Newspaper article International New York Times

Bawdy Provocations

Newspaper article International New York Times

Bawdy Provocations

Article excerpt

An interview with the South African artist Ayanda Mabulu.

The self-taught South African artist Ayanda Mabulu is not known for his subtlety. In his efforts to tackle social inequality, racism and corruption in politics, he often lampoons the powers that be, depicting them in lewd, explicit and unflattering positions. His latest portrayal of Jacob Zuma -- displayed last month at the Ruben Pasha gallery at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg -- shows the South African president engaged in a sex act with Atul Gupta, a member of a powerful business family that some assert has undue influence over the country's politics. The painting may be Mr. Mabulu's most controversial yet. The Zuma family has threatened to take legal action against him, and Mr. Zuma's son, Edward, reportedly said that if he sees Mr. Mabulu, he will "wrap my fingers around his neck and throttle him." In the following edited interview, Mr. Mabulu, 34, explains what motivates his bawdy provocations.

Q. A lot of artists choose to comment on politics symbolically or indirectly. Why do you favor such a blunt approach?

Artists, in their work, use a kind of elitist language that doesn't reach many regular people on the ground. These people are too often forgotten by the artists. What I try to do with my paintings is to speak to them. But to do that, I need to use a language that they understand. I want to expose the president for being in bed with certain business leaders in this country. So to do that, do I go to Shakespeare? Or William Wordsworth? No, I say it straight, in the language of the street. Sometimes I am accused of being vulgar and rude for this. But I say that it's much more vulgar and rude to support a political system that uses brutality and treats fellow citizens like they don't exist.

Q. You seem to court controversy, even mocking beloved figures like Nelson Mandela, whom you depict passionately kissing South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk.

A. …

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