Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

14 February 2014

South Africa: Representing Mandela

analysis

The image of Nelson Mandela is arguably one of the most reproduced, painted, muralled and t-shirted in the world. As numerous commentators have said recently in the wake of his illness and death, in an increasingly secular local society, Mandela has undergone a kind of apotheosis, passing into contemporary sainthood, with all that that station implies.

Yet, despite Mandela's history as a challenger of hegemonies, and despite South Africa's own rich history of resistance and protest art, the art world has participated in a process of dismantling critical debate around his history, career and legacy. Despite their talk, it would seem the local art scene and the people in it have a very different walk.

Reverence and idolatry are two sides of the same coin, and idolatry is the very definition of a disengaged cerebral cortex.

The irony of the great Judeo-Christian antecedent of idol worship, the Golden Calf from Exodus, is that the worship of one idol angered another idol, the latter proclaiming himself 'a jealous God' (Exodus 34:14) when his subjects made a golden calf while Moses was up Mount Sinai receiving stone tablets. Berated and shamed, the tribes of Israelites scurried back from Baal

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