ANC and gallery make up
After two weeks of harrowing insults, racial slurs and court action provoked by the Brett Murray painting The Spear, the vilified Goodman Gallery and the enraged ANC have found each other.
After a marathon meeting on Tuesday night, the ANC struck a deal with gallery owner Liza Essers. The party would drop its application for a court order prohibiting the public display of the painting. The gallery undertook not to exhibit the painting again.
Speaking at a press conference at the gallery, in Parkview, Johannesburg, yesterday ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu and Essers said a national debate on artistic expression and how it related to various cultures was needed to avoid similar conflict.
Surprisingly, after the vehemence of his initial response and call for a boycott of City Press newspaper, Mthembu conceded that the ruling party had learned from the dispute.
He said the ANC should have asked for a meeting with the gallery from the start instead of instituting court action.
Mthembu said: "The debate should not be ignorant of where these South Africans come from . How do we then build [a] culture out of this diversity of cultures, a culture that we can say is a shared common South African culture? When we enter into this debate, we must recognise where all of us come from.
"Having said that, we must enter into a debate that makes all of us, as South Africans, feel that this country belongs to all of us who live in it," he said.
The agreement between the gallery and the ANC reads: "To the extent that [President Jacob Zuma] has interpreted The Spear painting to be an attack on his dignity and an affront to his cultural values, the Goodman Gallery and [Murray] intended no insult to him as a private person.
"[The ANC] will withdraw the application currently before the Johannesburg High Court . The case involved the balancing between the two competing constitutional rights, to human dignity and to freedom of artistic expression, both of which have a crucial place in our democracy."
Despite calls for the painting to be destroyed, Essers said she would fulfil an obligation to the German collector who bought it and it would be delivered to him.
The Spear was defaced by two men subsequent to its sale.
Essers said she would consider removing an image of The Spearfrom the gallery's website, though this was not part of the agreement with the ANC.
On Tuesday, leaders of the tripartite alliance led thousands of supporters on a march to the gallery.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe called off the boycott of City Press after the march. The paper had by then removed the image from its website.
Asked about Murray's state of mind, Essers said yesterday: "He has been very saddened about the hurt that the painting has caused and I think that he has also had a lot of time to reflect.
"I think he will also speak to the press and you will all be able to get a sense of where he is at, especially having been such an important artist during our struggle years .
"I think he has taken a huge amount of pressure from a lot of people and I think one does have to go back and look at where he comes from, too, and the important role that he played in our country," she said.
In an affidavit filed in court, Murray defended his decision to paint The Spear, saying he was not a racist as many black South Africans had accused him of being.
Though Essers and Mthembu spent considerable time debating different opinions about freedom of expression, Essers said the clash with the ANC would not stop her exhibiting controversial art.
Mthembu dismissed accusations by COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota that the ANC had bullied both the gallery and City Press by organising marches and calling for a boycott, on top of the court action.
He described the ruling party's actions as "fascist".