Latin: /'vɒks pɒpjʉliː/ VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Autopsy of Nelson Mandela" by Adam Hendricks

Many know of Nelson Mandela, fewer of his feats, and even fewer of what he did for South Africa as a nation. Nonetheless, even some of those who perceive themselves to be great thinkers have misunderstood the significance of this mortal and his influence.

Rolihlahla Mandela spent 67 years of his life fighting for the greater good of humanity. Twenty-seven of those years he spent in prison. He continues, to this day, to fight for humanity. Mandela is an international icon and an example to all true South Africans.

Yuill Damaso, however, clearly thinks otherwise. He crafted a sacrilegious painting depicting a deceased Nelson Mandela surrounded by select members of past and present parliament. This work was designed as a parody of Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp", but falls horribly short of the Dutch master's standards, albeit a 'work in progress'.

The work of Damaso sparked international outrage, supported by many South Africans. Damaso himself states that he does not apologise for the painting and that his message is for the government to wake up and see what life will be like without Mandela holding the nation together. As per usual, Damaso -like so many- has failed to comprehend the full consequences of his actions.

Most of this nation's population are people of colour. A large percentage of this sector of the public extol Mandela as he 'saved' them from Apartheid -when in fact he saved all South Africans because the country was on the verge of civil war nearing the end of Apartheid, and Mandela doused that flame. Therefore, many white citizens also realise that they live their peaceful lives, and most of them affluently, thanks in part to Mandela.

Furthermore, most of this country's population are uneducated and will not understand the underlying message of Damaso's work. Many of those still uneducated are people of colour who may still harbour resentment towards the previously privileged white population. All this painting accomplishes is stirring up fresh hatred between different races in our country -although, supposedly, this outcome was far from the artist's intentions.

Let us take a look at the real 'big picture': Damaso creates a controversial painting. The painting sparks an uproar in the leading governing party. The supporters of that party are therefore also infuriated. Inevitably, the blame is placed at the foot of white racism, which breeds black hatred. This self-perpetuating racism is what may again lead to a huge and irreversible rift between the white population and the people of colour in South Africa.

In conclusion, I find Damaso's work extremely disrespectful and feel that he needs to wake up and realise that the world is not always one's oyster. One day an artist just like him may be the final straw on the camel's back, because in truth we must know that our fragile society is much less robust than we idealise it to be.


  1. I can't agree. Surely the role of the artist is to comment from the periphery, to provoke and spur and challenge?

    Why indulge the boorish overreactions of a governing party only too eager to seize on any opportunity to deflect (and misdirect)the indignant blame, arising mainly from service delivery failures, that belongs squarely at their door? This week it happens to have been the work of a white artist that has provided them with the opportunity to deflect that indignation by fomenting racial conflcit. Soon it will be someone else that provides the excuse.

  2. This may be the case, but there is something called freedom of expression. It isn't always good to overthink things like this and i highly doubt that South Africa is going to plunge into civil war because of one painting. In fact, how many of these "uneducated" people have actually seen this painting? If a painting depicted the dead body of somebody that isn't such an icon, no one would say anything against it.

  3. There is something called freedom of expression. How many people have actually seen this painting? Think about it, those who will see it are mainly white's. I highly doubt that the whole country is going to plunge into civil war because of one painting and the government blames everything on white racism anyway, so this makes no difference. If somebody painted the dead body of some-one who isn't such an icon, i doubt that anyone would say anything against it.

  4. Controversial sells simple as that. Damaso does not strike me as an artist that thrives of his own skill but rather through conveying meanings in his art that attempts to change a persons perspective on a matter.

    I agree the three above as well on the matters of freedom of speech. It must also be realized that if no one ever moved to challenge conformity we would still be living in the 50's. Damaso's art for me is a stimilus to incite people to progress towards self sufficiency.

  5. This is a very insightful peace, however I feel it's over exaggerated! Mandela stands for freedom, freedom for all. He united us as a Nation in a very segregated society. I feel that the freedom he gave us should reach all ends, including freedom of expression. In my opinion this painting and its connotation will not cause high racism in society. I do however feel that the question posed by this artist is one to think about. Mandela ‘gave’ non- white’s equality amongst the privileged whites. For this he is a hero to many South Africans nations wide - including myself. He is the pillar to equality in SA and how will non-whites react towards his death. They might lose faith and hope in equality and fear the worst, which they every reason to fear after apartheid. Everyone attempts to get a piece of him while he is still living, the painting points to the future of after his death. It is provoking the government to start planning on how to overcome all possible outcomes of his death. I do acknowledge it is a controversial piece and the message is depicted in an offensive manner towards Madiba and his family, but at the end of the day it is a freedom of expression through art, not a witch doctor’s curse.