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Nude Painting Scandal Shows South Africa's Racial Tensions Are Still Raw

A painting of black President Jacob Zuma, in full frontal nudity, by a white artist creates a racial controversy that reminds South Africa the wounds of the Apartheid are not even close to be healed.

Spear of the nation, by Brett Murray (Cea)
Spear of the nation, by Brett Murray (Cea)
Jean-Philippe Rémy

JOHANNESBURG - It's a grade-A scandal, with sex, politics and - because this is South Africa - a racial dimension. At the center of the scandal is a painting by South African artist Brett Murray. It depicts South African President Jacob Zuma, and was shown in a Johannesburg gallery as part of an exhibition called "Hail to the thief II." Zuma is represented like Lenin in a realist Bolshevik painting of the 1960s, but without any pants or underwear, exposing large genitals painted deep red. The title, "Spear of the Nation," confirms that the artist had no intention of being subtle.

The Goodman gallery is the most famous gallery in South Africa. It sells to rich collectors, and doesn't do scandal as a marketing ploy. Liza Essers, the new owner, comes from the world of finance and has a lot of ambition for contemporary art, but angering South Africa isn't part of the plan. This sort of thing accentuates racial problems: whites are accused of indulging in a type of codified racism of which "Spear of the Nation" is probably the "most prominent example."

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Mariateresa Fichele

Fifteen years ago, Francesco kept busy by scamming people. He was a regular visitor to the beaches of Terracina, south of Rome, where he was caught several times selling counterfeit Ray-Ban sunglasses. Then came the drugs, which fed a serious substance-induced psychosis and eventually he tested positive for HIV.

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