Clarifying Statement Regarding Previous Statements on UCT Artworks Case

10 May 2018
Clarifying Statement Regarding Previous Statements on UCT Artworks Case

Last month, the PEN SA Board issued a statement regarding the multiple ongoing events and procedures regarding artworks at the University of Cape Town. This statement about the processes of art curation that UCT is currently undertaking was issued in response to a number of requests by members for the Board to make a statement on the topic.

A number of members, who were not among the members who requested the statement in the first place, have subsequently voiced dissatisfaction regarding this statement. PEN SA is happy that our members feel it appropriate to hold the Board’s decisions to account.

One point of concern for these members is that PEN SA has not been seen to unequivocally condemn the destruction of artworks, which occurred during a protest at UCT’s Upper Campus in February 2016 against a lack of student housing, during which a group of protesters ransacked more than twenty artworks from nearby student residences and burned them. In fact, PEN SA unequivocally condemns the criminal destruction of artwork, in this case and in all others.

PEN SA’s statement was specifically about the processes of curation of artwork, and not about the burning of artwork which, we reiterate, we unconditionally condemn. The Board of PEN SA undertook the project of responding to our members’ request for a statement in good faith, as a response to our members, who we understood to be requesting this of us in good faith. As such, members of the Board invested a great deal of intellectual labour and expertise into coming to an official position about the curation process. This was to engage in a dialogue that, like the process which is its subject, would be ongoing.

In tandem with this dialogue, PEN SA has been monitoring (and will continue to monitor) the processes concerning artworks at UCT closely, with special attention given to how UCT fulfills its own Task Team’s recommendations that it develops a curatorial policy as a means to make sure any so-called ‘contested’ artworks (whether previously on display, previously in storage, currently on display or currently in storage) may be displayed on their campuses, as well as kept safe. Should it come to pass that these recommendations and processes are not followed or sufficiently resolved, the Board will act further.

To this end, we also call upon UCT and its Council to be transparent to concerned parties about their processes and actions, and encourage members to also make their views known directly to UCT.

As the then-President of PEN SA, Margie Orford, wrote in 2016 during the student protests, “PEN stands for freedom of expression and the free transmission of ideas. To put it most simply this means a dialogue in which listening is as important as speaking.” This remains true in 2018.

The Board of PEN South Africa
(Gabeba Baderoon, Nadia Davids, Pierre de Vos, Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, Raymond Louw, Adré Marshall, Sisonke Msimang, Yewande Omotoso, Margie Orford, and Karina Szczurek)