…of art, obscenity & the blurry divide


I am not much of an arts enthusiast, which is why it amazed me no end to find that I was actually hurt by the condemnation of a statue that I have known since childhood.

With the benefit of introspection – I think censorship offends me, grates against my convictions of freedom of expression, curtailing one’s liberty to create and therefore – I must of necessity reject it and rebel against its imposition.

Like a stubborn stain, the memory of that statue proudly gracing the Tower Block remains etched in my mind and although it was relocated and I never got to see it as often – in my frequent sojourns down memory lane, it is there.

'Looking into the future'...standing in nude splendor, facing oblivion(pic by Zenzele Ndebele)

I cannot really fathom why that statue should have earned my affection except perhaps it is the fact that it is interwoven to the many images that form are part of the quilt of fond remembrance.

All I know for certain is that I would have defended the right of that statue to exist as fervently as I would defend a living being. Perhaps that is the power of art – to draw emotion from those who would otherwise remained unaffected and nonchalant. And I think that is the power of the artist – the power to hypnotize, to lure and to ensnare.

Charles Rosin once said, “I can’t criticize what I don’t understand. If you want to call this art, you’ve got the benefit of all my doubts” and I wish the Censorship board had curbed the excesses of its unbridled zeal and allowed that wonderful statue the benefit of the doubt.

Before I start sounding cryptic, I better share the story of the statue that got under my skin and that now inspires this blog entry.

25 years ago a man spent three months making a sculpture, he moulded using clay, and then wielded pieces of metal over the clay before destroying the clay and leaving the metal form. The statue stood over 3 metres tall and depicted a nude man staring into the distance; it became known as ‘Looking into the future’.

condemned: the genius of Adam Madebe (pic by Priscilla Sithole)

It is said that a great artist is always before his time or behind it; Adam Madebe sculpted a statue that would prove to be ahead of his intolerant society. His award-winning statue was once dismissed by a Government Minister who described it as a “monumental and ghastly” statue that had to be banned in order “to protect Zimbabweans against its corrupting and perverting influence”.

I wonder what is perverse about scrap metal moulded in the shape of the human figure – I doubt very much that there will be any women suddenly getting an attack of sexual arousal by gazing at its beautifully outlined metal nudity.

But then, I could be wrong. What I am certain of is that there is a very blurry line between some forms of art and vulgarity – what others celebrate as being artistic, others find obscene and ghastly.

What has troubled me since is that this statue was now domiciled at the Bulawayo Gallery and if such pieces of art are not safe, welcome or deemed appropriate in an art gallery, I ask with tears in my eyes – where else do they belong?

Art is a lie that makes us realize truth - Pablo Picasso

Now there remains another nude statue that stood an arm’s length from the condemned one gracing the gallery and it amuses me no end, to see how the more ‘prim and proper’ members of the public avert their eyes as they pass by.

Makes me wonder, are we that finicky as a people?

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4 thoughts on “…of art, obscenity & the blurry divide

  1. nqaba says:

    Quite an interesting peace and I must say I felt a tinge of anger when I saw pictures of that statue being brought down.
    I never quite cared about it as well, though I must say it had become something that I thought would always be there, a landmark or something, but definitely a part of Bulawayo.
    Its really sad and ironically they left another “nude” peice of art just a foot away, wow it doesn’t seem like genuine censorship if you ask me

  2. Bridget Judah says:

    I am a strong believer in options. Censorship eliminates options. For example the statue that stood in Byo for longer than i lived in byo was suddenly deemed to be obscene and grotesque. Fine. But those who liked it could look at it, and those who dint had the option to simply look the other way. Banning something is so arbitrary and speaks ignorance, fear and a controlling mind. Its ironic how people want to peddle this false prudence when it comes to inanimate objects like a sculptures, when attitudes and behaviors of living, breathing men and women don’t change. that is how HIV is spreading like a wild fire while the powers that be expend their energies on desecrating art. Its a shame.

  3. Mehluli says:

    Typical people with no jobs to do, honestly that statue should have been left there.

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