Brett Murray's 'Struggle'

In his book Art and The End of Apartheid, John Peffer writes about the Medu Art Ensemble: “For them a true culture of the people would be one that was not exclusive to the elite of the world of art galleries, but was seen in the streets, on T-shirts and posters (…).” There is thus a certain amount of irony attached to the fact that some of their posters can be found in a Johannesburg gallery these days. But not as we know them. Judy Seidman, the original creator of some of these posters reacts in an open letter which we obtained earlier this week:

Every artist gets a rush from seeing their work on public display, especially if unexpected – a zing of recognition, pride, sheer ego, all at once. Today I experienced the flip side: the stomach-turning sensation brought about by unexpectedly seeing my work on display, only to realize that it has been taken over and remade by someone else to give a totally different and unacceptable meaning, and (insult to injury) hanging out there in that other artist’s name.

This happened at the current (June 2011) exhibition in the Goodman Gallery Project Space at Arts on Main. Artist Brett Murray has re-created a poster I made in 1982 with Medu Art Ensemble, exact copy line by line, with just the last word changed. The original women’s poster used the English words of the 1956 protest song “umthinta Wafasi, umthinta umbokodo” : “you have touched the women, you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder, you will be crushed”. Brett Murray’s picture changes one last word, to read: “you will be president”. Presumably Murray conceives this as a sarcastic reflection on the ANCWL’s response to Jacob Zuma – he has not felt the wrath of the women, but has been raised up instead.

Another Murray artwork rips off an equally iconic poster done at CAP (not by me) in 1984, “Asiyi eKhayelitsha – we demand houses, security and comfort” (these forming demands from the freedom charter). This image is also copied exactly, with most of  the words changed. In this second reworked poster, “Asiyi eKhyaelitsha” has been changed to “Amandla”; the slogan now reads “we demand chivas, BMW’s and Bribes”.

Coming home, a quick google shows these are only two of a number of “popular struggle images” that Murray has revisited. Another also rips off of my artwork, a poster designed in commemoration of Solomon Mahlangu in 1981. The original quotes Mahlangu’s words as he faced the apartheid government hangman: “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle.” Murray edits this to read: “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle for chivas regal, mercs and kick-backs”. These words (following the original) are in quotation marks, attributed to Solomon Mahlangu.

Murray’s website further describes five separate plaques from his 2010 Cape Town exhibition “Hail to the Thief”, separately inscribed with: ‘Chris “Hush Money” Hani. Walter “The Sweetener” Sisulu. Joe “Mr Ten Percent” Slovo. Steve “Kick-Back King” Biko. Oliver “On The Take” Tambo.’

Do not mistake me: I do not object to an artist appropriating images which have become common ground over the years, and using these to present a new message. On some level, perhaps one should be flattered that the images are public property, that people will obviously be aware that the images did not spring full-blown from Brett Murray’s artistic vision. Appropriation and change of known images is one of the ways that culture grows.

(There are limits to legitimate artistic recreation, however.  In the web exhibit of “Hail to the Thief”, Murray reproduces another poster, “Why must we keep on dying this way?”, which makes no changes except in the medium –his is paint on wood rather than silkscreen– and in the title, which on the website reads “Xenophobia”. Presenting an unaltered copy of a poster from 1984 as his own work, without informing the viewer that this was done by an STP workshop with youths from the Vaal, might be considered to cross some fuzzy line of what constitutes plagiarism.)

My objection, however, is not that Murray appropriates struggle images; or even that he appropriates images that I and others created without attribution, calling them his own.  My objection is that he mis-appropriates these images. These images became public, and iconic, because they told of our beliefs and our commitments during that time of struggle.  Murray’s “artistic” revisions have the images saying the opposite of what we believed –suggesting that the “real” demand, in 1979 and 1982 and 1984, was for BMWs and chivas and kick-backs; and that the women’s movement of 1956 worked to make a male chauvinist who abuses women into our president. To rewrite Solomon Mahlangu’s final words to claim he fought for kick-backs is, frankly, defamatory. To make plaques “commemorating” heroes that label them as corrupt negates our history, and insults their memory.

