Last week I wrote my first column for the Daily Maverick and was overwhelmed by the response. It got tweeted about by over 3 people, none of whom were my mother, and I expect it to be shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize any day now.
Unfortunately, though, this week I was hit with what is known as the sophomore slump. How do I follow up a work so brilliant that my father declared it “pretty good for a first time”? What made matters worse was the fact that this was an extremely slow news week.
There weren’t any news stories that were weighty enough to be tackled by a columnist as erudite, perceptive and modest as I am. I needed something meaty. But unfortunately nothing big sprung up.
There is one small, obscure story that I briefly considered writing about, but I have decided against it because I don’t think it will be of interest to a wide cross-section of South Africans. Just to fill you in, because I’m almost certain that you don’t know anything about it, a little-known, up-and-coming artist called Brett Murray sparked a teeny-weeny bit of controversy over his painting of a not particularly famous president of South Africa called Jacob Zuma.
Apparently, the artist painted our president, who as we all know is not only our head of state but an upstanding member of our society, with – I am almost struggling to manage to type this out it is so controversial and risqué – his PENIS SHOWING!
Yes, unbelievably shocking I know, not to mention un-African, but you know how subversive these arty types are. Murray probably spends much of his time smearing his own faeces over pictures of deceased icons of the struggle, declaring it art and selling it to the Germans for over R100 000.
But as disgusted as I was that someone would depict Zuma this way (why not go for someone more attractive, for instance ANCYL spokeswoman Magdalene Moonsamy?) it was ridiculous of me to even entertain the thought of focusing on such a trivial matter in a serious political column such as this one.
For one thing, no one even goes to art galleries, anyway. I’m sure Zuma, who as we all know is famous for not taking things like this too seriously, will just brush the whole matter off. What else is he going to do? Make a really, really big deal out of the whole thing so that instead of the four people who initially attended the show at the gallery stroking their chins, declaring it “interesting” and forgetting about it five minutes later, the whole country prepares to go to civil war over it while the entire world laughs at us? That would be silly!
It’s just a painting, after all. It’s not like it’s going to enrage people so much that they march into the gallery and start spray-painting all over it. It’s not like people are going to stand around outside the gallery baying for the artist’s blood and writing “Res” – presumably short for ‘respect’, or “recist” (sic) – all over its outside walls.
How offended could our country possibly get at having to look at one artist’s guess at what Zuma’s penis looks like? It’s not even his actual penis, unless there’s a lot we don’t know about the true nature of his and Brett Murray’s relationship. And even if it were his actual member, it’s not like it’s a member that hasn’t already occupied its fair share of the limelight in our media.
So let’s move on. No one would want to read a whole column about art, nor one about penises, and particularly not one that combines the two.
We’re South Africa, after all. We have battled apartheid and won (sort of). We wage war against abuse against women and children, HIV/Aids and mass unemployment on a daily basis. Surely a country with as much on its mind as ours would never allow Zuma’s most private appendage to get blown out of proportion.
When I’m not being a serious political columnist, I’m also a serious art critic.
This is a critique I wrote on Facebook about the work of the two men who were arrested for their brave and misunderstood reinterpretation of Brett Murray’s The Spear:
“Some say that Brett Murray’s The Spear has now been ‘defaced’. It’s possible that those people have very little understanding of current trends in fine art.
Clearly, the painting has been ‘remixed’, brought up to date and given a postmodern edge. The original pop-art aesthetic of the work has been juxtaposed with an abstract-expressionist feel evoking the works of Rothko.
In its new form, the work is making a statement about the rights of the individual to censor, forcing the viewer to ask difficult questions about art, Jacob Zuma and life.
The fact that the artists did not get permission to do their ‘remix’ only adds to the iconoclastic statement that is being made.
Somebody get these guys a grant.” DM