The ANC has expressed its outrage over a painting by Yiull Damaso, depicting Nelson Mandela on the autopsy slab. According to spokesman Jackson Mthembu, the image, based on Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, is reprehensible on a number of counts:
It is in bad taste, disrespectful, and it is an insult and an affront to values of our society... In African society it is a foreign act of ubuthakathi (bewitch) to kill a living person and this so-called work of art … is also racist. It goes further by violating Tat’ uMandela’s dignity by stripping him naked in the glare of curious onlookers, some of whom have seen their apartheid ideals die before them.It’s not clear exactly how the painting is racist, especially since its depiction of non-white people in positions of authority significantly improves on Rembrandt’s original. But the allegation of ubuthakathi does raise one tricky question: will the painting suddenly become less problematic when Mandela does actually die? Moreover, Mr Mthembu’s vitriol leaves another matter unaddressed: as is so often the case with supposedly shocking works of art (see the Danish Mohammed cartoons), the picture is really a bit rubbish. The dead Mandela looks more like Morgan Freeman.