A NEW painting of South African President Jacob Zuma in traditional attire with his genitals exposed went on display at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town on Monday night.
The artwork by Ayanda Mabulu, entitled Umshini Wam [Weapon of Mass Destruction] is part of an exhibition called Our Fathers, which features works by artists such as Brett Murray, whose controversial painting The Spear sparked protest action against the Goodman Gallery in May.
The Spear, which also depicted Zuma with his genitals exposed, was later removed by the Goodman Gallery after activists smeared paint on it. The artwork was also classified with a rating of "16N" by the Film and Publication Board because it displays nudity.
Mabulu is no stranger to controversy. In May 2010, his painting of the late AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche’s head on a tray was barred from an exhibition in Truworths in Cape Town.
Mabulu, who lives in Dunoon, said Umshini Wam, priced at R75,000, did not show a lack of respect for Zuma.
“The painting… is a respectful one. He is clothed in his culture. He is clothed in his manhood. Only a Eurocentric viewpoint would see him as naked.
“He is not naked; I did not paint him with an uncircumcised penis. This is a metaphor that shows he is not a boy; he is a man, an elder, a father, a leader.”
He said through the painting, he was engaging Zuma in “the language of my mother-tongue, the language that carries the culture of my people, the language he understands the most.”
He added: "Through this painting, I respectfully, as one of his children, ask my father why he is starving us. Why he is negating his duties to his children, the citizens of South Africa."
Dedicated to the miners who died in the Lonmin tragedy, the painting aimed to “strip” Zuma of his suit and tie and bring him to the level of ordinary people, he said.
“I represent people all over South Africa who feel the sting of what the president is doing to us. We still live in matchbox houses,” Mabulu said.
ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe said: “Sometimes people think derogatory gestures are a beauty contest. If that artist wants to be in that contest, allow him.”
AVA Gallery director Kirsty Cockerill said if Umshini Wam provoked controversy, as The Spear painting had done earlier, the gallery would have fulfilled its mandate of facilitating dialogue.