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To support freedom of artistic expression within the fragile South African democracy.

Letter to
Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and African National Congress (ANC)
Events of the past week in South Africa have unexpectedly and abruptly led to a situation where the South African government has sought to restrict freedom of artistic expression. In response to this disturbing development, this petition strongly supports freedom of artistic expression within the fragile South African democracy.

As widely reported in the news media, the Goodman Gallery, which has branches in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, received court papers last week from President Jacob Zuma and the ruling party in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), to interdict the Gallery from displaying Brett Murray’s painting The Spear on its gallery walls, website, or any other platform. Goodman Gallery opposes this court action for the removal of the artwork.

President Zuma and the ANC claim that the work “depicts the President of the Republic of South Africa in a disrespectful and demeaning manner… The portrait undermines the esteem of the highest office in the land and impugns on the President’s Constitutional right to dignity.”

Goodman Gallery has responded that it provides "a neutral space in which dialogue and free expression is encouraged. In this space the ANC’s right to condemn the work is acknowledged as much as the artist's right to display it. This, the gallery believes, is democracy at work."

We the undersigned artists, gallerists, curators, and art critics, agree with the Goodman Gallery that it cannot give up its independent right to decide what art will hang on its walls. Freedom of speech and free political dialogue are central to a democracy, and we stand with South African artists, and other artists, who wish to participate in a society's discourse through their art.

Since the ANC released their initial statement to the media, this highly controversial incident has developed into an issue of national importance in South Africa. Goodman Gallery has been the victim of intimidation and threats of violence. The Spear was vandalised by two visitors on 22 May, and subsequently removed from the gallery's premises. Since then, Goodman Gallery has been temporarily closed to the public out of concern for the safety of its staff and the visiting public.

Given South Africa's history, we the undersigned believe the country has a special responsibility for protecting artists' freedom of expression, and we call on President Zuma and the ANC to immediately cease and desist their judicial and press attacks on Goodman Gallery.

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