A controversial painting depicting South African president, Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed was vandalized by two men in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

The painting, called “The Spear,” has been the subject of a bitter debate. The ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has asked the High Court to having the painting removed, calling it “rude, disrespectful and racist.”  Others, however, argue that Brett Murray, the painter, has the right to express himself. Murray’s work is known for its political tone and provocative nature, and Zuma has been a controversial figure for years.

The painting was defaced by two men, one black, one white, but according to the BBC’s Andrew Harding, the young black man was treated more harshly by police.

Harding tweeted:

“Zuma picture smeared with black paint. Man who did it tells me ‘picture was offensive.’ gallery guard assaults him. 2nd man arrested too.”

He continued: “Red and black paint now covers Zuma portrait. Two men responsible now taken away. Gallery closed.”

“Young black man was beaten by guards. Older white man treated much more courteously.”

Amid the contentious debate about the painting, Murray said his piece wasn’t meant to harm anyone, but was an “attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse.”

But many in South Africa felt Murray’s painting was racist and he deserves to be punished. Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist church, told the Times of South Africa:

“This man has insulted the entire nation and he deserves to be stoned to death,” he told the Times of South Africa. “What he did clearly shows his racist upbringing because art does not allow people to insult others.

“This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects.”

What do you think about the painting? Is it offensive or just art?

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Looking at it with a non critical eye, it’s just art. There seems to be some underlying racial intonations as per the comments made, but I really don’t know. Is there a South African in the house, who can shed light on this artist……thanks!

    I wouldn’t buy it, because being that Zuma is a president. His wee wee hanging off in my living room would be quite distasteful given his stature in society. No thanks.

  • BFDuster

    The painting is actually kind of awesome and doesn’t deserve to be censored nor the artist stoned to death. In my opinion, that’s how you shut down discussion and doing that, doesn’t leave room for self-examination.

    “This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects.”

    …. um yeah so I can hear from actual African women from each and every country in Africa? I’m sure their opinions will differ from each other on the subject, but at least I know I’ll be listening to what they think.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/clnmike Tonton Michel

    The artist should be allowed to express himself if for no other reason but to identify him and allow a legal outlet for his beliefs. But you reap what you sow and he should be very aware of that. On another note not surprised that the black man got the blunt of security’s wrath for this.

  • AustralianGirl

    Jacob Zuma has several wives, but STILL sleeps/slept around…. so the painting is ACCURATE.

  • Dalili

    Zuma’s past indiscretions and multiple marriages considered, I still think this painting is in very poor taste. Expression of one’s belief through art is one thing, but doing it at the expense of someone else’s dignity (and in this case a head of state) crosses all manner of decency and common courtesy decorum. I understand art is meant to be provocative (no pun intended) with intentional or unintentional subliminal messages, but honestly when I look at this all is see is a man with his penis hanging out and the president of the Republic of South Africa at that; not cool at all!

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Thank you my sister!!!!!! His genitalia being exposed is very disrespectful.

  • TypicalBlackWoman…

    I have no respect for Zuma. Sleeps with his friend’s daughter – or rather rapes her. Then, get this, the president of South Africa no less, says he protected himself from HIV/AIDS by taking a shower. What a royal douchebag….

  • TypicalBlackWoman…

    We do realize that “past indiscretions” includes alleged rape…that seems more disrespectful. President or not, this man belongs in the league of men who think with their genitals. Therefore, the picture is appropriate. I think we Africans have an unflinching sense of loyalty to our leaders (presidents, governors, pastors etc), which at times is undeserved. Time after time our leaders present to us the idea that we either choose them and so-called African traditions or the West….and we fall for it every time.

  • Dalili

    @TypicalBlackWoman…: I am in no way condoning Mr. Zuma’s actions, not in the least; and for the record I believed Ms. Fezeka Kuzwayo’s account. To me the piece was offensive and tasteless as was the one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It has nothing to do with misplaced loyalty to African leaders or archaic traditions but more with respecting the office of the president, after all South Africans elected him as their leader despite the rape charge and acquittal.

  • PeeWee

    The black guy was beaten & the older white man was INTERVIEWED. Shaking my damn head…

  • Euphrathes

    This is isulting to the entire global black community. Even if Zuma was just a common man, the artist rights should end where Zuma rights begins. The artist should face the court of law. When it comes to nakedness there is a fundamental psychological difference between black and white race.

  • Euphrathes

    Are you still under colonial yoke? Why beat up a fellow blackman who is clothing your own naked King who has been stripped off his clothes by a white racist artist. Too bad to imagine of such a miguided guard.

  • Tee

    White South Africans just don’t like peace, all we black South Africans have been doing since the apartheid days is forgiving and trying to forget. And they know that when a group of blacks are fed up nothing will stop them from doing anything.

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  • http://n/a L Skidmore

    It is a pity that the african culture is not as free to criticize politicians as the white culture. Political satire has been part of our democracy for centuries. I guess as Darwin said” you can’t rush evolution.”….

  • Jide

    The argument remains… where does the freedom of expression begin to infringe on the very dignity of an individual within Political Reasoning?
    Mthembu said the following about the issue.
    “This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects.”
    A statement of utter ignorance if I might add.
    What I find quite interesting about this dilemma is the role of the ANC in the particular issue. Are they truly showing a united front behind their leader or is it an opportunistic means for them to ones again remind us of the struggles of the past and make themselves somewhat relevant and heard because as far as service delivery in contemporary South Africa is concerned one could argue that they are doing next to nothing. A dichotomy is inherent in this very issue in that the very Freedom of expression they admirably fought for was being exercised by Murry…. a bit over the top I admit. Then again so was the march and the so called “knighthood” of the individual who sort to destroy the painting and was given a rather good beating for trespassing on private property.

    The actions of the ANC one could argue further strengthens the claim that the ANC has become a power drunk institution still caught up in its past glories which it constantly recycles at clearly calculated opening while slowly losing touch with what South Africa needs the most, Service Delivery.

  • Macambo Dacambo

    This is quite simple. Disrespectful, tasteless and an undertone of racism by the artist. I wonder if a picture of the Queen with her naked front would have been allowed as an exhibit in a London gallery. Definitely not. Guys, apply common sense.

  • red skull

    Really ppl? Art is art is art. Nudity has been a part of art since its conception. Just because this man, Zuma, is the sitting president does not and should nott protect him from being material for an artist. Freedom of expression is at risk when we start saying who can and cannot be artistically displayed in this way or that way. It’s the beginning of a police state, not democracy at its best. A great American once said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Whether or not we agree with the artist’s rendering, does he not have the right to express himself? The epitome of democracy is the free flow of ideas. We take away the right of ppl to respresent their leaders in the way that they see fit and then what? If you want to keep your freedom and rights, then dont take them away from someone else. In a democracy, you have to put up with things/ideas that you may find downright abhorent, but THAT is precisely what makes a democracy great. In closing, a Nazi rally isnt my idea of a good time. But Im sure that a black power rally isnt their idea of a hoot. But both of those things have the right to take place and that’s what makes democracy great.

  • red skull

    One last thing: Zuma needs to chill. At least the artist rendered him endowed! Now what if the offending organ had have been a quarter the size? Now THAT’S offensive! Also, Zuma’s genitals wouldnt be so easily recognized if he kept it in his pants more often! Lol.

  • mahert

    The fact that this painting has generated so many comments and such discourse is testament to the effectiveness of the artist’s skill. Viva art! Viva free expression!

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