The Goodman website describes Murray’s work as “acerbic attacks on abuses of power, corruption and political dumbness … a vitriolic and succinct censure of bad governance … (which aims) to humorously expose the paucity of morals and greed within the ruling elite.”

Praise for Murray’s “revisiting” struggle images does not end there, either. In a review of the Hail to the Thief exhibit, (ex-)struggle artist Mike Van Graan defends them thus: “One’s first reaction to these – and I imagine, that for some, it will be the only reaction – is that the artist is dishonouring the memory of these struggle icons. There will be many who play the tiresome race card and shoot the white messenger artist for his “racist attack” on black struggle heroes. When the emotional dust settles, and the politically correct (or rather, the politically opportunistic – where blackness is appropriated as a smokescreen under which to pursue and justify dubiously-gotten gain) knee-jerk reactions subside, the realisation dawns that Murray is but giving artistic expression to what even the ruling party’s closest political allies have been vociferous about….”

But do such images comprise a credible artistic expression denouncing today’s political abuse and corruption? To me, and I strongly believe to many others who were involved in the struggle, reworking these images conveys rather a deep and more sinister message, quite other than the (brave and laudable) condemnation of bad morals and greed rampant amongst our current rulers. In re-constructing and undermining historical struggle images and messages, even to misquoting the words of our heroes, Murray suggests that bad morals and greed formed the underlying motivation for our struggle. That the roots of today’s failure grow from fault-lines integral to the struggle itself.

Whether this “message” was Murray’s intention is almost irrelevant: it is the impact of his “reworking” these public images. I would argue that if this message is not his intention, but an unfortunate by-product of the form he uses, then we must dismiss his work as artistic failure: it conveys a wrong, unintended message.

Murray’s distortion of iconic images invokes outrage, but does not actually pinpoint the problem of corrupt politicians facing us today. Ultimately it counts as a cheap shot – a lazy route to audience reaction. It does not help us find a way forward. Moreover, it feeds tired old stereotypes pushed by the counter-revolution – that our national liberation struggle was no more than a fight to change one group of greedy and self-seeking rulers for another.

Van Graan goes on to suggest we who reject Murray’s art demonstrate a “kneejerk” reaction based on the “tiresome race card”. Indeed, exploring this work does lead us to question, yet again, whether an artist should attempt to put words into the mouths of people that the artist sees as “the other”. And yes, this inevitably raises the spectre of how, or whether, a white, middle-class professional male artist in 2010 should take upon himself the task of rewording statements that came out of the national liberation struggle.

To Van Graan, we might say: the true heritage of struggle posters stands with the women activists who formed a purple line opposing the mobs outside Jacob Zuma’s rape trial in 2007; with the ex-combatants from Kagiso who in January of this year produced a poster which reads: No land, jobs, houses; not yet Uhuru; with protesters in the Free State where Andries Tatane died. Not in a ripped-off image being sold as a work of art for R10 000 in a privately owned up-market gallery.

Of course, any artist has a right (in some abstract freedom of speech sense) to play with words, and images, and ideas, as he sees fit.

But then, I would argue, we who encounter the work have every right to respond accordingly. To repeat: this is not an “appropriation” of our culture and our history, but a “mis-appropriation” of it. Good art – even great art – is about sharing perceptions and understandings, about building truths. Deliberate distortion of our cultural heritage does not help the viewer to understand how we lived. Rather, it obscures that actuality.

Distorting our history and our culture, and calling it art, earns a different, and more straight-forward label: we should call it, simply, bad art.

Comments

comments

25 Comments
  1. Excellent critique. Portion of royalties from sales should go to the artists who first created the images. Time to get lawyered up, Medu Art Ensamble!

