South African artist Brett Murray’s painting The Spear was defaced at Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery Tuesday, apparently in reaction to its depiction of South African president Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed. Only a week before, the ruling African National Congress had gone to court to try to remove the painting from Murray’s current show, “Hail to the Thief II,” as reported in the New York Times today.
Goodman Gallery’s website describes Murrays’s work as containing “acerbic attacks on abuses of power, corruption and political dumbness.” The African National Congress had described the work as “rude, crude and disrespectful.”
The Spear, a six-foot tall acrylic painting, is a graphically bold, red, black and white three-quarter length portrayal of a black man in a heroic pose. It was splashed with paint to obscure the central part of the figure, including the offending genital region.
Barend la Grange, 58, and Louis Mabokela, 25, are accused of the crime.
The painting lampoons a man whose sexual history has been a matter of much public debate. Zuma was accused of rape in 2006, according to the BBC. As part of his testimony, he notoriously said that he had showered after what he called consensual sex in order to avoid contracting HIV. This was angrily received by AIDS educators in a country where more than 5 million people have AIDS—the greatest number of any country, according to the BBC report. Zuma was acquitted.