A controversial painting depicting South African president, Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed was vandalized by two men in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

The painting, called “The Spear,” has been the subject of a bitter debate. The ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has asked the High Court to having the painting removed, calling it “rude, disrespectful and racist.”  Others, however, argue that Brett Murray, the painter, has the right to express himself. Murray’s work is known for its political tone and provocative nature, and Zuma has been a controversial figure for years.

The painting was defaced by two men, one black, one white, but according to the BBC’s Andrew Harding, the young black man was treated more harshly by police.

Harding tweeted:

“Zuma picture smeared with black paint. Man who did it tells me ‘picture was offensive.’ gallery guard assaults him. 2nd man arrested too.”

He continued: “Red and black paint now covers Zuma portrait. Two men responsible now taken away. Gallery closed.”

“Young black man was beaten by guards. Older white man treated much more courteously.”

Amid the contentious debate about the painting, Murray said his piece wasn’t meant to harm anyone, but was an “attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse.”

But many in South Africa felt Murray’s painting was racist and he deserves to be punished. Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist church, told the Times of South Africa:

“This man has insulted the entire nation and he deserves to be stoned to death,” he told the Times of South Africa. “What he did clearly shows his racist upbringing because art does not allow people to insult others.

“This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects.”

What do you think about the painting? Is it offensive or just art?

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