Friday Debate: Can art go too far?

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Art

You’ve no doubt by now seen, or at least heard about controversial artist Ayanda Mabulu’s latest bit of work. I won’t post it here, but here’s a link to it. Be warned though, that it is very graphic, very definitely not safe for work and will probably be upsetting.

It gratuitously and graphically depicts the president, Jacob Zuma, sodomising Nelson Mandela. It’s the sort of thing made to stir controversy, which is exactly what it’s done.

Mabulu says that with art “There are no boundaries.”

“The victims will be blamed. The oppressor will not be blamed. The focus needs to be on the doer of these things. Nelson Mandela himself is not God. He is not the Messiah and he understood that himself. We‚ the people‚ are the Messiah.”

He says that the depiction of Mandela is a representation of how South African people are treated by our leadership.

“All the people who died before 1994 died in vain. They must be turning in their graves today‚ when they see the oppressor‚ the rapist doing what he does. He is constantly molesting this country.”

While that’s a sentiment that, for many, is hard to disagree with – the way in which it’s been presented is raising both ire and eyebrows.

“In reaction to the painting currently in the public domain by Mr Ayanda Mabulu‚ the Nelson Mandela Foundation notes the public outrage it has caused and appreciates that the public is offended by it‚” The Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement. “The Foundation would like to express that it respects Mr Mabulu’s right to freedom of expression. We however find this painting distasteful.”

The furore echoes recent outrage at political cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, who once again utilised rape imagery in his condemnation of the president and his relationship with the Gupta family.

In response, Shapiro said he used imagery of that ilk because of its shock value.

“I know that it’s shocking. People have said why use the rape‚ I am using it because it is shocking but I think that you can see‚ any viewer can see the empathy that would be generated by this cartoon for the person who is being raped.”

While I personally find both pieces of art effective, I can’t pretend that I’m enamoured with either of them or the way in which they get their message across. As with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, I do believe in freedom of expression – but wonder just how the boundaries can be pushed.

What do you think? Should artists be able to push these sorts of boundaries to make statements? Does it ever go too far?

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Geoffrey Tim

I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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