  2. Brilliant Judy! The lazy response and the tired old stereotypes are TIRED indeed and perpetuate the narrow-minded thinking that ensures that the important and enduring issues of class and race get window-dressed in the same old rhetoric of fear and loathing. The Goodman obviously settled for the "tried and tested" because there is nothing remotely innovative or groundbreaking or even "risky" about Murray's appropriation. What he appropriates is his own cheap wit, dressed up as "clever analysis". It does nothing to advance the struggle for transformation, restorative justice or political accountability.

  3. Might be informative to have the full apposing view:

    Mike van Graan

    Chris “Hush Money” Hani. Walter “The Sweetener” Sisulu. Joe “Mr Ten Percent” Slovo. Steve “Kick-Back King” Biko. Oliver “On The Take” Tambo. Embedded in five separate plaques, one below the other, these inscriptions and the image as a whole were what most stayed with me from Brett Murray’s provocative exhibition – Hail to the Thief – which closed at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town last week.

    One’s first reaction to these – and I imagine, that for some, it will be the only reaction – is that the artist is dishonouring the memory of these struggle icons. There will be many who play the tiresome race card and shoot the white messenger artist for his “racist attack” on black struggle heroes. When the emotional dust settles, and the politically correct (or rather, the politically opportunistic – where blackness is appropriated as a smokescreen under which to pursue and justify dubiously-gotten gain) knee-jerk reactions subside, the realisation dawns that Murray is but giving artistic expression to what even the ruling party’s closest political allies have been vociferous about.

    Murray’s “President and Sons Ltd” or his “Hail to the Thief” iconography echoes COSATU’s Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi’s anger last August when he was particularly scathing about the ArcelorMittal Sishen mine deal in which family and friends of President Jacob Zuma received shares worth millions. “We’re headed for a predator state where a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas are increasingly using the state to get rich” said Vavi and continued that just like the hyena and her daughters eat first, the chief of state’s family eats first in a predator state.

    Vavi’s anger, frustration and disappointment expressed in “We have to intervene now to prevent South Africa from becoming a state where corruption is the norm and no business can be done with government without first paying a corrupt gatekeeper,” reflects the anger and frustration themed through this exhibition. Murray was a participating artist in the Arts Festival 86: Towards a People’s Culture of which I served as coordinator and which was banned before its start for constituting “a threat to the national security” of the apartheid state. Little did the artists in that event believe that less than 25 years later they would have to raise a flag again in protest, in anger and disillusionment against those in the new political and economic elite who now dishonour the struggle against apartheid injustice and the heroes of that struggle, with their corrupt, scandalous behaviour that spits on the half of our population who continue to live below the poverty line.

    Solomon Mahlangu, an ANC guerrilla who was hanged in 1979, and who was posthumously awarded the Order of Mendi for Bravery in Gold for bravery and sacrificing his life for freedom and democracy in South Africa in 2005, has his words on the day of his death reshaped by Murray in a poster “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle for Chivas Regal, Mercs and kick-backs”. There is now a school and a square in Mamelodi named after Solomon Mahlangu, as there are streets, parks and buildings named after Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo and Oliver Tambo – monuments to honour their dedication to a better life for all, and to remind us of our unjust, institutionally violent past so that we do not repeat it.

    And yet, here we are, nearly seventeen years into our post-apartheid democracy, and we are the country with the world’s widest gap between rich and poor, with the worst indictment of the ruling party being average life expectancy for black people which now stands at around 50, twelve years less than in 1992 before it took over the reins of government in 1994. Contrary to the ANC’s election promise of “a better life for all”, the reality has been “an obscenely better life for an elite, and a shorter life for most”.

    What, then, is the point of such monuments, streets and public buildings named after fallen struggle heroes? Did the numerous holocaust museums prevent subsequent genocides? Did the Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein commemorating thousands of Afrikaner women and children who died in British concentration camps prevent the apartheid government from assigning millions of black women to insufferable living conditions in bantustans? Has the Baragwanath Hospital significantly improved access to public health care for the majority of our country’s inhabitants since being renamed the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital? If anything, such memorialisation simply provides those who once were victims the “right” to abuse others in their attempts to ensure that they are never victims again, or that they prosper – even at the expense of others – from once having been victims of injustice.

