Owen Maseko, a Zimbabwe artist, will go to trial next month for painting scenes of the 1980 Gukurahundi uprising, when 20,000 civilians were massacred by government troops. His art reopens discussions of oppression and violence in Zimbabwe. The images have been banned this week under the country's censorship laws effectively shutting down his ability to share his art and ideas with his people.
Owen Maseko says “As an artist for the sake of the whole artist community, I have to challenge the ban. There is no way we can function as artists if we can’t be free to express ourselves. The most important thing as an artist is that we need to be relevant to the society we are living in.”
The Media Institute of South Africa complained that the ban not only violates citizens’ right to freedom of expression but disregards the Banjul Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. The declaration guarantees the right to impart information and ideas in print and art as a “fundamental and inalienable human right”.
Maseko points out that if it goes to trial it means the police risk having the issue openly discussed and at the same time if they dismiss the case it means they automatically have to allow him to re-open the exhibition and the public can actually see it. The government is attempting to erase portions of Zimbabwe’s history.
But pretending it doesn’t exist, won’t make it go away, instead it will allow the issues to fester. Allowing artists to touch the people - be their voice of anger, sorrow and outrage, provides an essential function in a society. Without it, the voiceless go mad.
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