A new work by Ayanda Mabulu, the politically outspoken painter from Cape Town, was removed from the walls of the FNB Joburg Art Fair 2013 for fear, says the artist, that “it will offend sponsors and important people”.
The incident marks another chapter in an ongoing tale of censorship against the controversial, dreadlocked artist who became infamous for painting President Jacob Zuma with his penis exposed – before Brett Murray did the same with The Spear.
Mabulu told City Press that he received a call from his gallery, Commune1, yesterday, the day of the opening of the fair, informing him that the painting would no longer be shown.
Ayanda Mabulu with his painting, entitled Umshini Wam – Weapon of Mass Destruction. Picture: David Harrison
“We hung the work the day before the opening and it looked really good. Then I got a call saying that the organisers are not happy with it and they want it taken down. He explained that they said it may offend their sponsors and other important people who might not like to see the president displayed in a certain way.”
The painting is titled Yakhal’inkomo – Black Man’s Cry. It is themed around the Marikana shooting and depicts a kneeling miner with horns on his head, metaphorically representing a dying bull. He is being attacked by Zuma’s dog that signifies the police. Zuma, who is dressed in a suit amid the blood sports, steps on another dying miner’s head.
The other characters include Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, who are laughing at the spectacle. They are hosted by Cyril Ramaphosa. Julius Malema is also depicted in his red beret, shocked by what he sees.
The dying miners are being killed by a matador who uses the South African flag instead of the usual red cape to lure the miners to his sword.
The work is named after musical compositions by the late Winston Mankunku Ngozi and Nigerian icon Fela Kuti. Yakhal’inkomo loosely translates to “the bull bellows” or “the cow cries”.
Ross Douglas, the director of Art Logic, which organises the fair, told City Press: “There was by no means any pressure from FNB or the government to remove the painting. It was my decision. I felt that the art fair has a responsibility to the creative economy and the painting could compromise that.”
Douglas says while surveying the work with his business partner, Cobi Labuscagne, ahead of the opening the two of them agreed it should be taken down. “We had a discussion with his gallery and the painting was replaced by his other work,” says Douglas.
He added: “I understand why Mabulu made the work and why he is upset. However, it’s part of the challenge of running an art fair that one has to balance different interests. I must look after the interest of the artists, the sponsors, the buyers and the audiences. In the end it’s an art fair, not a biennale.
“We have a responsibility to many people who rely on the fair economically. I felt this was not the year to show such a work. I go to art fairs all over the world and ours is the least censored.”
Said the artist: “I understood this sort of thing in Cape Town when the AWB was after me (for his depiction of Eugene Terre’Blanche) but I did not expect this in Joburg, which is supposed to be black.
Maybe the best thing is for me to f**k off from this country if this is the case.”
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