JOHANNESBURG: Two men wielding cans of red and black paint entered a Johannesburg gallery today and defaced a painting that draws attention to the South African president’s genitals and his reputation for promiscuity, witnesses said.
“Now it’s completely and utterly destroyed,” said Iman Rappetti, a reporter for a South African TV channel who was in the Goodman Gallery when the men struck.
Her channel showed footage of a man in a suit painting a red X over the president’s genital area and then his face. Next a man in a hoodie used his hands to rub black paint over the president’s face and down the painting. Rapetti said the men were detained by gallery staff and police arrived later to take them away.
The painting by Brett Murray entitled “The Spear” has been on display since early this month, but made the news only last week when it came to the attention of South Africa’s governing African National Congress party.
Earlier today in a Johannesburg courtroom a few kilometres from the gallery, a judge said that in an unusual move a full bench of the High Court would hear the ANC’s and President Jacob Zuma’s challenge of the gallery’s rights to display the painting.
Rappetti said she initially thought the first man was part of a performance art piece, and that staff at the well-known gallery also were slow to react.
The Goodman, which had said in a statement a day earlier that it was stepping up security, refused to comment today and closed the gallery as reporters and passers-by gathered outside its gate.
Judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane had been expected to begin hearing the case against the painting today. Instead, citing its national interest and the constitutional issues at stake, she said the case would start Thursday.
Nearly one hundred pro-Zuma protesters were outside the court.
The painting is part of a large exhibition of Murray’s sculptures and paintings titled “Hail to the Thief II.” The ANC has called the show an “abuse of freedom of artistic expression.”
The painting defaced today is a black, red and yellow acrylic on canvas priced about $15,000. In a style reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s brightly colored Marilyn Monroe portraits, “The Spear” depicts Zuma in a suit and what could be a codpiece accentuating his genitals. Some observers say it depicts Zuma exposing his genitals.
The painting had been sold before the defacement.