Back to Index
Looking into the future: Art and law in Zimbabwe - The 2010
October 29, 2010
Lecture now in its thirteenth year has been graced by the likes
of Professor Terence Ranger (1998), Professor Welshman Ncube (1999),
Marieke Faber Clarke (2000) Pathisa Nyathi (2001) and many other
academics. Queen Lozikeyi was one of King Lobengula's senior
wives. A conspicuous and commanding figure, she was a big, bold
and beautiful woman of ample proportions and clearly the leading
spirit among the Ndebele queens. With a quick intelligence and ready
wit she was also remarkable among Ndebele women. After King Lobengula's
disappearance, she remained a power in the land and took it upon
herself to speak for the Ndebele people.
During the 1896
Uprisings, she was consulted by the Ndebele Chiefs as a woman of
considerable importance and large measure of political influence
and is said to have supplied the impis with guns from Lobengula's
armoury. She was a contributor to the welfare of the local people;
a talker and a storyteller; a giver of gifts and a receiver of tributes.
It is with great honour of this courageous and yet humble and kind
royal lady who once graced this land with her royal presence that
the National Gallery in Bulawayo has named this series of lectures
on regional history, art, culture and identity after the Great Indlovukazi.
field is one of the most important areas of liberated and investigative
thought, a bastion of an expressive cultural identity, the most
communal in outreach; bold, entertaining, and intelligent. Any Nation
which does not uphold such ideals and avenues, risks producing a
people stultified, numb and unquestioning. It is the role of art
to intervene in every society, to make conscious in the most intimate
mode of our senses. Nothing could be more precious or urgent in
the evolution of a nation.
Art as well
plays a vital role in defining a Nation; in giving it an identity,
a history, a present, a future. It can also be balm for a Nation;
it can heal and bond a Nation; it can enable it to recover from
trauma and live again. For it can interpret hard times and reconcile
us all to them and to each other. Pablo Picasso once said:
know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth".
In similar vein
the Irish poet W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘Ego Dominus Tuus'
would deceive his neighbours, the sentimentalist himself; while
art is but a vision of reality".
In other words
because Art is not actual reality it can usher reality in and help
us deal with it in a moderated or graduated way - which in turn
helps us individually and nationally to grapple with our past and
current failings and successes in a palatable manner.
a nation with a bloody history; a history which has been littered
for decades with serious human rights violations, violence, abuse
of power, racial and ethnic discrimination. For the first 90 years
post Zimbabwe's colonisation black Zimbabweans were discriminated
against because of their race and serious human rights abuses were
perpetrated against them by successive white minority governments.
The first 30 years post independence have been marked by serious
and consistent human rights abuses including a politicide, if not
genocide, which occurred in the mid 1980s in the South West of the
country. In other words Zimbabwe has had a lot of psychological
and physical trauma to deal with as a nation and Art has a critical
role to play as we delve beyond subjective interpretations of history
and begin to realise the truth of our past. As Yeats wrote -
through art we get a mere "vision of reality", but nonetheless
and importantly a vision which is not reality itself but an objective
truth about that reality.
when being tried by Pontius Pilate said "And you will know
the truth, and the truth shall make you free". Those words
apply to us as individuals but also to Nations. For it is only when
Nations grapple with their past, in its reality, not as a biased
fiction, that they can start to deal with that past, learn from
it and through that educative process build stronger foundations
for the future. It is in this context that Art has a critically
important role to play in the development of Nations. For through
Art comes that "realisation of truth" and that "vision
of reality" which enables us to get past the very first hurdle
of acknowledging our past. And it is only when we have truly acknowledged
and accepted our past that we can "Look into the future"
in a constructive and positive way. Because if we dare look to the
future without understanding our past then we are doomed to repeat
our failures of the past.
clash between Art and Law
This year has
been a traumatic year for the National Arts Gallery in Bulawayo
because it has been the focus of a clash between certain arms of
Government and Art. The exhibition by Owen Maseko entitled Sibathontisele,
regarding the Gukurahundi, has opened a can of worms. Shortly after
the exhibition opened both Owen Maseko and the Director of the Gallery
Voti Thebe were arrested. Subsequently the exhibition
itself has was banned and Owen Maseko still faces very serious
charges. At the same time the sculpture ‘Looking Into The
Future', of a nude man, which has the Bulawayo public has
enjoyed for some 16 years, was also banned. In short that "vision
of reality", that "realisation of truth" that
both these works of Art constitute is now being subjected to scrutiny
and challenge by certain elements of Government and in the process
I fear that an attempt to grapple with our past in a palatable manner
is being derailed, with potentially fearsome consequences.
enshrines the rights of Artists in two key clauses. Firstly we have
the right of freedom of conscience.
