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DAC Minister walks out of art exhibition

Photos from the exhibition catalogue Photos from the exhibition catalogue

Times Live and the Mail and Guardian reported that Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Arts and Culture, walked out of a DAC-funded exhibition because it featured photographs of nude lesbian couples that she found “immoral” and “against nation-building”. This, says Emily Craven, has “played into the panic around homophobia in the country”, the Mail and Guardian reported. Censure of exhibitions like this may threaten artists’ freedom of expression and promote homophobia in SA.

The Minister’s spokesperson, Lisa Combrinck, told the Times: “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 incident prompted criticism in a country where, uniquely in Africa, discrimination on the basis of sexuality is specifically outlawed by the constitution. Despite this, and the legalisation of gay marriage, lesbians have been the targets of murder and co-called “corrective rape”.

Insiders, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity, said Xingwana did not like the images of women posing as couples. However, Xingwana denied that any such complaints were relayed to Constitution Hill.

Although Xingwana denies this, three insiders told The Times that after the department’s lawyers found nothing pornographic about the art, she then called in lawyers from a Pretoria law firm to “inspect” the work. Insiders said they were flown to Cape Town for the opening of the exhibition there to decide whether the art was “suitable as art or not”.

Speaking to The Times from the US where she is exhibiting and lecturing, Muholi said she was “very disturbed” by Xingwana’s views.

The exhibiting artists told The Times many artists feel there is no place for them in South Africa. One said: “It is worrisome to artists that everything we do is going to be censored.

“There is no room for us in South Africa, so we are having to relocate overseas, where our work is recognised and appreciated because sadly it is not in South Africa.”

4 March - the Minister’s rebuttal -
5 March - the artists’ response -
8 March - Poets Yvette Christiansë and Gabeba Baderoon respond

Other stories

SASFED response
The South African Screen Federation (SASFED), which represents the interests of most film and television industry organisations in the country as a collective federation, has issued the following statement regarding the reported reaction of Arts and Culture Minister, Lulu Xingwana, to the photographs by lesbian artist and activist Zanele Muholi displayed on the Innovative Women art exhibition.

“In a statement read by her spokeswoman, the Minister declared the photographs ‘immoral, offensive and going against nation building’. Nation building is building on the diversity of all South Africans regardless of the divisions of the past. This includes minorities. 

“The role of the Minister is to act as a champion of the arts and culture sector and to support, without fear or favour, the freedom of expression – a basic human right. The Minister’s role is not that of moral watchdog or to serve as a censor. That type of behaviour is associated with our authoritarian past, not our present or future. Surely the Minister needs no reminding that our constitution outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“SASFED wishes to express its solidarity with the artist and place on record our dismay at the Minister’s reaction. “The role of the creative – be it via television, photography or any other medium – is at the very least to hold a mirror to society and reflect reality in all its diverse and pluralistic forms. Artists are shaped by societal conditions of their time and it is their job to offer a social critique, to reflect and comment on our humanity.”

Photo credits
Thumbnail photo on front page from Muholi’s 2007 exhibition Being:


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  • Thanks guys, I just about lost it looknig for this.

    By Henrietta on 23/06/2011