    Perhaps, then, we should have living monuments that challenge those in power and us as citizens on a daily basis to confront the injustices in our midst and truly to transform the lives of all so that we all enjoy in practice (not simply on paper) the rights and freedoms contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in our own country’s Constitution. Imagine, for example, every street being given a second name – that of person who’s died of AIDS-related causes under the Mbeki regime (that would provide more than 300 000 street names) and only as health and educational interventions succeed in reducing HIV infections and average life expectancy increases, are these names removed, one-by-one until we have an average life-expectancy of at least 70.

    Or imagine, in big public spaces – the Waterfront in Cape Town or Sandton Square in Johannesburg – two walls, one listing (on a weekly basis) the millions of names of people who have lost their jobs after 1994, and the other listing the people who have been employed.

    Or imagine every school being renamed after a (particularly, black) matriculant who actually found a job after completing school: how many schools will be left unnamed?

    Perhaps these living monuments will drive us to action, whether through shame, guilt or real commitment to a better life for all. It is in how ordinary, particularly poor, people’s lives have been transformed after 1994 – fundamentally and sustainably – that our honouring of struggle heroes and icons will proved, rather than in how many streets, buildings or parks we name after them. While the political and economic elite – “predatory hyenas” – continues to indulge at the expense of the majority thereby dishonouring the struggle against apartheid’s injustices and mocking the sacrifices of the icons of that struggle, the work of artists like Brett Murray is not only necessary, it is imperative!

    …………………………
    Mike van Graan is the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a continent-wide network of artists, activists and creative enterprises active in the African creative sector and its contribution to development, human rights and democracy on the continent. He is also the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town that harnesses local expertise, resources and markets in the service of Africa’s creative sector. He is considered to be one of his country’s leading contemporary playwrights.

  4. (My response which was published on the same page as the article in the Mail and Guardian)

    Thankfully political correctness and self-censorship are not cornerstones of
    effective political satire. If they were, it would not be called satire,
    rather “Ironic Praise Singing”.

    I spent what seems to be a big chunk of the late 80’s designing and printing
    silk-screens and t-shirts, producing banners, stickers, murals and logos for
    various church organisations, trade unions, youth groups and the war
    resistance movement, all of which formed part of the cultural arm of “The
    Struggle”. It is with a profound sadness that I have revisited some of the
    more iconic images of the time in order to express my contempt for the members
    of the new regime who, I believe, are undermining the victories that have been achieved
    through their corruption and guile and who are effectively pissing on the
    graves of the struggle heroes.

    Parody is part of the satirist’s arsenal and it is through this that I hope to
    expose the new pigs at the trough. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on
    where you stand, nothing is sacred.

  5. Dear Mr Murray,

    Surely changing the words of Solomon Mahlangu, or the women's protests, without recognition that they have been changed is in itself pissing on struggle heroes' graves?

    1. I think the point is that our current leadership is pissing on our struggle heroes graves.

  6. It has become so easy for artist to use political imagery and figures in their works and be taken as serious artists. Political satire is an easy veil to hide behind as an artist. I have admired some of the work of Brett Murray, but I think using images so obvious such as president Zuma or these posters is a very easy choice and does not offer us good works of art.

    The image of president Zuma for example offers us nothing new that was not already in the public eye. The ideas (or critique) of male sexuality associated with president Zuma, is widely criticised and note in public, showing us his penis doesn’t quite make it any more visible. This image is just another sexy or sensationalist image.

    And it is also easy these days to borrow recognisable images from the past (always quite a trend), this nostalgia for the past, for revolutionary posters, it is all very happening right now. We see that in Obama Hope posters and in lots of the student works here where I study. Brett is an established artist, one should expect more of him.

