The satirical work of Anton Kannemeyer and Ayanda Mabulu which surfaced recently in the media brought to the fore the complex nature of freedom of expression into the public discourse. Each time such provocative art surfaces it is accompanied by the question of whether certain forms of expression should be accepted or not. But this is not necessarily the value of this ‘provocation’.
Mabulu and Kanneymeyer have opinions that unsettle yet are able to challenge the public to consider some of the pertinent issues in our socio-political environment. Perhaps people should begin to appreciate the long term value of free expression. When people are forced to engage around a piece of art they seize to be apathetic. Overtime a democratic culture is established thus complementing the Constitutional vision of a free and democratic society. This in essence captures the notion of the ‘a market place of ideas’ as imagined by some of the early thinkers of this right.
In South African National Defence Union v Minister of Defence and Another, the essence of freedom of expression was enunciated as being central to democracy and truth finding. The judgment affirmed the central principles of our constitutional democracy being, human dignity, the achievement of equality as well as the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
Mabulu explains his recent artwork as follows: “I have been searching and trying to find ways to define and express how I feel about the political situation in the country. I feel like the country is being turned into a slut, and this young democracy of ours is being molested in many ways and raped continuously. I feel like our leaders have been turned into a lynch clan. We have been robbed out of what’s rightfully ours.”
Similarly, Kannemeyer recalled when the Spear a piece by Brett Murray exhibited; “At the time there was this whole furore, there were people toyi-toyiing in the streets, really upset about the fact that the President’s penis was drawn…”
In both instances the artists’ are expressing personal opinions and commentary that has implications of a whole society. While some have said Kannesmeyer’s work is violence to black bodies and others have stated that his Mabulu’s work demeans women the availability of these arguments in the public discourse are contributing to a solid culture public engagement. Without this freedom of expression is meaningless.
In the end society should debate the artwork and formulate their own opinion as the artist has done. And when this has happened, satirical has succeeded, the market place of ideas is expanded and free expression is enhanced.
- Mduduzi Mtshweni is a legal assistant and Nomagugu Nyathi is researcher at the Freedom of Expression Institute.
Photo Courtesy: Future Challenges.