I want to write a longer post on the outcomes of The Spear saga but for now I just want to point out how ridiculous it’s classification is. The Spear depicts Jacob Zuma with his penis exposed and was sent to the Film and Publications Board (FPB) to be classified. They’ve now decided that it should be rated 16N, meaning:
Any persons or entities wishing to publish and exhibit images and/or replicas of this specific artwork will in future have to put in place mechanisms to regulate access to this piece of art by members of the public below the age of 16.
That almost sounds reasonable until you realise that it’s a piece of art! If we’re suddenly classifying nudity in art as something that requires a 16N restriction then there’s going to be a lot of problems. This also makes no sense in an art history context or even a child-protection context. Why do I say that?
Well artwork with nudity is common in classical art and I’m sure that students picking up an art book will find naked pictures with no problems. Let’s not forget that Michelangelo’s David, a naked statue with a sculpted penis, is publicly displayed in Florence and has been for hundreds of years without harming children. Is the FPB going to start rating all art books, the national geographic and so on?
Students at school also can take both biology and life orientation, two subjects that deal with sex and whose textbooks and notes have representations of genitalia. When I was at school we were shown how to use a condom when 12/13! I don’t recall offhand whether there were any pictures in our notes but I am certain they are seen before 16. Will the FBP start classifying textbooks as well?
This judgement is so unbelievably ridiculous that you could almost believe it isn’t true. Unfortunately, we’re two months past 1 April. I do not see this judgement lasting long and I certainly encourage people to submit complaints, either about the ruling or as many instances of classical art containing nudity as you can find.
Edit: The FPB has explained their decision to classify The Spear. The art was classified not just because it contained nudity but because:
The artwork has forced society to revisit its painful history.
But that’s the entire point of art! Society cannot advance by ignoring it’s history and pretending it doesn’t exist. Furthermore I don’t believe for a second that that is a valid argument. The topic of apartheid, oppression, racism and the struggle for equality are often discussed in the media, by politicians and in documentaries. Those also cause people to revisit the past, far more than a painting like this. When you take the history of the country as the reason to classify it it makes less sense than for nudity as those under 16 did not grow up in the history. They can’t revisit it because they were born after apartheid ended.
It’s ridiculous that there is this much fuss over a painting of a penis when there are real issues that need to be addressed.