  7. Tom Devriendt has completely missed the point. In my view, Murray is not saying that Solomon Mahlangu and other struggle veterans wanted BMW’s and Chivas, as Devriendt claims in this article. In my view, Murray is saying that this is what the struggle turned into TODAY. He is commenting on the fact that indeed, people fought for freedom, democracy, housing, relief from poverty…but that today this struggle has been usurped by political leders into a corrupt free-for-all. The point Murray makes is clear as day to the vast majority of people who look at his work.
    Murray made art in the 1980s that directly challenegd the injustices of the apartheid regime. Today he makes art that challenges the injustices of the current government: In 1989 Murray exhibited a sculpture of a policeman who was literally too big for his boots. This reference to 18 year old conscripts suddenly thrust into army or police uniform, armed with deadly weapons and either sent to the ‘border’ (which was a reference for Angola) or into the black townships, drew an angry response from, “a group of white, right-wing extremists (who) were incensed by his mocking gestures” (O’Toole, 2005:21).

    1. @Leonardo: you’re missing a point or two by not reading the introduction to the post.

      1. My sincere apologies, Tom. In my haste to read this article, I did not realisie that you were quoting Judy Seidman. So, my response then is aimed at Judy Seidman.

  8. Our history, will never be erased by morons, like Brett Murray….Who chose to attack blacks rather than those who caused hardship and deny apartheid legacy….Our history is told from a Brett Murray’s perspective, this generalization of all black leaders as corrupt and sexual monsters, is annoying….Use your own names, not of those leaders and stop using their images…..You never supported them at first place…..Accept, and respect that Zuma is your president, and show him the respect he deserves…..even though, you do not respect blacks….and their history….ignoring those who rape our ancestors and beheaded them, and took them to Europe……please respect us…

  9. I discovered, quite by accident, that the premises of the liberation struggle should be revisited.

    Our entire social order has been built upon the divine right of kings to give law and take taxes.

    The transference of this non-existent nonsensical power, to a voting majority in whose hands it makes as little philosophical sense, is the fundamental and erroneous project of communist majoritarianism (to which democracy is a cunning cousin).

    Do the philosophy, arrive at a sound basis for social order, and then you can hope to achieve your own inner sense of dignity (in which the senseless commentary of the ignorant is merely amusing).

    That majoritarianism is philosophically bankrupt, is evident from the adaptation which we put under the heading “democracy”. This adaptation is, essentially, the introduction of a set of rights (a necessity, to those who wish majoritarianism to enjoy some temporary success) which are as lacking in philosophical basis as is the majoritarian project.

    This can be seen by attempting to identify a single right which is without limit.

    When one concludes that every right has a limit, one has determined that the very word is a misnomer, and there should be an international charter of limited human possibilities.

    We could instead, simply apply the rule that every decision must be defended, if there is a person who can pose a valid objection to that decision.

    This is the trade-off as it stands. You can take advantage of humanity’s misguided wandering in the doomed halls of democracy. You can exploit that to make yourself obscenely rich. I can stand by my bicycle on the pavement and give the middle finger to your convoy of flashing lights (which I do as your brother, to warn you not to create real danger from imaginary danger). I can go online, and post my comments wherever they can be posted, and tell whoever may bother to read, that you have your thoughts backwards (again, as a brother, who would be delighted to hear your thoughts, and engage with you to arrive at sound conclusions).

    During the struggle, I was told that the motives for the struggle were greed and laziness. If 50% of voters disagree with that assessment, then a whole chunk of that 50% aren’t doing a fine job of convincing me.

      1. Personally, my own motives feature greed and laziness. I probably just made up that bit about someone else projecting. Suburban conversation would not have included such a thought in 1976.

        What does motivate humans? Can it be harnessed by democracy, or will we give up on democracy?

        Why is this democracy the way it is? Was it pure fluke that some predicted some of the problems? Is there a better solution?

        Is there a reason people generally respond to the name Hans-Hermann Hoppe without hint of recognition?

