‘Respect for the President’s penis now!’

2015-10-05 08:00
 

Cape Town - A new art show that opened in Joburg this week has set tongues wagging. Seasoned comic-book and satirical artist Anton Kannemeyer’s new exhibition at Stevenson in Joburg, E is for Exhibition, had a busy opening – with some works receiving particularly robust attention.

One of them was R is for Respect, clearly a comment on The Spear, the controversial work by Brett Murray that saw the ANC march to the courts and on the Goodman Gallery. The controversy was reported on around the world.

The work features a large, black penis above a mob carrying a banner that reads: “Respect for the President’s penis now!”

Some art lovers City Press spoke to regard the work as a brave statement that supports local artists’ demand for freedom of expression in the face of perceived ongoing government criticism of satirists, like Murray and Zapiro in particular.

Others, however, were angered by it, accusing Kannemeyer of the same kind of racially offensive practice used by Murray in his portrayal of President Jacob Zuma with his trousers unzipped.

The work, they say, plays into a painful history of the black male body being stereotyped and fetishised, consciously or not drawing on a long colonial history of the fear of the virile black man.

The artist told City Press his exhibition, which is a wholesale satire of the entire political landscape, is not about taking positions, but presents snapshots of our democracy since 1994.

The broader body of work falls under the banner Alphabet of Democracy. 

Kannemeyer said: “It’s more of a mirror than a position. My main impulse for making the work is a reaction to censorship and what happened with The Spear ... I know there was a discussion at the time that white artists are not allowed to satirise a black man’s penis, but at the same time I read reports about primary schoolgirls being impregnated by their teachers ... If I think it’s important, then it’s my duty to make a work about it. I’ve done plenty of works about white penises.” 

A far more controversial work in the show features rugby hero Joost van der Westhuizen and Jesus, with the latter’s penis very visible. 

Kannemeyer started his work under apartheid with the anti-establishment Bitterkomix, which was banned as late as December 1994. 

His show also pays homage to Chris Hani and Steve Biko – who influenced him when he was a student – while lampooning Zuma, Julius Malema, PW Botha and Thabo Mbeki’s Aids denialism. 

Oscar Pistorius gets his own letter of the alphabet, M is for Murder and Mayhem, and Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele’s famous awkward kiss is titled K is for Kissing. 

“The political landscape has changed and I wanted this show to reflect that. 

“The rainbow nation time is over. The gloves have come off. But I’m not pessimistic. I think the work is positive. Critical analysis is a positive thing to me,” said Kannemeyer.

(Photos: Supplied/City Press)

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