Brett Murray, The Spear

The Brett Murray painting, “The Spear”, is 185 cm x 145 cm and uses acrylic paint on canvas (details from Wikipedia via a friend). While a painting, it uses the iconographic style of, generally speaking, leftist political or propaganda posters. Specifically, it depicts a male figure in the famous and iconographic Lenin pose (Lenin as hero) depicted on the Soviet-era poster by Victor Ivanov (1909-1968) and bearing the words from a Mayakovsky poem: “Lenin lived, Lenin is alive, Lenin will live!” The Murray poster is a copy of the Ivanov poster. It copies the iconographic style and most of the actual content of Ivanov’s work, excepting significant detail.

The Murray poster doesn’t show the red ribbon originally waving from Lenin’s left breast. It has a red and black background but, whereas the Ivanov poster has the red flag of the Russian revolution as background, with hammer and sickle in the top, left-hand corner and, squashed into the lower right-hand corner, the date “1917”, the red background on the Murray poster bears no other markings – no logos nor dates.

Instead of the grey suit that Lenin wears in the Ivanov poster, the male figure and its clothes in Murray’s depiction are rendered in shaded areas of black, red and yellow, colours normally associated with the Congress of South African Trade Unions. The head and face of the male figure in the Murray poster is a representation of the head and face of South African president, Jacob Zuma. This is not readily apparent on smaller, electronic reproductions of the painting and becomes so only after the viewer sees the outline of the back of the head.

Where the Murray poster further departs from the Ivanov original is with an exposed, circumcised and flaccid penis hanging from the groin of the figure it portrays. It may even be seen as a glove-like codpiece, glove-like because the contours of the penis – its glans and the ridge of skin behind the glans as found on circumcised penises in general – are clearly discernible.

One Response to Brett Murray, The Spear

  1. HotFuss says:

    check out chris thurman’s review here: http://www.christhurman.net/politics-and-commentary/item/not-zumas-pipe.html

    excellent, I think – but I wonder if the neat way in which he frames and contextualises the artwork overlooks the kind of racial/neo/post colonial concerns that you’ve discussed elsewhere, and which Osiame Molefe, in his pained, impassioned way talks about here: http://www.thedailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2012-05-24-the-spear-black-anger-and-white-obliviousness

    for my own part, I found the painting and most of the debates and controversies courting it weirdly dull. I just couldn’t muster any real interest or outrage about it all. :/

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