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Are African governments suppressing art?

May 31, 2012

By Cosmas Butunyi

The dust is finally settling on the storm that was kicked off in South Africa by a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.

The country that boasts one of the most liberal constitutions in the world and the only one on the African continent with a constitutional provision that protects and defends the rights of  gays and lesbians , had   its values put up to  the test  after an artist    ruffled feathers by a painting that questioned the moral values  of the ruling African National Congress .

For weeks, the storm ignited by the painting  called  ‘The Spear’, raged on, sucking in Goodman Gallery that displayed it and City Press, a weekly newspaper that had published it on its website. The matter eventually found its way into the corridors of justice, where the ruling ANC sought redress against the two institutions. The party also mobilised its supporters to stage protests outside the courtroom when the case it filed came up for hearing. They also matched to the gallery and called for a boycott of City Press , regarded as one of the country’s most authoritative newspapers.

The controversy  has cooled down now that the newspaper  has  removed the artwork from its website, the gallery pulled it down  after it was defaced. The ANC  has withdrawn its lawsuit.

Throughout this drama, one issue that came up frequently in the huge debate that it kicked off, was the issue of artistic licence, specifically in Africa.

“We say No to abuse of artistic expression”, a placard screamed during one of the protests called by the ANC outside a court in Johannesburg after a case the ruling party had filed came up for hearing.

In other parts of Africa novelists such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, playwright Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, and poet Jack Mapanje of Malawi have been locked up in the past for their critical writings.

Where does much of Africa stand when it comes to artists challenging the ethos by which much of the continent is guided?.   What role should art play in African society?   Can art be used in modern Africa to correct ills of society?. What of African playwrights and novelists who have  been thrown behind bars for too much scrutiny of national governments.

Comments

Is destabilisation of SA now on the agenda?

Posted by IG_Okorji | Report as abusive
 

Wow! Fight for art! that was interesting! Search More Information Here.

Posted by zrbappy | Report as abusive
 

I don’t think African governments are suppressing arts. If such an art is for example, a British monarchic the artist may be killed.

Posted by Teluu | Report as abusive
 

I think constitutional monarchies would benefit the development of many countries in Africa.
They way I see it there is a need for a non party political international representation of many African countries. A Constitutional monarchy (or limited monarchy) is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the guidelines of a constitution.
This form of government differs from absolute monarchy in which an absolute monarch serves as the source of power in the state and is not legally bound by any constitution and has the powers to regulate his or her respective government. Most constitutional monarchies employ a parliamentary system in which the monarch may have strictly ceremonial duties or may have reserve powers, depending on the constitution. For development It is important with a sense of continuity, independent of what political party is elected. A constitutional monarch could serve that purposes of continuity, and also be able to act as an international non political ambassador for the country.
I believe this would benefit trade, commerce and investment for many African countries. Also the monarch in his ceremonial duties would be able to create a sense of national belonging for the people, and act as a unifying symbol above party politics.

HSH Prince Leopold Donchield Zu Leone II, Sierra Leone

Posted by Donchield | Report as abusive
 

Sometimes,I feel angry over the criticisms from the West when it comes to freedom of expression in Africa.Iam a full suppoter of free speech,but with great responsibility.If my memories are corrects,some couples of years ago there was a row when a bill board was put on potraying those in govts.having sex with others.It was swiftly removed because they saw that publicity as offensive and abusive.Africa is too young to tolerate certain arts whereby our leaders though they arenot that perfect in govering their respctive countries deserve some respects at least.

Posted by Asaki | Report as abusive
 

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