One Man’s Vulgarity Is Another’s Lyric

After years of oppression, the people of SA unleashed their imagination and power of self-expression in pages of books, theatre, music and also art.

Sexuality in art and entertainment is the most frequent target of censorship actions. There are many works of literature, from Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ to John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’, these are some, which have been banned from schools based on their sexual content in some countries.

Here in South Africa, two creative minds; one black & another white have pushed the limits of artistic license causing uproar.

Ayanda Mabulu

The right to expression has become deeply embedded in our national psyche underwritten by the constitution of South Africa that endorses the right to freedom of speech to all BUT not to Zapiro & Mabulu.

Zapiro and Ayanda Mabulu have a penchant for evoking emotional responses from their audiences, both have shared their sentiment on the current South African President and his incestuous relationship with the Gupta’s.

Their style of expression is provocative presentation of controversial pieces of art that becomes in-your-face entertainment. Their works or art have ultimately placed our commitment to free speech to the test.

Zapiro uses the rape analogy in his cartoons whilst Mabulu has consistently enjoyed Zuma’s genitalia in his works in a highly sexualized manner.  The country has been mixed in their responses to both creative minds, especially Mabulu’s recent work. Mabulu has in this instance, used the depiction of the late Tata Madiba to articulate his message of a broken nation violated by Zuma.

From the Nelson Mandela Foundation to the African National Congress everyone has a view that the work is to be found distasteful in respect to Madiba.

But the question we have to ask is; why is Mabulu’s depiction of Nelson Mandela shocking audiences whilst other pieces of work on Zuma have been received with much fanfare?

Why must we allow the majority’s morality and taste dictate what others can look at or listen to?

Katy Perry unleashed the wrath of India by offending their sensibilities by posting a picture of Hindu goddess Kali to iterate her current state of mood.

What makes it wrong that she’s posted a picture of Kali? Perry should not take it down, censorship by the morality brigade is going to be the death of society.  The same sentiment was paraded around as South African Indians took offense to Kali’s walk-in vagina, by artist Reshma Chhiba.

Chhiba was asked to produce artwork for a disused apartheid-era women’s jail in Johannesburg, she wanted to make a statement about women’s power.

Why is there a double standard?

walk in vagina by reshma chhiba

Why does art have to be treated on a double standard? Why are Indian’s shitting all over Perry?

The answer is simple, and timeless: a free society is based on the principle that each and every individual has the right to decide what art or entertainment he or she wants — or does not want — to receive or create.

Once you allow either the government or others to censor someone else, you cede to it the power to censor you, or something you like. Censorship is like poison gas: a powerful weapon that can harm you when the wind shifts.

Bill of Rights 
Section 16 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights states that citizens’ “right to freedom of expression … includes freedom of the press and other media; freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research”.

Despite these guarantees, scenes such as the Xingwana-Muholi saga recall the heavy-handed manner in which art that questioned the status quo was dealt with when restrictive apartheid laws and bodies governed cultural output.

In 2012, the ruling party’s call for Murray’s “distasteful” painting of Zuma to be removed “from display” as well as from the City Press website and for all “printed promotional material” relating to the artwork to be destroyed, harks back to an incident involving the late Ronald Harrison 50 years earlier.

Harrison was arrested and interrogated by the apartheid government in 1962 for his depiction of former ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli as a crucified Jesus in the painting Black Christ. The artwork, unlike Murray’s, was not defaced — it was smuggled out of the country and returned in the late 1990s. It now hangs in the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

South Africa has one of the most liberal Constitutions in Africa and comes a long way from the apartheid ideology but artists like Mabulu and Zapiro are still treated as second-class citizens.

If their works anger you so much direct it to the junk status and the source of the issue. Freedom of expression for us requires freedom of expression for others.

It is at the very heart of our democracy. The moment we begin to turn on each other, it is the moment we let rise of the Republic of Gupta’s, Putins & Zuma.

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