Two provocative images. "The Spear" and “Global Players”

Term Paper, 2012

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Two provocative images - The Spear and “Global Players”
2.1 Brett Murray’sThe Spear
2.2 Peter Lenk’s “Global Players”

3. Public Reactions
3.1 Reactions toThe Spear
3.2 Reactions to “Global Players”

4. Social Issues in the Discourse on The Spear and “Global Players”

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The international and interdisciplinary summer course “Transcultural Spaces / Hybrid Selves” at the University of Oldenburg from 3rd until 6th July 2012 dealt, among other things, with questions of race and diversity in South Africa. The picture The Spear by Brett Murray, which caused a scandal in South Africa in May 2012, was discussed in detail. In the course of the discussion among the course participants the question arose whether a similar scandal would be possible in Germany. To be more precise, the students and the lecturers wondered what would happen if German politicians were portrayed with their genitals exposed as is the case with Murray’s painting of South African president Jacob Zuma. This seemingly simple question leads to some more in-depth issues of race and gender. As the scandal created by The Spear involved aspects of racial and gender-related discrimination, it would be interesting to find out whether similar debates would erupt in Germany in relation to a provocative portrayal of politicians.

In fact, several portrayals of naked German politicians have been published in recent years. One of them is Peter Lenk’s relief “Global Players,” which is on display in Bodman- Ludwigshafen. This image shows five high-profile German politicians completely naked and touching each others’ genitals. In order to find out whether this piece of art has created a scandal similar to the one caused by The Spear in South Africa, the public discourse on these controversial pieces of art will be compared. In the following, I will analyze opinions and arguments which appear in online blogs and magazines. By making out the main points of criticism regarding The Spear and “Global Players,” I will try to come to conclusions concerning underlying social problems in South Africa and Germany. This means that I will try to find out why these pieces of art cause debates or even outrage in certain groups of society and if these bones of contention are the same in South Africa and Germany. I will pursue a case study approach using the method of blog and online article analysis as this procedure is suitable to identify the main lines of arguments in public discourse.

First of all, The Spear by Brett Murray and “Global Players” by Peter Lenk will be described including their origination process and general public reception. Afterwards, the reactions towards each piece of art will be summarized and categorized through an analysis of selected blog and online magazine articles. Next, the results of the analyses will be compared and used to draw conclusions concerning similarities and differences in the public reactions towards the two provocative satirical artworks in South Africa and Germany. In this chapter, a few theoretical concepts relevant to race and gender problems will be considered in order to come to profound conclusions. Finally, a short concluding chapter will summarize the main findings of this paper and make some suggestions for further research in this field of interest.

2. Two provocative images - The Spear and “Global Players”

2.1 Brett Murray’s The Spear

In May 2012, a painting by the artist Brett Murray caused a public uproar in South Africa. The painting The Spear shows South African President Jacob Zuma with exposed genitals. Zuma’s pose in the painting is assumed to be inspired by a famous poster of communist leader Vladimir Lenin (Govender 2012). The piece of art was part of an exhibition called “Hail to the Thief” in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. The exhibition was conceptualized to question the moral standards of South Africa’s governing party African National Congress (ANC) and to criticize the increase in corruption and bribery in politics (Govender 2012).

Before the painting was exhibited, President Zuma had often been the center of attention due to his comments on polygamy (“Jacob Zuma ‘Polygamy’” 2010) and on preventing HIV through showering (“SA’s Zuma” 2006). His excessive sex life and rape charges in 2006 made him the target of several satirists and cartoonists and provided the basis for Murray’s The Spear. When the exhibition in the Goodman Gallery was opened, the ANC immediately condemned the painting. Zuma’s attorneys asked the Goodman Gallery’s director Liza Essers to (Murray 2012) take down the artwork, which she rejected (“ANC Serves” 2012). Meanwhile, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu announced that the ANC would go to court if the painting was not removed from the gallery and the City Press website (“ANC to Go” 2012). The case was dealt with in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on 24th May 2012, but postponed indefinitely after the ANC’s lawyer Gcina Malindi had burst into tears and broken down in court. During the court hearing, hundreds of ANC supporters gathered to protest against The Spear (Conway-Smith 2012).

