted, cruel, and inhuman wine sipping patriachs can inspect her private parts to the satisfaction of their lust.
Even when she passed away, there were humiliating portraits of her in French museums for visitors to marvel at. It was not until early 2000's that our government intervened to bring back her remains and all the sick artwork.
In light of this, the country should not tolerate the twisted fascination with black sexuality disguised as art and freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not meant to trample on individual liberties.
The President's Penis
I think this whole thing is getting out of hand, the painting is in poor taste and is getting far more publicity than it deserves. I am getting tired of everything having a racial slur. When are we as a nation going to stop using the past as a crutch and start facing the future together, we cannot change the past and the future depends on what we are doing now at the present. It does not look like a very happy future that we are creating, does it?
When I look at the picture I do not see all black men with their private parts hanging out. I see a man (one man) who is in a leadership position and who has conducted himself in an unbecoming manner. Contrary to what the author of the article is saying, this is not a comment on "black men" this is a comment on one man. The comment combines a comment on the man's commitments to communist ideology (if he is committed to anything that is) as well as his lack of "perceived" sexual morality and treatment of women.
If the message in the picture is a sexual message, then those people who view the picture and see an insult to black men may be revealing more about their own insecurities than any intended insult by the artist. Alternatively if the message is a comment on the liberal ideal of equality of the sexes vs the "cultural" treatment of women, then the argument is far more of a statement about the current tensions being experienced as a result of rapid urbanisation and modernisation.
In my view, however, the comment is more about one man and his insatiable pursuit of power over people, women and the country. A clear link exists between men in powerful positions and predatory sexual pursuits. This is not limited to black men by any means. A very brief glance at European and American newspapers over the past few years will yield enough evidence to dispel any notion that this phenomenon is limited exclusively to black men.
I am not sure whether Gillian Schutte is simply being opportunistic or she actually believes the clap trap she wrote. Her article, however, simply attributes all the fuss to white men's sexual insecurities and racism (colonial racism at that!). This image portrays white men as being akin to Neanderthals who have not evolved and white women as their lap dogs unable to think for themselves. This is the 21 century, we have developed far more advanced methods of racism, discrimination and reasons to dislike our fellow man. We do not need to go back to colonial times to find reasons to dislike each other or upon which to define "exclusive" little groups to belong to, Ms Schutte needs to update her research beyond 1960.
In conclusion the assertion that "there are many other ways to critique the presidentís leadership weaknesses as well as his transgressions against women" may be true, but this way has proven to be the most effective and potent. Through his painting Brett Murray has made a highly disturbing and powerful comment. It is disgusting and brilliant all in one. Isn't this what art is supposed to be?
I need clarification. Zuma is married to a number of wives as is his right as a Zulu man. These women are not forced. Its part of our culture. He was acquitted of all rape charges in a court of law. So please explain was abuse of women in the pursuit of power he has done. Just because it is not your culture and you do not understand it, don't stand in judgement. Zuma has done a pretty darn decent job as president. In fact better than Mbeki, but because was "educated and had one wife' he never got this much slack. Even in Mandela's time, were children not dying of poverty, etc?
Response to Confused
Polygamy clearly discriminates against women and in a country where we believe in equal rights for men and women we either need to allow both men and women to marry as many partners as they wish or to limit marriage to one partner. There is no other way to explain why a man is allowed numerous wives but a woman is only allowed one husband. Add to this the various customary laws that deprive women of property rights, inheritance rights etc and clearly the culture discriminates against women. Worse yet it discriminates mainly against Zulu women. I fully support what you are saying about the rape trial. He was found not guilty so this cannot be used against him. What is very telling, however, is the way his supporters vilified his accuser and in fact have hounded her out of the country. Furthermore instead of responding in a civilised manner, i.e. by using the courts, his supporters have resorted to violence and intimidation to get the painting taken down. This is not the way civilised people get their disputes resolved and clearly indicates a propensity to use threats of violence and bullying to get your way. If our president did not tacitly or otherwise support these methods he would have said so very clearly and would not allow his supporters to resort to these methods.
If the South African public could put as much energy into the actual and real problems faced by this country that would be a good step forward. When a mentally handicapped teenager is kidnapped and gang raped and there is less comment by the public than a portrait of our President's penis that is a very sad reflection on us as a society. Every politician in the world invites lampooning by putting themselves in the public eye. They way to avoid that lampooning is to actually do the job WE as taxpayers pay him to do and to keep the promises made that got him voted into that position. If Zuma had been painted with a tiny penis what would the reaction be then. Seems to me from Gillian's "big black penis" comments that she is actually suffering from penis envy. All I can say to Gillian is - use your public voice to help the rape, crime, murder, Aids orphan, poverty stricken victims in this country. Who are, incidentally, predominantly black and not being helped by the man who owns the "big black dick"
It's incredibly seldom that arts occupy the front page even though it plays a vital role on an everyday basis and has played a critical role throughout the history of this country. It does expose societal schisms and positions which in turn alerts us to the problems you mention above - albeit in an indirect way. Arts practitioners work incredibly hard with very little support or coverage while often in a sense being the surgeons of the soul. On the surface it can easily be reduced to Much Ado About Nothing, but this is a form of defence against whatever is being revealed, in my opinion. It's therefore correct that this receives the attention it has.
