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In the Air – Art+Auction's Gossip Column

Over 16 Rating Reversed for Controversial Painting of Pantsless South African President

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The Film and Publication Board of South Africa has reversed its decision to place an “over 16″ rating on a painting of president Jacob Zuma, the Guardian reports today. The decision comes months after the display of “The Spear,” a painting by artist Brett Murray in which the president is depicted with his penis prominently exposed, prompted an immense uproar across South Africa, including organized demonstrations and a defamation lawsuit. Agreeing that the painting unduly offended the race and dignity of the office of the president, two men even painted over “The Spear” with their own brushes, availing themselves to arrest by security guards last May.

Finding that the earlier ruling had been “heavily influenced… by the need to affirm the dignity of African males and to protect sensitive persons and children,” the board concluded that the painting is not inherently offensive to African culture, and cannot be classified as pornography merely for depicting nudity. There had been no evidence, according to the tribunal, that “the painting would be harmful to children on the grounds that it seriously undermines and is insensitive to African culture.”

Speaking for the Goodman Gallery, where “The Spear” first went on display — and which is currently showing the work of another censored artist, Morocco’s Mounir FatmiLara Koseff told the Guardian that she was “delighted” with the decision. “This victory has cemented the gallery’s mission to uphold its status as an activist space dedicated to nurturing freedom of creative expression in South Africa,” she said. “We believe that it was extremely important to legally challenge the principle of censorship of the arts.”

Blade Nzimande, a close friend of Zuma’s who currently serves as the minister of higher education, continues to find the painting “disgusting and insulting to the president.”

— Reid Singer

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