The scandal caused by The Spear brought immense national and international attention to the painting and caused spontaneous reactions by different institutions and agents in South Africa. Because the newspaper City Press refused to remove the painting from its website, the ANC asked its supporters to boycott the paper, which was condemned as an attack on the media by the National Press Club (“Boycott” 2012). At the end of May 2012, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee eventually took the image of The Spear down from the newspaper’s website. On 1st August 2012, she admitted that she regrets having given in to the protests (“I Would” 2012). On 22nd May, the painting in the National Gallery was vandalized by two men. Barend la Grange, and Lowie Mabokela entered the gallery and defaced the painting with paint while cameras were running and caught the vandalism on tape (Martin 2012). The arrest of the two men was severely criticized, because Barend la Grange, who is white, was arrested without any violence while the black man Lowie Mabokela was thrown to the ground. After the defacement, the art gallery and the ANC reached a compromise. The ANC promised to stop legal action against the gallery if the painting was not displayed anymore. As a consequence, The Spear was removed from the exhibition and sold to a German buyer for $14,000 (“Jacob Zuma ‘The Spear’” 2012). The South African Film and Publication Board has rated the painting 16N, which means that children younger than 16 are not allowed to see the artwork (“Board” 2012).

The painting and its implications were discussed all over South Africa in May 2012 and the following months. The massive media coverage heated up the discussions. Many people condemned the painting as an assault on the black communities in South Africa as the exposed genitals of black President Zuma were regarded reminiscent of Apartheid policies that allowed white people to force blacks to expose their naked bodies in public. As The Spear was created by the white artist Brett Murray from Cape Town black South Africans saw the artwork as a white painter’s disrespectful and discriminating attack on their identity. Others disliked the painting simply because it was regarded politically incorrect to portray a naked black South African president.

On 27th August 2012, another painting of Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed went on display in the AVA Gallery in Cape Town. The painting called Umshini Wam by the artist Ayanda Mabulu shows Zuma with his penis hanging out of his clothes (“Another” 2012). The ANC again condemned this painting and called it an “abuse of the arts” (Bauer 2012). Dene Smuts suggests that there is a new genre in South Africa: the Naked Emperor (Smuts 2012). This painting will not play a role in this paper, but a cursory reading of (Mabulu 2012) comments on Umshini Wam on the internet suggests that the reactions towards this new painting are not as strong and heated as those concerning Murray’s The Spear.

2.2 Peter Lenk’s “Global Players”

The sculptures by the German artist Peter Lenk have caused several scandals and debates in recent years. When the relief Ludwigs Erbe (Ludwig’s legacy) was installed on the front of the town hall in Bodman-Ludwigshafen in 2008, it caused public uproar, especially in Southern Germany. The relief features several German top managers and high profile politicians in provocative and satirical poses. A part of the artwork is called “Global Players” and shows the German politicians Hans Eichel (former minister of finance), Gerhard Schröder (former chancellor), Angela Merkel (current chancellor), Edmund Stoiber (former Minister-President of Bavaria and chancellor candidate in 2002) and Guido Westerwelle (current foreign minister). These politicians (Lenk 2009) are portrayed completely naked and touching each others’ genitals. The artwork’s title Ludwigs Erbe refers to Grand Duke Ludwig von Baden who governed the Baden territory in southern Germany for twelve years in the 19th century. The relief suggests that modern times are still like the times of the Grand Duke as politicians and managers are still controlled by money and greed (Fricker 2008).

Being asked about his intentions in this piece of art, Peter Lenk said that he wanted to portray the politicians shortly before their expulsion from Paradise. According to Lenk, everyone knows people are naked in Paradise, so he had to create naked politicians (Mackensen 2008). In different interviews the artist states that he does not see himself has a provocateur. He argues that others (i.e. politicians and managers) cause scandals while he only portrays them (Stiefel, “Skulptur” 2008). He adds: ‟Die haben Spaß am Koalieren, Konsumieren und Kopulieren” (They enjoy forming coalitions, consuming and copulating) (Stiefel, “Skulptur” 2008). Lenk also states that he wanted to portray what he calls money- grubbers in a manner that would be remembered for a long time. He says that scandals only last for a few days but memorials will still be there in a few years (“Wenn Frau Merkel” 2008). In most statements, the artist calls his sculpture a “group sex relief” (Stiefel, “Skulptur” 2008).

Although the relief on the front of the town hall in Bodman-Ludwigshafen was criticized severely by politicians, managers and ordinary citizens, it became a tourist attraction right after it had been put up. While most visitors regarded the artwork with favor,


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Two provocative images. "The Spear" and “Global Players”
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
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ISBN (Book)
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spear, global, players”
Quote paper
Anna Poppen (Author), 2012, Two provocative images. "The Spear" and “Global Players”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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