‘It’s a disgrace, it’s taking our democracy too far, I feel like throwing paint at this painting; why haven’t they done the same to a white leader’, Mrs. Thoko Mashinini angrily reacts after seeing Yiull Damaso’s painting.
Damaso’s painting shows well known South African political figures listening as Nkosi Johnson, a child AID’s activist who died at the age of 12, performs an autopsy of a dead Nelson Mandela.
Nkosi ‘lifts the muscles in Mandela’s forearm to show them that he is just a man’ and the reason behind using Nkosi, is the fact that he ‘spoke about adult issues when he was alive and some of the leaders did not listen’.
As people viewed the unfinished painting, they would cluster in small groups to discuss their views or confront the artist. Some of them were outraged at his insensitivity because the Mandela family recently lost their great-grand daughter in a fatal car accident and the fact that Mandela is still alive. ‘How would you feel if someone depicted you as a dead person while you are still alive?” one asked.
Damaso who recently lost his grandmother reasons that ‘death is a reality that has to be faced and the eventual passing of Mr. Mandela is something that we will have to face, as individuals or as a nation.’ One of the viewers felt that the idea behind the painting was good but technically the painting was not up to standard.
Previously, he painted Mandela in dreadlocks, which also caused astir.
‘As a president he broke many stereotypes and if one wanted to have long hair or not it was up to him. It is not wise to judge a book by its cover’. Says Damaso as a matter of fact.
The artist who has no formal art training admits to have received death threats and has been told to apologise to the African National Congress (ANC) and to the Mandela family.
His partner Michela Casciani, who occasionally bore the brunt of angry onlookers, hopes that people ‘understand that he did the painting out of love and admiration for Mandela’.
The painting, which is on display at an up market shopping mall in Johannesburg, is similar to Dutch artist Rembrandt van Ryn’s oil on canvas group portrait of the Amsterdam Guild of surgeons titled ‘The Anatomy lesson of Doctor Tulip’.
Using Rembrandt’s painting as a resource, the 41-year-old artist revealed that he asked his friends who they wanted to be on the painting. ‘They suggested many politicians some of whom I have included but ultimately I settled for the ones in the painting’.
Interestingly after Rembrandt produced the painting, he prospered as an artist so it will be interesting to see whether Damaso’s artwork will make or break him.