Brett Murray’s Enid Blyton Moment

Brett Murray is back with a new body of satirical work that continues his acerbic attacks on abuses of power, corruption and political dumbness

Brett Murray, left, and his bronze sculpture One Party State, 2010
CAPE TOWN Nov. 19, 2010 — By his own admission, Brett
Murray is as disgusted by the language of his own press release as he is with
the status quo of governance in South Africa. Speaking at a press walkabout at
the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, the artist read an excerpt from a statement
announcing his new solo exhibition, Hail
to the Thief, which opens tomorrow.

Tipping his reading glasses onto his nose, the Michaelis
graduate and former University of Stellenbosch sculpture lecturer honed in on
one particular bit of text. “Murray’s bronzes, etchings, paintings and
silk-screens,” he read, “form part of a vitriolic and succinct censure of bad
governance and are his attempts to humorously expose the paucity of morals and
greed within the ruling elite.” The reading was followed by a number of sharp expletives.
Installation view of Hail teh Thief, with The Party vs. The People, 2010, in foregorund
Underlying this self-conscious putdown is the artist’s genuine
anger at what he views as the failure of the post-1994 dream. Active in
the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, Murray describes the current status quo as
“not a dream deferred, but a dream shat on”. He was explicitly referencing Mark
Gevisser’s 2008 biography, Thabo Mbeki:
The Dream Deferred, the book’s subtitle drawn from the title of a poem by
Langston Hughes.
Brett Murray, Viva Vavi, 2010, metal, gold and silver leaf, 149 x 147 x 13cm
While the messaging animating many of his works is often unambiguous (“Biko is
Dead”), provocative (“Oliver ‘On the Take’ Thambo”), and inviting of rote
displays of outrage (a repurposed ANC logo features only the words “for sale”),
Murray repeatedly spoke about how he found consolation in the process of
making. Meticulously crafted, two bronze statues on display speak of his formal
inclinations as a sculptor.

A close view of the surface of his parodic crests
also offers its own pleasures — the gold leaf detailing has been overlaid onto
rough, untreated metal surfaces. It is at the level of detail, one senses, that Murray’s
anger and “default setting” as a satirical moralist is modulated, tempered,
perhaps even reconciled.
Take home graphics featuring the ANC’s “for sale” logo
During the walkabout, after discussing the pros and cons
of registering protest and public discontent in the rarefied context of a gallery, Murray revealed that the title
for his current show was suggested by a piece of graffiti he had seen in New
York last year, while on an Ampersand Foundation residency.

Asked about his impressions of younger artists working in either a satirical and/or poltical mode, he favourably mentioned Stuart Bird, Michael MacGarry and Dan Halter. He is also said, when asked about the recent criticism of Anton Kannemeyer’s work by Khwezi Gule as racist, that he admired Kannemeyer’s provocations.”I am Enid Blyton in comparison,” he said, referring to the English author of the popular – and not entirely uncontroversial – Noddy character.

Hail to the Thief
runs at the Goodman Gallery until January 8, 2011.

Brett Murray at press walkabout, November 19, 2010, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town

Brett Murray, The Party vs. The People, 2010, bronze, 59 x 54 x 81cmBrett Murray, Umshini Wami (Diptych), 2010, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 86 x 63.5cm & 86 x 50.5cmInstallation view of Brett Murray’s Hail the Thief, with his graphic of the ANC logo nearest