  10. By definition, appropriation is mis-appropriation. There’s no distinguishing between valid appropriation and non-valid appropriation. The original will always have something taken away from it and something added to it, whether the appropriation is valid, invalid, authentic or inauthentic in the eye of the beholder or the original artist. I recognise the sting that Judy Seidman is trying to delineate – it’s personal and an artist would always wish to assert a moral right over their work, the right to make sure the work isn’t used for agendas contrary to what they intend. Which is what Seidman does, but one has to ask whether Murray’s ironisation of the iconography of the struggle isn’t exactly part of that struggle. Questioning our present time in relation to our aims during the struggle; twisting it up, perverting it all. To say he is perverting those actual aims rather than commenting on how those aims have been perverted – nay, obliterated – is disingenuous.

    While I agree with some of the arguments that gesture towards accusations of plagiarism, iconoclasm has never respected the boundaries that definitions of plagiarism would erect. Iconoclasm, by definition, uses and abuses iconography. And if anything, the original posters are icons, literally because we associate them with an era of anti-apartheid struggle, but also by way of their form or style – they are iconographic; they deliberately sought the iconographic. The Murray reworkings/ copies make themselves part of that tradition by the iconoclasm. We cannot be protective of our struggle iconography – that would be a betrayal of the aims that that iconography stands in for.

    But ultimately, arguments about the quality of the work, of its alleged place in colonial discourse (as some have argued elsewhere), about the artist’s credentials, etc., are evasive and distracting. It takes me back, actually, to arguments coming from liberal quarters against a lot of anti-apartheid art:: “But is it art?” was the collective outcry. Meanwhile, artists were being banned and jailed by the NP government, whether the art was good or bad.

    Isn’t it more urgent to worry about the government’s response now, irrespective of whether the Murray posters ‘plagiarise’, whether they are good or bad, etc. Reportedly, the ANC wants the art destroyed (http://www.citypress.co.za/Columnists/The-spear-of-the-nation-stays-up-20120518). That should make all artists with any progressive political bone in their bodies shudder because that is the betrayal of one of the aims of the struggle. We may have disagreements of all sorts of discourses that the Murray work buys into, we may detect and detest racism in the work, but we should also not ignore the courage behind a piece of work that says something about present South Africa and its government which is an open secret. I carry no brief for Murray, not at all. But almost all the arguments critical of his work and his motives are floundering around in a territory far from the issue at stake: government attempts to effectively ban an act of the imagination. I mean, for god’s sake, it’s not a photograph of Zuma’s penis; it’s not even a photo-realistic painting of it. It is stylised, iconographic. No one’s private parts have actually been exposed – it’s all imagined, so the government’s response is ludicrous.

  11. Perhaps we should all revisit the question that has vexed so may over such a long period of time … ” What is Art?” then by extension, once we have answered this appropriately to everyone’s satisfaction, ask ” What is not Art?”
    In the meantime, here is my definition for you all to chew on:
    ” Art is conceived in the mind of its creator and those who either appreciate the work or criticize it.” ~ Raphael Wyngaardt

  12. I hope the work of art has some potential merit. I have little hope that this work of art will provoke any discussion which is of benefit to society.

    It appears to me, that when the human stomach is full, signalling that there is no need to discuss how dinner will be caught, prepared and served, the human animal is inclined to divert communication forms (gesture, grunt, phone call, google) from that conversation to the next one about genatalia and the application thereof.

    Did humans invent clothing perhaps just to lull the discussion of genitalia so that the cave would be quiet enough to sleep in?

  13. Maybe this could also be part of the discussion and context,ttp://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/columnists/2012/05/23/zuma-has-become-the-21st-century-saartjie-baartman

    1. Replies at that link, are to be emailed in. I think I will post here.

      The commentary at that link talks of the coercive manners of organs of state.

      So now we had a violent and coercive struggle, and at the end of it, we still have coercive organs of state. Note that the article at that link complains of taxation. We have taxation now (and it is as compulsory, perhaps more so).

      Fact is, Zuma is not like a humiliated, powerless, naked man. He is like a suited authority figure, unzipped and ready to have his way with us.

