Madiba as artwork: Doing good or too bad to be true?
One well-meaning project raises funds for poor schools, but other depictions of Mandela just raise objections
Shout for a Safer SA was founded in 2007 by musicians Danny K and Kabelo Mabalane, following the murder of Lucky Dube, as a registered non-profit organisation and BEE certified charity. It has recently joined forces with visual artist John Adams to raise funds to develop libraries in poor communities. So far 10 libraries have been installed.
Three sculptures of Nelson Mandela were created by Adams using the most common pen used in schools, the yellow BIC with the blue cap. The pen is a symbol of literacy, numeracy and education.
“The idea of creating these unique sculptures is to raise awareness of the importance of education in making a difference in the fight against crime and violence. High levels of illiteracy are sadly a reality in many communities in SA,” explained Gavin Koppel, chairperson of Shout.
The project took five months, approximately 70,000 pens and six and half litres of superglue. The first sculpture depicts an upright silhouette of Mandela with one hand in the air, saluting the nation. The second sculpture is a portrait of Mandela’s face, and the third is a pen box with the words inscribed on the front: “Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.”
Three other artists have caused the public to take notice with their artworks depicting Mandela:
A 2010 painting of Nelson Mandela by Johannesburg artist Yiull Damaso was recently sold for R450,000. The buyer has chosen to stay anonymous. The Night Watch!, based on the Dutch artist Rembrandt’s 1642 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, depicts Mandela as a corpse being autopsied by the late child Aids activist Nkosi Johnson.
Among those in the background are Desmond Tutu, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, FW de Klerk and Helen Zille. Damaso had done a series of portraits of Mandela but this one had the ANC up in arms. At the time, the Mail & Guardian quoted senior party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu as saying: “It is in bad taste, disrespectful and it is an insult and an affront to values of our society.”
The storm around the painting made international news and Damaso received several death threats.
Ayanda Mabulu is known for his shocking paintings using sex and nudity to criticise politicians. One of his works shows Zuma with exposed genitalia, licking Atul Gupta’s backside and another has him raping Mandela. In his 2010 painting Better Poor Than a Rich Puppet, Mandela is seen in a recreation of the last supper with a naked Zuma and Tutu.
Mabulu caused a stir with his recent work, a swastika flag with a superimposed picture of Mandela doing the Nazi salute and the words “Unmasked piece of Shit”. He displayed it at the FNB Joburg Art Fair in Sandton in September. Fair director Mandla Sibeko said “the ambush performance was not part of the scheduled programme of events”.
According to Mabulu, the work expresses the “depth of Madiba’s betrayal”.
The artist claims the furore over his artwork led to two men following him after a recent radio interview in Johannesburg, causing him to crash into another car. Zapiro
Jonathan Shapiro, known as Zapiro, is renowned for his powerful no-holds-barred political cartoons. Not even the revered Madiba has escaped his pen.
In 2013 he released several cartoons that referred to his impending death. Several depict his “money-grubbing” family fighting over his legacy and lampoon “undignified money-making ventures bearing the Mandela name” as his death grew close. These upset many. He was criticised of being culturally insensitive by Madiba’s grandchild.