Statement by Iziko CEO on Equality Court Ruling

  • Posted: Jul 5, 2017

Iziko Museums of South Africa, firmly believe that freedom of speech is the foundation of our communities and our nation.

As part of the exhibition Art of Disruptions, held at the Iziko South African National Gallery a controversial work by artist Dean Hutton titled ‘fuckwhitepeople wall, chair and goldendean boots’, 2016 was displayed. Cognisant of the provocative nature of the language this work employs, the work was accompanied by an explanation (in the artist’s own words) that contextualised the artwork, and made it clear that the artist is not trying to provoke racial hatred or violence, but rather to get viewers to engage with the concept of racism and white privilege in South Africa.

The display of this work resulted in widespread public debate and in addition, a complaint by the Cape Party in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (8 of 2000) was lodged against Iziko Museums of South Africa.

As a result of this litigation, and while the matter was sub-judice, Iziko deferred further comment on the matter until the judgment.

Iziko Museums of South Africa is gratified that today, 4 July 2017, the Equality Court has ruled in our favour and upheld the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. We have successfully defended the freedom to exhibit such work and we recognize the privilege of living in a country where creating, exhibiting, and experiencing such work is a constitutional right.

The works exhibited at the Iziko South African National Gallery may awe, illuminate, challenge, unsettle, confound, provoke, and, at times, offend.  

It is part of Iziko’s mandate to engage with, and provide a platform for, these matters to be explored and understood more deeply.

Ultimately, this work by Dean Hutton is not intended to denigrate the dignity of a group of people on the basis of race nor does it promote hate speech, but aims to provoke dialogue and an improved understanding of racism in this country. The social relevance of the artwork and its insight into the current social conditions in South Africa is very important and crucial. For this reason the work was included on this seminal exhibition.

Artists frequently question and engage with uncomfortable issues or situations that confront them. Racism and its related concerns is an unavoidable, even inevitable, subject that is explored in many artworks.

With the above sentiment in mind, it is important to note that to exhibit a work of art is not to endorse the work or the vision, ideas, and opinions of the artist. It is to uphold the right of all to experience diverse visions and views. If and when controversies arise from the exhibition or a work of art, we welcome public discussion and debate with the belief that such discussion is integral to the experience of art.

Iziko encourages constructive debate and an engagement with this artwork and exhibition.

Rooksana Omar

CEO: Iziko Museums of South Africa

 

ENDS

Editor’s Notes:

More information on the exhibition Art of Disruptions.

The year 2016, marked the commemoration of several key milestones in the history of South Africa. The 60th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Building, Pretoria; 50 years since District Six was declared a whites-only area in 1966 (under the Group Areas Act of 1950), 40 years since the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising, and 30 years since the Nationalist Government of the day, Declared a state of emergency in 1986 (the first was in 1985), intended to repress and curb mass action. This year will also be remembered for high profile protests, unprecedented in our young democracy.

Against this backdrop of both historical and contemporary protests, as well as the volatile environment permeating many of our campuses; communities, and the media, Iziko resolved to curate an exhibition that was strategically intended to questions the role of ‘protest’ art in society today. The exhibition titled, The Art of Disruptions was thus intended to highlight some of the strategies employed in the current milieu to deal with, and comment on the various controversial and fraught issues that afflict our society today.

This exhibition ran at the Iziko South African National Gallery from 16 June 2016 to 31 May 2017. It showcased works by artists who employ different methods to actively ‘break apart’, challenge and complicate the traditional boundaries, and hierarchies of culture and society. The artworks displayed engaged with a range of topical issues and debates such as racism, sexism, homophobia, inequality and privilege as well as migration and environmental degradation. These uncomfortable and tense issues are endemic globally, but they are also very much in the foreground locally and in some way affect all South Africans.  

Thus at its core, the exhibition Art of Disruptions was intended to create healthy dialogue.  The exhibition also explored the role of media and technology in expressions of freedom and justice (or the lack thereof). As such, it was inevitable that some of the more controversial works would be scrutinized - not only by the public but also the media.

In the spirit of engagement - that this exhibition engendered - Iziko has embraced the discussion across all platforms, including the media and encouraged mature and insightful rather than reactive debates.

About Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko)

Iziko operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure. The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at www.iziko.org.za, join our online community on Facebook (www.facebook.com/IzikoMuseums) or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions. 


blog comments powered by Disqus