Do people really not realise that our lens on the world is informed by our conditioning; by the segment of society in which we spend most of our time? Do they really think the satirical art produced by the Westville Boys High art class emerged from a vacuum? I hope that in the aftermath of the furore initiated by this exhibition, their teachers are using this wonderful opportunity to interrogate the reasons for this reaction. While I agree that the ANC over-reacted, is it not important to understand the reasons behind this over-reaction? Remember, they represent the vast majority of people in our country. In understanding these reasons, we would understand more about our society.
I would also hope that the boys are encouraged to self-reflect and ask themselves why they chose to satirise politicians? Is there not sufficient material in their immediate surroundings that would say more about our society? For example, the family braai would no doubt yield some wonderful material. I find it interesting to listen to the clamour of those supporting the right of these boys to freedom of speech and claiming that the ANC’s cry of racism is just another example of playing the race card. I am often shocked to hear the statements made by many white, Indian and Coloured people in the greater Durban area about black people. Racism is endemic in our society and it is disingenuous of them to pretend otherwise. Furthermore, with regard to Freedom of Speech, perhaps we could all ask ourselves whether we should not exercise this freedom with discretion? If I exercise my freedom of speech and in so doing, hurt another and there is no benefit for either party, perhaps I should rather exercise self-restraint. Conciliation requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and ask ourselves how they may interpret our words and actions. This is not to say we should pussy foot around without speaking our minds, but rather that we should exercise discretion. If I see an old friend that has put on a lot of weight, would I say, “Good to see you but my, my there is a lot more of you to see!”
Another aspect I would hope these boys are interrogating about their own art is this; what is implied by their work? Mandela and KFC? Black people love chicken? if that, certainly it is stereotyping; if not, their message is unclear. What is implied by Fakers? Est 1994? apartheid was better? That is what comes across.
And lastly, perhaps they would ask themselves if they could not have been more original. Justin Nurse of Laugh it Off fame was doing this in 2003, if not before, except his work was wittier. He had to go to court to defend his right to freedom of speech when the mega-corporation, SA Breweries took exception to his Black Labour, White Guilt slogan which played the same game with the Black Label brand.
What we say about others often says more about ourselves than it does about them.