19 Protection of freedom of conscience
with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person
shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience,
that is to say, freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to
change his religion or belief, and freedom, whether alone or in
community with others, and whether in public or in private, to
manifest and propagate his religion or belief through worship,
teaching, practice and observance.
That right is
not absolute and is subject to the proviso in subsection (5):
contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held
to be in contravention of subsection (1) or (3) to the extent
that the law in question makes provision—
(a) in the
interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality
or public health;
(b) for the
purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons,
including the right to observe and practise any religion or belief
without the unsolicited intervention of persons professing any
other religion or belief;
have the right of freedom of expression.
of freedom of expression
with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person
shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression,
that is to say, freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart
ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference
with his correspondence.
That right also
is not absolute and is subject to the provisos in subsection (2),
contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held
to be in contravention of subsection
(1) to the
extent that the law in question makes provision—
(a) in the
interests of defence, public safety, public order, the economic
interests of the State, public morality or public health;
(b) for the
the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons or the private
lives of persons concerned in legal proceedings;
the disclosure of information received in confidence;
the authority and independence of the courts or tribunals or the
Senate or the House of Assembly;
In other words
the Constitution enshrines the rights of Artists to create works
of art at their pleasure so long as they do not affect, amongst
other things, public order, public morality and the reputations
of others. This is the great interchange between artistic freedom
and law in Zimbabwe. I do not this evening have the time to delve
into the intricacies of the boundaries of these respective rights
and laws and of course these boundaries vary greatly from Nation
to Nation and have been interpreted greatly by different Judges
Suffice it to
say that two different sets of laws have been used to curtail these
fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and expression in Zimbabwe.
In the case of Owen Maseko security legislation (based on notions
of public defence, safety and order) have been invoked to proscribe
his art. In the case of the sculpture "Looking to the future"
the notion of "public morality" has been invoked to
ban that piece of art. I will need to look at the two actions separately.
The case involving
Owen Maseko is sub judice so I cannot comment directly on that case
and will have to confine myself to more general comments about the
use of security legislation to restrict politically critical works
Let me say at
the outset that nowhere in the world do artists have completely
unrestricted or unfettered freedom to produce works of art which
are politically controversial. For example works of art which incite
violence or hatred against racial, religious or ethnic groups are
banned. In Germany artistic works which for example deny the reality
of the holocaust are illegal. Likewise any work of art that seeks
to glorify or justify the holocaust would be illegal. The boundary
of these laws is subjective and varies greatly from country to country
but all countries have some restrictions.
works which are sombre and accurate visions of reality or which
help nations to realise the truth of their past are not just allowed
but are revered. For example the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg
Gate in Berlin is not a pretty work of art. It is in many respects
ugly - a rambling, chaotic assembly of concrete blocks which
in many ways is at variance with the glorious architecture which
surrounds it. It is surrounded by beautiful parks and historic buildings
such as the German parliament and the Brandenburg Gate itself. It
is also obtrusive and large and in one's face - it is
impossible to ignore it. But it is a necessary work of art -
a stark reminder of a terrible past which no-one should ever forget.
There are other
terrible things that have happened in Zimbabwe - for example
the Nyadzonia massacre which took place on the 9th August 1976 was
one of the darkest days of our history when well over 1000 Zimbabweans
were killed or wounded on a single day. Should works of art which
present a "vision of reality" or which realise the truth
of what happened that terrible day be banned? The same applies to
artistic works which graphically portray the horrors of apartheid.