Only One Man Painted
I do agree - this painting is not something I like or appreciate. I (in my own taste) do not like it and do not see it is art. That is my opinion. I did not laugh when I saw it, I thought "What was this man thinking of when he painted it? A sexual fantasy perhaps or maybe good old fashioned porn?" I do not see our leaders like this and I do not think it is funny. It is poor taste and one should respect your leaders regardless of their actions.
Why? Because it is written to respect your leaders and pray for them. I too made some mistakes and was ashamed when it came to light. But why are ALL whites yet AGAIN racist because a white man painted it?
I am not racist but I am very offended because all whites are stereotyped as racists here yet again. I think most people are tired that every single incident is racist if a white man/woman was involved. But a killing on a farm is not seen as racist neither is the slogan "kill the boer kill the farmer"? I really think Gillian had no right to accuse all whites here. So may all South Africans - regardless of colour and race - have a guide book with all things considered racist in it so that all of us know where the line is? I am really sick and tired of this never ending battle of who is more racist! Every one says we have to move forward TOGETHER and then something like this happens where one individual creates a racist stampede.
One man painted this - not the entire white population. One man. And I did not see one white person I know laugh about this. No - they were shocked because one man decided to paint this painting. One man that will probably be remembered for a long time. Remember one thing - our children will one day learn about this. What will they think of us? I am ashamed of the example set by us for the future generation. So please - stop accusing all the white people in this country of being "a group of intellectuals shuddering deliciously as they sip their champagne and congratulate themselves on their cerebral hold over the avant-garde." All the whites I know do not spend hard earned money on champagne on such nonsense! We would rather spend our money on health care and education for our children since white people are last in line when jobs are given. O wait - that is a racist remark is it not?
Hi Gill Schutte,
Thank you for your reply to my comment. I appreciate that this is an excerpt from a larger piece and the short time-frame within which you produced it. I would have responded to your comment below, but out of fear that it might be missed, I have placed a new comment.
I have some worries with your application, notwithstanding agreeing with some of the approach that you adopt.
Gilman's book, if I remember correctly, addresses early colonial medical practice, the over-classification of STD's to local populations, etc., and how the European imaginary of sexually licentious local Africans drove this. It also considers the effects of this on migrations of local populations, the dissemination of early clinical records and the silencing of local women's access to medical treatments. (I might have mistaken this for another, similar book, but it has been a while since I touched on this work).
Mapplethorpe's work portrayed anonymous subjects within exhibitions of some explicit erotic pictures, creating a definite voyeuristic position for the reader.
One of Mercer's arguments in that chapter (on Mapplethorpe's work) is precisely the anonymity, which I brought up, of the subjects and how this effects an objectification and supports fantasmatic fetishization - the non-identity of the object.
After having looked at the rest of the exhibition, and this picture in particular, I cannot find strong support for the application of these (albeit appropriate and definitely valuable) readings to the portrait in question. There is no reference to early colonial medicalisation, there is no anonymity, and I cannot find evidence for the support of a fetishistic gaze (within the picture or the exhibition). Nor can I find evidence of an explicit interpolation of a White Male subject as the reader. Perhaps the key point is this: I struggle to link these references with support for the claim that depicting a President with his genitals exposed necessarily calls upon a certain racist mastery for the reader. The mastery of the knowing public - an Emperor without clothes, perhaps - but not a racist fantasy. The weight of the European mind is certainly heavy; it is in the case of colonial medical practice, and will be the case when applied to contemporary readings of medical discourse; it most certainly finds itself in the removal of subjectivity in Black portraits and will be found when applied to readings of sexualising, say, the Williams sisters. No doubt, this is a country plagued with fantasies that require these interpretations on appropriate texts - if not revealed by some of the actual responses to the artwork.
I hope some of these issues could be clarified, and I do await your next work with anticipation. I agree that these ideas are most invaluable; nevertheless, they ought to be applied to contexts that lend more credible evidence. However, I accept the possibility that there is a more nuanced reading that I have not grasped.
Clutching at Straws
She is clutching at straws.
Its More Complicated than That
It's more complicated than that because:
1. Zuma is a patriarchal figure whose sexism and homophobia are well known and the painting is a powerful critique of patriarchy. Women's bodies have been on display for ever - this reverses that.
2. White racism has long reduced the black man to the penis and so the painting runs a real risk of being read as racist.
3. When placed in the wider context of the artist's work as a whole, in this exhibition and going back to the 80s, its clear that he is not a racist (but people are not reacting to that they are reacting to the painting on its own and he should have foreseen that).
4. The ANC has every right to stand up for the dignity of black people in a country where white racism remains common.
5. However they are misusing this situation to justify their turn towards a dangerous authoritarian populism.
We need to take all of these factors into account.
I can honestly say that I identify with absolutely nothing that you say in this piece. I have no concept of African men as sexually different from any other man. I think you're reaching way too far out in an attempt to justify a mistaken point of view.