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Joburg art fair censors lose bid to ban portrait of deadly miners’ strike

Ayanda Mabulu stands next his to life-size painting “Yakhal‘inkomo — Black Man’s Cry” COURTESY PHOTO

Ayanda Mabulu stands next his to life-size painting “Yakhal‘inkomo — Black Man’s Cry” COURTESY PHOTO

(GIN) — Solidarity among artists rescued the larger-than-life painting of a tragic miners’ strike in 2012 where some 44 people were killed and 78 were wounded in a murderous onslaught by security guards against workers that horrified the nation.

Removed from the walls by the fair’s organizers, the painting by Ayanda Mabulu was quickly restored after veteran photographer David Goldblatt threatened to take down his own exhibition if Mabulu’s painting was not returned.

The organizers feared “Yakhal‘inkomo — Black Man’s Cry” by the youthful Mabulu would upset the fair’s sponsors and the nation’s political elites. Among the raw images, a kneeling miner with horns on his head, symbolic of a dying bull, is attacked by a dog held by President Jacob Zuma who, dressed in a suit, steps over the bloodied miner’s head.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles are shown laughing at the spectacle. Other familiar figures include labor leader now millionaire, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Julius Malema in his red beret, shocked by what he sees.

The work is named after musical scores by the late Winston Mankunku Ngozi and Nigerian icon Fela Kuti. Yakhal’inkomo loosely translates to “the bull bellows” or “the cow cries.”

Ross Douglas, director of Art Logic, which organizes the fair, said he believed it was “not the year to show such work.”

“I understand why Mabulu made the work and why he is upset. However, it’s part of the challenge of running an art fair that one has to balance different interests … We have a responsibility to many people who rely on the fair economically … I go to art fairs all over the world and ours is the least censored.”

Mabulu, a fierce artistic activist, said his painting “speaks about the slaughter of Black people, Black miners, poor people and the marginalized, by those in power, including our president … I’m going to continue talking about these stories regardless of who says what.”

He added, “I understood this sort of thing (censorship) in Cape Town when the (white supremacist) AWB was after me, but I did not expect this in Joburg, which is supposed to be Black.”

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