Why censor Owen Maseko?

LAST Friday, art lovers woke up to yet another surprise after news filtered through social networks that controversial artist Owen Maseko had his works pulled down at the Bulawayo gallery.

The two huge art works — a painting and a sculpture — titled Ikhothaeyikhothayo were pulled down last Friday, barely a day after the month-long 10 men exhibition titled “Kwacha” was officially opened.

The arts works were thrown and dumped onto the alleyway just outside the gallery after Gallery director Voti Thebe disapproved of them.

This is the third time Meseko’s works were ejected from the gallery after the March 2010 exhibition titled Sibathontisele.
Maseko said everything went well during the official opening but the following morning Thebe approached the, curator and told him that he was not happy with his works.

According to Thebe: “His (Maseko) works had obscene language which was uncouth and not suitable for public consumption and besides, his works were shoddy and they were not up to scratch.”

“While I cannot delve into the shoddiness of Maseko’s works, my worry has been on his works being described by another artist as being not suitable for public consumption because of their sexual nature.”

Maseko has gained notoriety through his Gukurahundi-inspired works, which contain strong political connotations against the present government.

Many were shocked to see art pieces said to be carrying explicit sexual messages being treated in the same manner as the Gukurahundi pieces.

“As a curious observer, I was left wondering whether the ban on Maseko’s works was really inspired by his type of work or a general hatred of anything that passes through his hands.”
As Maseko aptly puts it in reaction to the ban: “I think (Voti) Thebe took it too personal because I don’t think my work was too controversial to a point where it deserved to be dumped outside the gallery.”

Adding: “Moreso, he never wanted to engage me as a professional. Why would they want to control my creative mind and besides why would they want to treat me suspiciously.
From my understanding as a journalist, I have always thought that the gallery is a restricted place, meaning every person who goes in knows that it’s an arts zone where art is found in its various forms, and where artistes use their creativity to drive home their line of thinking.

This is a place where exhibitions are viewed after payment not some recreational park where every passer-by can catch a glimpse of something on display there.

Talking of sex being explicit on a piece of art, if the samba dancers from Brazil were gyrating with their G-strings in front of all and sundry at the recent carnival in Harare, then what sense does it make to ban an artistic expression that some even took time to try and comprehend? The art pieces were nowhere near the display of nudity witnessed at the carnival.

Looking at the whole issue, the gallery director apparently used his emotions and not his wealth of experience in the arts industry to judge Maseko’s work.

He seemed to have forgotten that art in its real nature is the mirror of the society. The other question that I have is why the director deliberately decided to concentrate on what Maseko was communicating and basically not how he communicated it.
In a way the clear cut censorship by Thebe also meant that art loving people are the ones who were censored.

In Zimbabwe, it has become the norm that curators and the censorship board have taken the role of gate-keepers, depriving the paying audiences the moment to enjoy what those gate-keepers would have enjoyed before banning the works.
According to renowned Roman philosopher and playwright Luciusa Seneca, all art is but imitation of nature which fully supports Maseko’s idea to have a depiction of nature in form of naked human beings.

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