  14. It is becoming clearer that it is definitely not only Zuma that feels humiliated by this. I think the “us” is finite.Tax has history in this country,ever heard of pole tax.No pun intended !

  15. I agree that is cheap art, if it is indeed art at all, and I agree that it is an insult to Lenin, in a way. Lenin started with an idea that empowered the leaders of the country to abuse their power and make millions suffer. Zuma started nothing.

    I agree that the “art” points to an insult to the original freedom fighters, but, in my opinion, the insult is made by the gluttonous politicians as well as the gluttonous masses. I do not have the attention span or time to read all the comments above, but there are many people who, maybe out of ignorance, think that Murray’s comment is valid.

    @Andrea Meeson: I feel that the current government is not doing their part for transformation.

    I DISAGREE on this: the president’s over-reaction to the so called art has put the lack of accountability of the current government under the international spotlight, potentially helping to foster understanding for the oppressed and neglected.

  16. I have to say that I uncomfortable with Judy’s take on this issue. And I speak here as someone who was involved in producing some of the posters that Brett Murray has appropriated – the four Freedom Charter posters (where he changes clauses of the Charter to the negative, eg ‘There shall be houses for all’ to ‘There shall not be houses for all’ and the one Judy mentions (which I don’t see on the Goodman website), the one which says ‘How long must we keep dying).
    Firstly, I do not think the artist intends to say, intentionally or unintentionally, “that bad morals and greed formed the underlying motivation for our struggle. That the roots of today’s failure grow from fault-lines integral to the struggle itself”. This is belied by the fact that he himself was involved in that struggle and also by the fact that a significant number of people (myself included) read his exhibition as reflecting a disappointment that what was indeed a struggle driven by morality and selflessness seems to have gone astray and become mired in a frenzy of acquisition and self-aggrandisement. Far from attacking our heroes, he is saying that our heroes have been betrayed.
    Secondly, the appropriation and re-working of existing images (with or without acknowledgement) is a long-standing practice, especially in the context of satire. Murray’s work continues in that tradition. I would agree with those who say that this exhibition cannot be called ‘high art’, but then I doubt even Murray would claim that it is. In fact, it has the same sort of ephemeral quality that most posters have – they are very relevant to the time, but eventually became historical images related to a past era rather than being enduring images that have appeal across generations.
    Thirdly and finally, I would take issue with Judy’s following statement: “Whether this “message” was Murray’s intention is almost irrelevant: it is the impact of his “reworking” these public images. I would argue that if this message is not his intention, but an unfortunate by-product of the form he uses, then we must dismiss his work as artistic failure: it conveys a wrong, unintended message”.
    All art has the potential to be misunderstood. This does not mean it should not be produced or displayed, or indeed that it is a ‘failure’. An artist’s primary purpose is to reflect his or her take on the world. Whether this is driven by a purely personal inner compulsion or, in the case of struggle artists like Judy (and myself, if I can be called an artist) by a personal identification by an external social or political movement, the artist is making a statement. It is up to the viewer to interpret it in whichever he or she chooses or is able to.
    On the last point, I can’t help relating it to the new Nando’s advert. For those who haven’t seen it, Nando’s has made a tongue-in-cheek ad which pokes fun at xenophobia with the intention of promoting social cohesion. I was immediately able to understand the intention of the ad the first time I saw it. However, SABC, etv and other stations have refused to run the ad, saying that people will misunderstand it and see it as actually promoting xenophobia. No amount of viewing could persuade me that this is the case. But because some people somewhere in the board rooms of our TV stations have decided that there just might be someone who will see it differently, they will not run it (maybe the wounds of the Spear are still too fresh??). While an advert is not the same as a piece of art (though I’m sure some creatives in ad agencies would like to argue otherwise!), and perhaps carries a different responsibility given the fact that it is using popular media and aiming itself at society in general, such a conservative approach is very worrying. I am not arguing that there should be absolutel no control over what is published or aired, but, hey, this is going too far!

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