PEN SA Statement on the UCT Artworks Case: Members Encouraged to Submit Views

23 Mar 2018
PEN SA Statement on the UCT Artworks Case: Members Encouraged to Submit Views

On occasion, the PEN SA Board is asked to weigh in on issues it deems too complex and nuanced to distill into an unequivocal statement. Various PEN SA members have, on a number of occasions, asked the PEN SA Board to address the incidents that have occurred before and since the establishment of the University of Cape Town’s Council Task Team on Statues, Plaques and Artworks (hereafter referred to as UCT Works of Art Committee). It is the Board’s considered view that this is one of those times when we cannot issue a blanket statement.

This issue is, of course, an important touchstone for our society and for freedom of expression. It goes to the heart of global debates around freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Some believe the incidents surrounding artworks at UCT to be largely unrelated or part of a process of curation; some, as a cumulative and a threat to freedom of expression at the institution. For their part, UCT’s Works of Art Committee is currently holding a programme of events, performances, debates, exhibitions and other interventions to explore the various intersecting topics, opinions and histories at work.

In a similar fashion, and in lieu of a statement, the Board has taken the decision to publish, in the weeks commencing from next week, a series of articles. These will provide a timeline of artworks-related incidents at UCT, legal analysis on the right to freedom of expression, the views of artists represented in the UCT collection, the views of representatives of the UCT Works of Art Committee, and the views of PEN SA members and any other interested parties.

PEN SA understands its role as a vital part of this conversation. Our protracted internal deliberations have led us to conclude that the best course of action is to create and facilitate a space that allows for the interrogation of contested conceptions of how the right to freedom of expression (particularly creative expression) ought to be understood in the South African context. The resolution of these issues have uncommonly far-reaching ramifications, which will extend far beyond the University of Cape Town – and the academy in general. Broadcasting a spectrum of ideas about how best to identify and address the factors that encourage or impede the full enjoyment of the right to free expression for all South African citizens (artists and non-artists) is, in the long run, more productive than crafting a one-off statement.

We would like to extend to all PEN members and interested parties an invitation to contribute to this series. Pitches for – or preferably finished – articles, opinion pieces and artworks may be mailed to for consideration. For written pieces, please keep to a maximum of 1000 words.