Controversy: Artist removed from show

by Naretha Pretorius

Celeste Coetzee: Recent Art Show (image sourced from: http://www.iol.co.za)

Celeste Coetzee, an art student from UNISA, was recently asked to remove her work, and by that her self, from an art show because she ‘posed’ partly in the nude by exposing her breasts.  The controversy heated when she started tearing pages from the Bible, while set in a kitchen environment, and half dressed in Voortrekker clothing.  The artist commented on the patronising behaviour towards women as condoned and reinforced in a patriarchal society, especially in a conservative Afrikaner Calvinistic environment.  This is a social comment I also looked at and addressed in my Masters Study and exhibition; ‘Onthaal Onthul’.  Coetzee however, tackled the bull by the horns in a more direct way, whereas my work commented in a more subtle manner on the submissive positioning of women within the Calvinistic Afrikaner community by using tea serving metaphors layered with subtext.  It was this directness in her social commentary that left a bitter taste in the Franschhoek community’s mouths, and a heated topic that is now filling quite a few online pages with controversial viewpoints.

Read the article written by Michelle Jones: http://www.iol.co.za/tonight/news/local/nude-art-student-s-work-stripped-from-show-1.1188460

Coetzee is doing what artists are supposed to do: deliver meaningful comments on social injustice, whether current or past issues.  I am fascinated by the Curator’s comments when she stated: “As a gallery, that’s not the message we want to portray. She’s very negative to the old Afrikaner, Christian patriarchal system. She was trying to be the vulnerable woman suffering under the system. But women are not under that system anymore.” (Jones, 2009)

I am curious to know where this story will go, what the critical conversations will be.  Here we sit with a sensitive issue of an artist delivering her comment, possibly driven by her own experiences, and a curator that decided to silence her voice, reinforcing how women (and artists) are often silenced.  Is this issue really something of the past?  Read the marriage sacrament of the Reformed Church and you will see that it is not (http://www.gksa.org.za/ see ‘formuliere’).  In my opinion and from my own experiences as a woman in a ‘new’ South Africa, gender inequality, whether governed by religion, politics or policies still live in most of our environments; our professional, educational, political and personal and domestic spaces and that it is not limited to Afrikaner communities.  We should have more artists like Coetzee that has the courage to expose herself as she did (literally and metaphorically), it takes guts to do what she did, and I congratulate her for raising her artist’s voice!

I hope to see more from Celeste Coetzee, and that this incident will drive her to produce more of her meaningful work.

Naretha Pretorius