Art through song, poetry, painting and other forms is old as the human race itself.
Artists’ impressions have been used in various mediums to substantiate and visualize concepts. In the King James Version of the Bible, artists were very instrumental in the compilation of the publications as illustrations through art were used.
The version carries a number of illustrations that depict the stories told. We have mental pictures of how Satan looks, through caricatures made by artists. It is true that the dynamics of the Christian religion would not be the same would the artists then depict Christ as a white man.
The identification and understanding of the history of the San people has been, for years, reminiscent of the rock paintings. It can be argued that it is this piece of the art rock that made the San people famous. Through dance, many African people have used this form of art to communicate with their ancestors.
Art, through music, is used at wedding ceremonies to celebrate the union of the families. It is through art that soothing and consoling melodies are sung at funerals to comfort the bereaved. When presidents arrive in a foreign country, they are received through song and praise, and when they return home, they are spoiled with collections of the best paintings from the locals.
Artists, in the modern world, continue to be instrumental in many aspects. Artists are used to influence people’s understanding and conception of products through advertising. Cartoonists are a centrifugal part of newspapers. Cartoons are used to caricature certain political leaders and harmonize events.
However, recently, art has become a centre of controversy and ridicule. A South African painting, depicting Jacob Zuma in a revolutionary pose and with his genitals hanging outside the trouser, has sparked a lot of debate. The President is quoted in the South African media as having said the picture depicts him in a manner that suggest that he “ is a philanderer, a womanizer and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of my fellow citizens, family and children”.
According to media reports, the painting by Brett Murray “compared the President’s phallus to a spear”.
Back home, Mmegi/Monitor newspaper this week publicized a story of a Maun poet, Berry Heart, who is reported during her “nude” performance declared her crush on the President of the Republic.
According to the article some quarters viewed the performance as “disrespectful to the president”, whilst others believed it as a “liberated artistic performance that need to be encouraged”.
Caricaturing leaders is not a new phenomenon. Prophet Muhammad had his share. Zuma has been ridiculed before by a cartoonist. The ANC, supported by COSATU, this week marched in front of the Goodman Gallery and also threatened to encourage its members to boycott the newspaper that publicized the painting.
Former president Festus Mogae has been depicted as the “shrinking president” before. This caused uproar and the Government retaliated by withholding adverts from the concerned publication. Ian Khama, during the last year’s industrial strike, became a target through song, poetry and drama.
The recent negative reports that art receives pose a challenge to the medium itself. Art is an important part of any culture, and artists need to introspect. Is art insensitive to the pains endured by those depicted by the artist, or what is important being the right of the artist to exercise their freedom? Does art and artists not obliged to conform to the moral standards of a society they are living in, or art gives artists the prerogative to be loose cannons?
Art, just like language, can be used to provoke and instigate tension between people. Art has the potential to start a war. If God created man in his image, why then should artists depict Him as white and the Devil black? It is these images that, for many years, used to pronounce a black person as inferior and evil.
Artists have a responsible role to help build a tolerant and morally upright nation.