Art Under Threat at the University of Cape Town

At the University of Cape Town (UCT) over the past two years, both commemorative and fine art has been defaced, intentionally destroyed by fire, blacklisted, censored, covered up and removed from display.  Additionally, photographic exhibitions have been attacked and closed down, and the Michaelis School of Fine Art was occupied by protestors for a number of weeks towards the end of 2016 and its students and teachers threatened.


Some 74 works of art from the University’s collection have been taken down or covered up “on the grounds of their vulnerability to potential damage” or because “some members of the campus community have identified certain works of art as offensive to them – for cultural, religious or political reasons”. The University has, until very recently, refused multiple requests to identify these blacklisted works or to specify which ones were destroyed.


Also in 2016, the University of Cape Town withdrew its invitation to Flemming Rose formerly of the Jyllands-Posten, to deliver its annual TB Davie Memorial Lecture on academic freedom.


In early 2017, the University suffered the loss of a priceless legacy when renowned photographer David Goldblatt decided to withdraw the archive of his life’s work because he “could not be persuaded out of his view that freedom of expression, artistic freedom and rights of artists were no longer protected at UCT”.


Taken together, these events have caused grave concern that artistic freedom at the University of Cape Town is in serious danger.


The evidence presented for your consideration is categorised chronologically, as follows:


1. (2014) A list of problematic artworks created by students.

2. (2016) 74 artworks censored by the University of Cape Town.

3. (2016) The destruction, defacement and covering up of artwork and displays.

4. (2016) The withdrawal of an invitation to Mr Flemming Rose to speak at the University’s TB Davie Memorial Lecture.

5. (2016) Fine Arts students barred from their art studios and lectures by protesters.

6. (2017) The removal of the David Goldblatt collection due to lack of artistic freedom at the university.

7. (2017) The University Art Task Team demands that removed art stays off the walls indefinitely.

8. (2017) UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price blacklists the works of anti-apartheid photographers Peter Magubane, David Goldblatt, Omar Badsha and UCT staff member Paul Weinberg, suggesting  that their works are “institutionally racist”.

9. (2017) Max Price states intention to display ‘contested’ artwork selection for debate.

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes…freedom of artistic creativity.


- Section 16 (1) (c) of the Bill of Rights, Chapter Two, of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act number 108 of 1996) Government Gazette (no. 17678)


Some members of the campus community have identified certain works of art as offensive to them – for cultural, religious or political reasons.”


- (UCT Vice-Chancellor Max Price, 11 April 2016)

1. 2014 UCT Students create list of problematic artworks that they want



1.1 Evidence in the local South African Press press (Cape Argus)


1.2 A list of 10 or so artworks has recently been supplied by the University of Cape Town, detailing which artworks the students find problematic. This list is available in the appendix.


1.3 The artworks were removed in April 2016, or have been since covered up. Ramabina Mahapa, who was on the Student Representative Council in 2014 and its president in 2015, identifies eight specific pieces, and others in a general way. His comments on  six of these pieces are as follows:


1.3.1 ”As you walk in the UCT Oppenheimer Library, you are met with a portrait of a naked white man, on his lap is a black woman, they seem to be having sexual intercourse. The white man has a black mask and the black woman has a white mask.”



The work referred to is “Hovering Dog” by Breyten Bretenbach


See also: The artist’s reaction:



1.3.2 “One level up, you see a metal sculpture of the naked Sarah Baartman.”



See: The artist’s reaction:


The Sculpture work referred to is “Sarah Bartman”, by South African artist Willie Bester, was covered with cloth by protesting students on 9 March 2016


1.3.3 “As you turn to your right, you will be met with another portrait depicting a black woman sitting on what I assume to be a rock with her three children in their underwear in a plastic basin bathing – the surrounding is of a poor dwelling.”



The work referred to is “A Passerby” by Zwelethu Mthethwa and was removed in 2016

1.3.4 “As you continue with your tour around UCT walking into the Otto Beit building, coming from the food court on your left, you will be met with a portrait of a bull. Inside it is a black man with his genitals exposed, besides the bull is a little white girl and an Afrikaner man.“


The work referred to is “Pasiphaë” by Dianne Victor, seen here being boarded up on 7 April 2016


1.3.5 “If you go to middle campus, you will see several black painted sculptures also with their

genitals out.”



The work referred to is “Dialogue of the Dogwatch”, a bronze sculpture by David Brown


1.3.6 “A similar portrait depicting the dwelling of poor black people can be found in the Mafeje room, where the university council meets.”



