South Africa's review board OKs Zuma painting

October 10, 2012 - 2:35 PM
South Africa Art Spat

File - In this Friday, May 18, 2012 file photo a visitor to the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg holds his hands over what could be a codpiece accentuating the genitals on a painting entitled "The Spear" depicting President Jacob Zuma, by South African artist Brett Murray. South Africa’s Film and Publication Board on Wednesday Oct. 10 2012, declassified the painting, which outraged supporters of Zuma when it was displayed, is no longer deemed offense to public taste. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell, file)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's Film and Publication Board Wednesday declassified a painting showing the genitals of President Jacob Zuma.

The board's spokesman, Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase, said that artist Brett Murray's "The Spear" — which outraged supporters of President Zuma when it was displayed early this year at Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery — is no longer deemed offensive to public taste.

The review board "has set aside the classification decision" after meeting about two weeks ago to review the painting, which was first displayed in May, said Ndamase.

The painting was condemned by the ruling ANC and Zuma himself said in court documents that the artwork undermined his constitutional right to dignity. But the gallery and the artist countered that freedom of expression was at stake, too.

The painting was later taken down after two men defaced it with paint, claiming they were acting independently of each other in defense of Zuma. It was not immediately possible to get a comment from the Goodman Gallery or Murray after the declassification decision.

The painting was widely seen by supporters of Zuma as a racist attack on his polygamous ways. But Murray, responding to a High Court case brought by Zuma, who sought to censor the artwork, said in an affidavit that it was part of a show criticizing the ANC for alleged greed and corruption. He also said that details of Zuma's sex life had become part of the public debate in South Africa.

"I am not a racist," Murray said in an affidavit. "I do not produce art with an intention to hurt, humiliate or insult."

Zuma, who is 70, has been married six times and currently has four wives, a practice that his Zulu culture allows. He has 21 children, and acknowledged in 2010 that he fathered a child that year with a woman who is not his wife.