Also see commentary by Afrika Mhlophe:
A Kwa-Zulu Natal matric pupil whose art is at the centre of a social media storm for being blasphemous says his sketches and sculptures “are a far cry from the satanic panic some people claim it to be”.
In a statement released on Twitter today the Grantleigh High School pupil says in view of the controversy after his matric art exhibition was “leaked” without his permission, he decided to explain the rationale behind his works, which he says explore the commercialisation of organised religion and exploitation of the faithful.
Towards the end of his statement, the artist says his works do not come from a place of malice or necessarily reflect the views of his school. He says he doesn’t care about what people believe but does care about “fairness and the sanctity of the human mind”.
Christian reaction to yesterday’s viral video showing a parent’s despair at the “demonic” and “blasphemous” drawings and sculptures at the private, high school, has ranged from outrage to a call for a more loving response that seeks to understand the heart of the artist.
In a response to the outcry, Andrew Norris, executive head of the Richards Bay school, which is part of the Curro group and has a Christian ethos, said yesterday that they were conducting an internal investigation into the matter but objected to “cyber bullying” and misrepresentation of the artwork which formed part of a final submission to the IEB by a pupil at the school.
The video [see at bottom of page], showing drawings in which Jesus is depicted as a clown and horned figures plastered with fragments of pages torn from the Bible, was made and shared on social media by Andrew Anderson, who is a parent at the school and an Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) pastor at Ballito, north of Durban.
Anderson reportedly has said he decided to record the video after speaking to the school principal, who he said was unapologetic about the exhibit, instead referring to it as social commentary.
Grantleigh’s operational head, Juriana Filmalter, yesterday published a response on Facebook stating: “The Art was not ‘open’ for all kids to see. There was also a warning that it may not be photographed and you needed to read the rationale to put the art into perspective…”
AFM South Africa’s General Secretary, Dr Henri Weideman, yesterday sent an open letter to the school requesting clarity regarding the intended message of the artwork, confirmation that pages of the Bible were torn and used as part of the artwork, and how the values of the school align with the nature of the artwork displayed. At the time of writing this article, the school had not responded to Dr Weideman’s letter.
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) Leader, Dr Kenneth Meshoe, yesterday labelled the artwork, which “supposedly reflects the artist’s journey to atheism”, as blasphemous and stated that it “cannot be justified under freedom of artistic creativity, and may well border on hate speech and religious intolerance. It is important that freedom of expression, which includes freedom of artistic creativity, must be balanced against the right of Christians to have their faith respected, as contained in the freedom of religion.” The ACDP has appealed to the school to remove the display and apologise to all Christians who have been offended by it.
The Freedom Front Plus has questioned why Jesus can be depicted as a clown in a school art project, while the old South African flag has been banned because of its historical connotation.
Dean of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Theology Professor Reggie Nel, said today that the “artwork”, which he said contains violent images and appears to be deliberately focused on provoking shock and causing offence, should rather prompt Christian believers to question “what lies behind it”.
In an interview with Gateway News reporter, Anthea Abraham, before the matric artist released his rationale, Nel said any believers from a Christian background and who have chosen, in faith, to believe in God, must remember that (perhaps) the learner – a teenager most probably between 17-18 years old who produced the artwork allegedly, is an atheist and therefore does not believe in the existence of God (and therefore perhaps in a personified evil, which we might call Satan).
He said that Christian parents also need to realise that the world has changed and that young people, who are confronted with so many divergent views and belief systems, are on a journey to understanding and making sense of the world around them. Sometimes they want to shock in order to get a reaction from us, said Nel.
“The Christian church has to ask itself how it can engage with young people to draw them to Christ who gave His life for us. We need to share the love of Christ with a generation crying out and shaking us to engage with them. We must ask ourselves what is behind the pupil’s choice to reject what we accept as Truth, what we hold dear, instead of pushing him further away.
“We must realise that we are living in a post-modern time where individual freedom and liberty exists and young people are rebelling and rejecting traditional and formalised programmes. This is the new missionary field – missionaries must go into these spaces of pop culture and the online world, etc., which are so foreign if you are a believer in Christ, but we have to make a commitment and discern God in these spaces because of the love of God and even be prepared to give our life to express something different to what is becoming the norm,” says Professor Nel.
Nel said his goal was to develop youth workers that are new missionaries who are prepared to go out into various sectors of society, who love young people in their brokenness and in the midst of them even often being militant, these missional youth workers are to express and embody the love of Christ in new and dynamic ways.
He said we can learn from the story of Jesus when He was on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) when deciding how to engage with the youth.
“Jesus joined them in journey and their the conversation, listening and responding, and only much later when He broke bread with them that their eyes were opened. He did not impose Himself on them,” said Nel.
Perhaps, this is a wake-up call to all of us to also get to know young people like this teenager and ask: ‘What are they trying to tell us today?’ ” he said.
The matric pupil behind the art controversy, says in his explanation of his rationale that his controversial artworks “discuss (through the appropriation of religious imagery) how contemporary religion has become superficial. Instead of connecting with one’s faith on a deep, seemingly meaningful level and actually having the guts to ask metaphysical questions, many simply consume their religion in the same fashion as any other product.”
He said he used the Ronald McDonald clown figure as a symbol for “the infection of faith with consumer culture”.
“Ronald McDonald does not act as a defamation of anyone’s personal messiah, instead he acts as symbol of the abuse and the misuse thereof,” the pupil says.
Denouncing “unfounded claims” made against his art on social media he advised critics to think before they speak.