Calls mounting for convicted murderer's artwork to be removed from exhibition

Artist and convicted murderer Zwelethu Mthethwa outside the high court in Cape Town during his court case two years ago.
Artist and convicted murderer Zwelethu Mthethwa outside the high court in Cape Town during his court case two years ago.

Women's rights organisations have called for the removal of murderer Zwelethu Mthethwa's artwork from exhibitions and galleries.

The organisations making the call included Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), the One in Nine campaign and Total Shutdown. They have started a petition - hosted by Awethu Amandla- demanding that Mthethwa's artwork be removed.

Mthethwa was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the Western Cape High Court in 2017 for murdering sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo in 2013.

The photographer and artist beat Kumalo, 23, to death in Woodstock. She died of a cardiac arrest after suffering a liver injury from a blunt-force trauma.

"We are calling on the lead curator Gabi Ngcobo and Christopher Till, director of the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria, to remove the artwork of convicted womxn murderer Zwelethu Mthethwa from its exhibition titled 'All in Day's Eye: The Politics of Innocence'," the petition reads.

The organisations said: "In addition, the irony of promoting the work of a man convicted of murdering a womxn as part of an exhibition against the backdrop of the current GBV [gender-based violence] and femicide epidemic in SA is a complete disregard of the trauma this and all other acts of violence against womxn causes."

They called on Ngcobo and Till to take down Mthethwa's work "out of respect to the family of Nokuphila", and out of respect to the violence meted out by men to vulnerable and marginalised populations, and out of respect to victims of gender-based violence and femicide in the country.

The petition had attracted 1,063 signatures by Wednesday evening.

In a statement released on the Javett Art Centre's website, Ngcobo said: "We would like to stress that there is nothing celebratory about the exhibition... our curatorial strategy is not one that endorses but one that rather seeks to reveal the hypocrisy that we often encounter in our field.

"Our intention with showing Mthethwa's work is with the sole purpose of presenting it as 'evidence' that highlights how misogyny has played out in his work over time.

"We can see through his work, the perpetuation of violence against women. We therefore elected to utilise his work to present a psycho-social analysis that exposes his violent actions as not emerging out of the blue. This work stands as another piece of evidence that exposes his misogyny and toxicity."

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