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Artist Zwelethu Mthethwa is on trial for the 2013 murder of Nokuphila Kumalo, a sex worker in Cape Town. His work “Untitled” from his Hope Chest series is on display as part of the “Our Lady” exhibition at the National Gallery. This series features unnamed women posing with a dowry chest.
“Our Lady” is an exhibition showing at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town, designed to interrupt the typical traditional moral attitudes and male dominated stereotypes that surrounds imagery of the female form.
23 Year old Nokuphila Kumalo was murdered in April 2013 in Woodstock, Cape Town. Kumalo died from blunt force trauma. According to the prosecution, the CCTV footage shows Mthethwa getting out of his Porche and “repeatedly kicking her and stamping on her body with booted feet”. Mthethwa was identified as the owner of the car by an employee of the Porche dealership, who identified the unique rims ordered for his car, the licence plate on the car was not clearly visible in the cctv footage.
The trial has suffered numerous delays, and in November 2016 was reopened after new information, a R2600 liquor bill has come to light and is being used by Mthethwa’s defence to support his claim that he has no recollection of the events of April 13 and 14, 2013, due to high alcohol consumption.
Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) has described the inclusion of his work “not only in bad taste, but deeply offensive”.
Sweat, Iziko and the New Church Museum have written a joint statement that will be placed beside Mthethwa’s artwork in the gallery. A portrait of Kumalo painted by Astrid Warren will also be included in an upcoming exhibition.
A press release issued by Iziko states: “SWEAT and Sisonke have welcomed Iziko and New Church Museum’s willingness to engage. While we may debate the role of art, all institutions involved agree – violence against women is never acceptable, and all steps must be taken to end this violence and its structural underpinnings.”