An art piece at the National Art Museum in Cape Town, titled ‘Fuck White People’, was vandalised by a political party calling for people to “love they neighbour”.
The piece’s creator, Dean Hutton, however, said she was more concerned that men of colour were treated with disrespect after a video of the incident showed the vandals, wearing “Cape Party” T-shirts, manhandling two employees as they try to stop the incident.
The group of men are recorded peeling a sticker reading “Love Thy Neighbour” and pasting it over the piece.
Employees can be heard in the background telling the men that they can’t do that, with another saying “no” repeatedly.
“It’s time to put an end to racism in this country,” Cape Party leader Jack Miller says to the camera.
One of the men physically pulls one of the employees away as he attempts to stop them from damaging the piece.
“Love white people, love everyone, love your neighbour,” Miller says before they leave.
“You can either damage it more now or leave it as it is and contact the artist,” the cameraman says as the employees try to salvage the work.
Miller said their action was a political statement to bring attention to the “unbelievable racism that permeates through SA politics”, especially over the past 15 years.
“Nobody is talking about the rainbow nation anymore. We are entering into a very scary time,” he said.
“If that work had said ‘Fuck black people’, we would have had 1 000 EFF members threatening to burn the museum down. We wanted to do something more level-headed.”
The piece, he argued, was “outright racism” and not art.
Installation meant to ‘provoke’
When asked about the manhandling of the two staff members, Miller said the group had been “as peaceful as we could be”.
“They entered our physical space. We did what we needed to do to get out message across. It was nothing personal against them; they were very respectful and we were polite,” he said.
In the description of the artwork in the museum, Hutton said the installation was meant to provoke white people.
“White people made racism and made sure it is deeply embedded in our social systems, laws, economies, institutions and individuals. So this provocation is here to make you feel that ‘white pain’,“ Hutton’s description of the artwork reads.
“Earlier this year, I photographed a student Zama Mthunzi wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘fuck white people’ smeared in black paint. He was threatened with expulsion and a case at the human rights commission. None of the complaints said anything about the front of the T-shirt which read ‘black pain is shit’.”
Hutton told News24 that the party was a “separatist movement” and what they had done was criminal.
“What they did to two employees who tried to protect the work in the gallery… I am not concerned about an artwork as that is easily reproducible,” the artist said.
“The two employees responded non-violently and attempted to shield the work with their bodies. They were manhandled, dragged and pushed around by white men.”
Public discussion planned
Hutton said she had received a number of threats online and via email.
“The threats are to physically harm me and to do damage to the national gallery,” Hutton said.
Rooksana Omar, CEO of Iziko Museums of South Africa, pointed out that the piece – part of its Art of Disruptions exhibition – was displayed along with an explanation in Hutton’s own words that contextualises the artwork.
“[It] makes it clear that the artist is not trying to provoke racial hatred or violence. Rather, the intention is to get the viewer’s attention so that they can engage with the concept of racism and white privilege in South Africa,” Omar said.
“Ultimately, this work by Dean Hutton is not intended to denigrate the dignity of a group of people on the basis of race or promotes hate speech, but aims to provoke dialogue and an improved understanding of racism in this country. The social relevance of the artwork and its insight into the current social conditions in South Africa is very important and crucial. For this reason the work was included on this seminal exhibition.”
The museum confirmed that the work was still on show.
Iziko planned to host a public discussion about this and the other works in the exhibition on February 16.