Media statement by Iziko Museums of South Africa
Iziko Museums of South Africa in collaboration with the Sex Worker and Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT); Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement of South Africa (Sisonke) and The New Church Museum, facilitated a public discussion about the inclusion of an artwork by Zwelethu Mthethwa in the exhibition: Our Lady. Mthethwa is accused of beating to death a 23-year-old sex worker, Nokuphila Kumalo, and is currently facing trial for this murder.
The discussion hosted in the exhibition space at the Iziko South African National Gallery, took place on Thursday 15 December 2016. Prior to the event, Iziko responded, and – in respect of the some artists’ requests – proactively removed three works from the show. Subsequently to this, the New Church Museum took a decision to withdraw all their works from the exhibition. All the artworks were removed in the morning leading up to the discussion. Currently, only works from the Iziko Art Collections are showcased in the exhibition halls.
In light of these developments, it was decided to leave this empty wall space as is. The letter, written on behalf of several of the female artists – who were included in Our Lady – expressing their shared perspective will be placed on the wall. The remnants of the exhibition will remain open to the public over this holiday period. This time will be used to reflect on the issues that arose from the outcry to the inclusion of the Mthethwa work, and the subsequent discussions. The Art Collection curatorial team will return in the New Year, review and consider how to reconfigure the exhibition formerly titled OUR Lady.
This public dialogue brought into collective consciousness a very real, current social issue. The pain, hurt and anger expressed must be acknowledged. Iziko is grateful that it was able to support the work done by SWEAT and Sisonke in making visible the voiceless and silenced. It is our hope that this discourse will ultimately create awareness of the inconspicuousness of marginalised communities, women and Nokuphila Kumalo. Furthermore, the inclusion of Nokuphila Kumalo’s portrait, painted by Astrid Warren – based on a police mugshot – is currently exhibited as part of the exhibition: At Face Value.
Museums cannot be static monoliths seated on the periphery of society. Museums have an important role to play and need to constantly engage and reflect the society we serve. As we chart our way forward in an increasingly complex, rapidly changing, and often challenging environment, we endeavour to interrogate the full extent of how the role of museums have evolved – as vehicles of engagement; catalysts for social change; building an inclusive society and [hopefully] providing safe platforms of discourse.
The word Iziko means ‘hearth’, traditionally the central place of the home, where people gather to talk, to debate and, perhaps most importantly, to listen. Similarly, the museums that make up Iziko are spaces for cultural interaction. As African Museums of excellence, Iziko strives to empower and inspire all people to celebrate and respect our diverse heritage.