Should artists conform to South Africans’ sensibilities?

Ayanda Mabulu has caused shock with his latest painting, which depicts President Jacob Zuma engaged in a sexual act with Nelson Mandela. Mabulu called the painting the “Economy of Rape”. The Daily Vox spoke to artists about the painting, asking if freedom of expression should be balanced against issues that South Africans are particularly sensitive about.

Ndaya Ilunga, 21, visual artist, Randburg
I think it’s very grotesque, disgusting and provocative but still relevant because he is putting something out there in a tongue-in-cheek manner in a way that people don’t usually discuss openly. Putting Nelson Mandela there as provocatively and as explicitly as he did, on top of Zuma in that way is just makes people realise that South Africans need to stand together even more now.

It is different [from Zapiro] because it is two different artists, two different contexts – Ayanda is a black male, and Zapiro is a white male so people will take it differently. I feel like it is very different as well because it is way more explicit. You can actually see the penis and it is way more grotesque and the colours that he uses are provocative.

Ayanda is clearly trying to get people’s attention from the work that he does, otherwise it wouldn’t be so explicit and provocative. Whatever attention he gets is what he intends to dish out.

As an artist, Ayanda is free to do what he wants to but there will be consequences. It is something one always has to consider – whether freedom of expression is relevant or if it is null and void when it comes to iconic figures.

People are not used to seeing such refreshing images like homosexuality; it’s an intense image for people to absorb. It it were a woman, people would be more likely to accept it. He’s got what he wanted.

*Mbali Monageng, 24, interior designer, Johannesburg East
The painting is very shocking, it’s out of the ordinary. The two characters are not on the same league and to put them in the same picture, the way they’re portrayed is traumatising and insulting to South Africans.

Zapiro’s cartoon had a woman being forced down, there’s no sign of pleasure and in this painting, there is no sign of being forced. Saying rape and not actually portraying rape – why is it? Is the artist trying to provoking a certain response?

We need people like Ayanda who makes you come out of your comfort zone. He gets the time because not everyone thinks like him, or it might be in people’s thoughts that they don’t really say out loud.

I don’t feel different to seeing a man being raped rather than a woman. Rape as a metaphor is wrong, regardless. It could be an animal and still not be right.

Neil Dundas, 60, art curator, Johannesburg
Art being used as a means of protest is something I believe one has to protect the right of but equally it does come with a responsibility, not just to seek to shock for its own value. He’s made a point now more than once. Are just now looking to find the next person who wants to buy shock value pictures or is he really contributing to something new: an artistic argument or a political argument?

Is he doing this for someone to ban him so he has another cause to start making more provocatory subjects around the censorship of art?

Why Mabulu’s latest painting infuriates me as a black gay man

He has made more intelligent work than this before so I am a little disappointed. He might find a wider audience if he does something that deals with the political issues without the shock value. He is a skilled artist who has built himself a powerful political voice. He must do the things he feels moved to do, I don’t think this is the best of argument.

Irvin Nedzivhane, 24, art sales rep, Spruitview
It’s demeaning to Mandela. Zuma I would understand because of the Brett Murray picture  but it’s shocking to bring Mandela into it. A hero in the picture doing this is not on at all. It doesn’t look like rape to me. I think this is worst than the Zapiro picture because it has Mandela, who is an iconic South African.

Ayanda is talented, if he would change the way he views the world then we could give him more attention. Ayanda should have thought it through before he painted it. Rape is rape, if a guy rapes a guy or a guy rapes a woman, it is still rape nonetheless.

Featured image via Flickr