Circulation, Visual Forms and the Public Life of Ideas

Presented by Rory Bester Carolyn Hamilton Litheko Modisane

Date: 
Monday, 26 March, 2012 - 15:00

On 6 August 2009 the then national Minister of Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana, was supposed to open Innovative Women: 10 Contemporary Black Women Artists, an art exhibition that her ministry had funded to the tune of R300,000. Shortly before the scheduled opening the Minister was seen perusing the exhibition. But when the time came for her speech, she was nowhere to be found, and instead her spokesperson excused the Minister and proceeded to read out the speech on behalf of her boss. Unbeknown to the gathered audience, the Minister had departed precipitately in protest against the public display of photographs by activist lesbian photographer, Zanele Muholi, whose work attempts to reveal and enter into public deliberation a powerful contestation of the disavowal of, and violence against, black lesbians. With no one any the wiser, the exhibition completed its tour of Cape Town and Durban without any fuss. Some seven months later, while researching a story on the Joburg Art Fair, the features editor of South Africa’s The Times newspaper was told of the real reasons for the Minister’s early departure from the Innovative Women exhibition.  A journalist was assigned the story and on Monday, 1 March 2010, The Times ran a story suggesting the actual reasons why the Minister had left the exhibition. In the article the Minister criticized the exhibition for undermining the national priorities of social cohesion and nation building: “I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this….It was immoral, offensive and going against nation-building”. In the same article, her spokesperson attempted to qualify the Minister’s comments: “Minister Xingwana was also concerned that there were children present at the event and that children should not be exposed to some of the images on exhibit.  The impact and consequences of the emerging controversy were fuelled by the location of the exhibition at Constitution Hill, a heritage precinct in Johannesburg that includes the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Amongst other things, the Court is a guardian of the Constitution’s protections against discrimination on the basis of sexuality. [See the attached paper for more]

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