Presidential Penis Portrait Riles South Africa's National Congress
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Published on May 18, 2012
South Africa's ruling African National Congress threatened to take legal action against a Johannesburg gallery for displaying art which lampoons President Jacob Zuma and accuses the party of corruption.
The African National Congress wants the Goodman Gallery to remove a painting of Zuma called "The Spear", which depicts the president with his genitals exposed, and another work that has a "For Sale" sign superimposed over the party logo.
The picture of Zuma is a facsimile of a famous poster of communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. In the red, black and yellow drawing, the president is depicted as striking Lenin's heroic stance, except his genitals hang outside of his trousers.
The works are part of a collection called "Hail to the Thief" and are meant to question whether the century-old African National Congress has lost its moral compass.
"I think they [The African National Congress] are angry about defamation, in particular. I think it's related specifically to the president's [Jacob Zuma] image, to how he's portrayed to the public," gallery spokesperson Lara Koseff told Reuters.
The gallery has refused to remove the portrait, or any of the artist's works, and Koseff said the artist was within his rights to express himself.
"The gallery doesn't feel that we are defaming the president in any way, in fact we feel that artist has every right to present this image in this space and we are going to support him."
Anton Harber, chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute, said the African National Congress's demands were absurd.
"I think like a lot of good art it's provocative, it is meant to get us thinking and talking about very pertinent issues. Issues of corruption, nepotism and these are serious things and the artist is clearly being brave and provocative around it," said Director of Freedom of Expression Institute Anton Harber.
"I can see that some of the pictures might make people uncomfortable but art is not there always to make one feel comfortable."
Since coming into office in 2009, Zuma has been widely regarded as unimpressive on the policy front, while making headlines with his colorful personal life. The president has been married six times and fathered 21 children. He faces a race for re-election as the party leader at the end of this year.
The Spear by well-known anti-apartheid artist Brett Murray has already been sold for R136,000 (16,000 U.S. dollars) to a German citizen.
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