"The Spear" (2010) Brett Murray and the ANC's defamation lawsuit

In 2012 Brett Murray's "Hail to the Thief" (II) exhibition, something happened. Not only did the inclusion of controversial painting "The Spear" (2010) get vandalised, but from that moment on, the ruling party of South Africa at the time - The ANC (African National Congress) - became more involved in censorship than ever before. But why?

Firstly, the painting. Devoid of the fact the painting was "maliciously" vandalised, the painting portrays the President Jacob Zuma in a powerful political stance reminiscent of Victor Ivanov's propaganda poster "Lenin Lived, Lenin is Alive, Lenin Will Live" (1967) with one difference. Zuma, like all political figures in the world, is not immune to satire, thus, Murray's inclusion of the President's manhood in the painting. But is this satire?
President Zuma is a controversial character himself, his polygamous lifestyle - many wives and girlfriends - at the tender age of 65 is certainly something that could raise eyebrows. Not only that, but Zuma has numerously been in trouble with the law: convicted of rape in 2005 (but acquitted), faced many corruption charges and condemning same-sex marriage.

Many questions are raised here.
1. Is the painting remotely offensive and should it be banned?
2. Have the ANC just "not got it"?
3. Artistic license is one thing, but is painting the President's manhood just a personal attack based on political bias?
4. Should someone in power, such as Zuma, be immune to acts of such artistic interpretation?

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2 years ago
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I think everybody deserves the right to express their opinions however In the instance of this painting when it's communicating such a controversial subject that could consequently put you in danger I don't think he should have painted something that makes his opinion so direct but I think he should have made it more subtle and discreet. On the other hand you could argue he knew what he was doing so he would accept the ramifications it could cause and sometimes if you don't make a big statement you don't make a change.

2 years ago
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Yeah, I agree with Erin, if the painting was shown somewhere else it might not have been vandalised. I do go back on my point of audience though. Say the painting was exhibited in London and someone traveled from somewhere else to see the exhibition they could have been the one to vandalise it. So I think there was a risk where ever it was exhibited

2 years ago
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@ErinGibbs, what does the painting mean to you? Does the fact the painting takes influence from Soviet Propaganda give the painting more intellectual grounding?

2 years ago
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@kerrym, interesting analysis. Why could there always be a risk? Is this the problem with censorship? Someone like Bjarne Melgaard or Paul McCarthy constantly produce sexualised content in their work but is the image of a man in power the only concern for protestors?

2 years ago
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there's always a risk because the world is always going to be over sensitive about things, there's simply always going to be some form of censorship. I do think that because it was focused on a man of power, it was more likely to cause more offense

2 years ago
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Me and Ruby think it's childish because someone has drawn a penis on him. Then president Zuma or one of his follower has seen it, decided it's not right and scribbled over it. Like at school. It's also the galleries fault as they knew the context of it. They should have thought of the consequences before they exhibited it. But then isn't art supposed to be about breaking the border and showing you opinions and feelings.
In response to the question you asked me. In all honesty, the paining is just a painting to me, it doesn't make me feel anything. I don't believe the panting has more intellectual grounding because of its influence. At the end of the day he is influenced by the propaganda and that's obviously what he's interested in.

2 years ago
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@katie1357, I certainly believe he is purposefully provoking a reaction in this work. Do you think he knew people would potentially vandalise the work? Has the fact that the painting was vandalised communicated to the world that freedom of speech, especially in the art world, still has a long way to go?

2 years ago
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@ErinGibbs and @rubymc: the original painting does have the penis on it, the vandalism is shown in the second picture. So, would you say the very act of vandalism on top of the penis suggests further vandalism. Meaning, the penis itself could be vandalism anyway.
@ErinGibbs, interesting. Do you believe the painting could be something more if you had a connection with the person depicted in the painting? Is using direct influences to create work irrelevant?

2 years ago
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I think if I understood and had a connection with the person in the painting then I would perhaps feel more towards it.

2 years ago
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@justindl I think he probably expected his work was going to be vandalised because you can't create artwork that is this controversial and then put it on full display to the public and not think about the strong difference of opinions. As long as it's not causing harm to other people I think everybody has the right to free speech and this point is really prominent in the art world because not having freedom of speech causes artists to be restricted on the artwork they want to create because they are afraid of offending someone. However you could argue the vandals had the same intentions as the artist when he vandalised the work because he was also expressing his freedom of speech In that he completely disagrees on the meanings the paintings. But he could have expressed it in a more positive way.