Internationally the same applies to films such as Saving Private
Ryan and The Deer Hunter which do not glorify war and display it
in all its horror and gore. Films like this take away all the glamour
and gloss of war. The world is a better place for it because they
act as a deterrent for future generations who otherwise would not
have the slightest inkling of the reality of war.
is a principle that we need to uphold in Zimbabwe? The danger of
burying reality is that we then do not confront it and learn from
it. There must be a danger that if we frustrate these forms of expression
that the anger that certain communities have will remain bottled
up, only to fester and explode later. In doing so any hope of building
reconciliation is lost.
feel that it is a shame that we have never been able to deal with
the reality of what happened in our nation in the 1970s through
a truth, justice and reconciliation process. The white community
has never had to confront the excesses and gross human rights violations
of the Rhodesian Front war machine and the fundamental injustices
of white minority rule and I think that the white community is all
the poorer for it. I confine my comments specifically as a white
Zimbabwean but the same applies to all racial groups in Zimbabwe.
It is the great dilemma all citizens of our Nation have as we grapple
with our bloody past. We pretend as if it didn't happen; we
run away from it and bury it.
for all of us is what we are to do with our past. Are we prepared
to learn from it or are we determined to bury it and run the risk
of repeating the shocking mistakes of the past. Whether we like
it or not the past did happen and we need gentle means to deal with
It is in this
context that Art has a vital role to play in reconciliation. For
it can introduce us to our collective past in a relatively gentle
way. It can introduce "visions of reality" and help
us all as we "realise truth" and with that the mistakes
we have made.
of simply banning politically controversial art is that we then
never get the opportunity to debate it and learn from it. Ironically
by taking a step further and prosecuting an artist one stands the
risk of further inflaming a sensitive issue and thus retarding any
hope of reconciling communities.
my belief is that art should only be banned on the grounds of public
security when works of art are gratuitously inflammatory and not
by any stretch of the imagination "visions of reality"
but rather "visions of unreality or untruths". Even
then I believe that Artists should only be prosecuted when they
are guilty of repeated and deliberate attempts to subvert truth
with the intention of stirring up racial, ethnic or religious enmity
to the Future"
by the Censorship Board of the nude sculpture "Looking to
the Future" is fortunately not sub judice so I can direct
my comments more squarely in that regard.
I know the statue
well and I believe that its banning is not only ridiculous but also
a violation of our fundamental constitutional rights. The statue
is not promiscuous or suggestive in any way - it is simply
an interpretation of the male human body. It is also of course a
fine work of art and we can be justly proud that a Bulawayo citizen
is responsible for it.
I use the word
ridiculous because the banning will subject us to international
ridicule. For example would we in Zimbabwe ban the statue of David?
"David" is the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture
created between 1501 and 1504, by the Italian artist Michelangelo.
It is a 5.17 metre (17 feet) marble statue of a standing male nude.
The statue represents the biblical hero David, a favoured subject
in the art of Florence. Originally commissioned as one of a series
to be positioned high up on the facade of Florence Cathedral, the
statue was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo
della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where
it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. Because of the nature of the
hero that it represented, it soon came to symbolise the defence
of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent
city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states.
The point is
simply that our own "Looking to the future" is no more
promiscuous or suggestive than "David", indeed if anything
"David" is far more detailed and graphic. The banning
of "Looking to the future" potentially makes us the
subject on international ridicule, and by that I include the rest
We also need
to ask ourselves the question of where this banning order takes
us. Does it means for example that all classical paintings of nude
subjects are now to be considered against "public morality"?
Should they all be banned and the books containing them destroyed?
Where does this end up - are we to ban anatomy classes in
I suggest that
this is patently ridiculous and that the Censorship Board knows
this. It is my belief that this banning was simply a foil -
designed to divert attention away from the political banning of
Owen Maseko's works which has nothing to do with the maintenance
public morality. In short my view is that the banning of "Looking
to the future" was solely designed to give the politically
motivated banning a veneer of moral respectability. It was designed
to cast the National Art Gallery as some sort of illicit, immoral
organisation which of course it is not.
As a member
of the Cabinet responsible for this banning I cannot say in this
forum what should be done about this. Suffice it to say that as
Minister of Arts and Culture I do not support the banning and believe
that it constitutes a fundamental and serious breach of artistic
freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.
blessed by having a wide array of supremely talented artists. If
these are artists are allowed to give full vent to their talents
I have no doubt that they will not only help heal our nation but
will also assist us in the serious challenge we face of rebranding
Zimbabwe in a more positive light. For Zimbabwe is not a country
of gloom and doom; it is as we know a country filled with amazing,
courageous and wonderful people. Our artists are some of our greatest
nation assets and I hope that during my tenure in office I can do
all things possible to promote them both domestically and internationally.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.