The work referred to is “Untitled” by Andrew McIlleron

2. 2016 Censorship and subsequent removal from public view of 74

artworks by the University of Cape Town


2.1 List of removed artworks that are currently in storage


1 Justin Anschutz Split path

2 Richard Keresemose Baholo Mandela receives honorary doctorate from UCT

3 Richard Keresemose Baholo Stop the Killings

4 Esmeralda Brettany Serialisation

5 Breyten Breytenbach FG

6 Robert Broadley Flowers in a Vase

7 Robert Broadley Portrait of an Old Man

8 Robert Broadley Portrait of the artist, Nerine Desmond

9 Robert Broadley Roses in a Jug

10 Robert Broadley Roses in a Vase

11 Robert Broadley Tree in Blossom

12 David Brown Travelling icon; an artist’s workshop

13 Mia Couvaras Untitled

14 R Daniels Perversion

15 R Daniels Pumpkin Aand

16 R Daniels The Dreamer

17 P de Katow Portrait of Prof James Cameron

18 Lyndall Gente World in a Grain of Sand

19 Constance Greaves Portrait of an African Smoking a Pipe

20 Charles M Horsfall Portrait of Mrs Evelyn Jagger

21 Isabella Kneymeyer A Quick Streamer Sketch, Fish River Canyon

22 Isabella Kneymeyer Streamer Cross Hatch, Study Luderitz, Namibia

23 Neville Lewis Portrait of JC Smuts

24 Antonio Mancini La Prighiera

25 Edward Mills Portrait of Alfred Beit

26 W G Parker Portrait of Sir John Buchanan

27 Henry Pegram Beit, Alfred (1853-1906)

28 Michael Pettit Siegfried’s journey down the Rhine

29 Joshua Reynolds (After) Dutchess of Devonshire

30 Joshua Reynolds (After) Lady Compton

31 George Crossland Robinson Portrait of Prof Renicus D Nanta

32 David Rossouw Sunningdale

33 David Rossouw Welgevonden

34 Edward Roworth Portrait of Dr Thomas Benjamin Davie

35 Edward Roworth Portrait of Prof Theo le Roux

36 Rupert Shephard Portrait of JP Duminy

37 Lucky Sibiya Village Life

38 Pippa Skotnes The wind in //Kabbo’s sails

39 W T Smith Portrait of Henry Murray

40 Irma Stern Ballerinas at Practice

41 Irma Stern Portrait of a Ballerina

42 Irma Stern Portrait of an African Man Blowing a Horn

43 Mikhael Subotsky Untitled

44 Mikhael Subotsky Voter X

45 Philip Tennyson Cole Portrait of an unknown associate

46 Hareward Hayes Tresidder Bowl of Flowers

47 Karina Turok Portrait of Mandela (above)

48 Unknown artist Continental School Figure of a Standing Woman and a Study of an Arm

49 Unknown artist Seated Woman and a Study of a Head in Profile and a Hand

50 Hubert von Herkommer Sir Julius Charles Werhner

51 Robert Heard Whale Russel, J (Rev) (died 1928)

52 John Wheatley Maidens at Play near Rock

53 John Wheatley Portrait of Carl Frederick Kolbe

54 John Wheatley Portrait of Dr E Barnard Fuller

55 John Wheatley Portrait of JW Jagger

56 John Wheatley Portrait of WF Fish

57 Sue Williamson Aminia Cachalia

58 Sue Williamson Cheryl Carolus

59 Sue Williamson Helen Joseph

60 Sue Williamson Mamphela Ramphele (above)

61 Michael Wyeth Blue Wall


2.2 List of removed artworks that have been returned to the lender


62 Breyten Breytenbach  Hovering Dog

63 Breyten Breytenbach  SA Angel black/white

64 Christo Coetzee  Untitled (Ping pong balls)

65 Steven Cohen  Five Heads (above)

66 Pieter Hugo Dayaba Usman with monkey, Abuja,Nigeria

67 Vusi Khumalo Township scene

68 Twinki Laubscher Seated angel

69 Twinki Laubscher  Reclining angel with cat

70 Christopher Slack  Twenty four hour service

71 Andrew Tshabangu  Trance, Tzaneen

72 Andrew Tshabangu  Bible and candle, Zola, Soweto (above)


2.3 List of removed artworks that are unlocated


73 Herbert Coetzee  Portrait of Sir Richard Luyt

74 James Mac Donald  Triptych 1 (The Apostles)

75 Edward Roworth  Portrait of Prof William Ritchie


Statement by the University Vice-Chancellor on the removal of artworks


Statement by the UCT Works of Art Committee


2.2 Public reactions to list of removed works


Reaction by the University of Ghent


Reaction by the Human Rights Commission, South Africa



3. 16 February 2016 Removal, Defacement, Destruction of artworks by  students

and others at the University of Cape Town on the evening of 16 February 2016











Destruction of paintings by Keresemose Richard Baholo on 16 February 2016




See also:


3.1 List of destroyed artworks and heritage poster displays


At least 23 works were destroyed.


3.2 Other works that were destroyed include two framed collages with original photos and documents, celebrating the anti-apartheid activist Molly Blackburn’s life, taken from the Molly Blackburn Memorial Hall. Blackburn, a member of the Black Sash organisation, was killed in a car accident in December 1985 while travelling with colleagues in the Eastern Cape, recording events under the state of emergency, and taking statements.


Response to the burning of the collages


All of UCT graduate and prize-winning artist Mikhael Subotzky’s Pollsmoor photographs were removed from the Law Library in 2016. Protesting students had covered these with black bin bags, before they were removed by the university.



 3.3 Defacing of photographic exhibition on 9 March 2016





Photograph by David Goldblatt defaced at exhibition





UCT Academic Freedom Committee Statement on closure of photographic exhibitions


3.4 Sculpture and drawing censored by covering up


3.4.1 “Sarah Bartman” by Willie Bester covered 9 March by students


3.4.2 “Pasiphaë” by Dianne Victor boarded up on 7 April 2016


3.5 Public Commentary from UCT vice-chancellor Max Price on 10 November 2016





4. 2016 Index on Censorship Statement on the withdrawal of the invitation to Flemming Rose

5. 2016 Fine Art students barred by students and others, from attending their
 classes and not getting access to their studios

6. 2017 David Goldblatt removes his photographic archive to Yale on basis that freedom of expression is no longer protected at UCT.




6.1 UCT Statement on David Goldblatt Collection


News item quotes David Goldblatt on 21 February 2017


6.2 Student activist Chumani Maxwele taking credit for “political pressure to remove works of art” on 7 March 2017

7. 2017 Art Task team Final Report



This Report mentions taking work out of storage for “”special exhibitions” of “controversial art” shadowing the reminiscence of “entaertete” art.


“The University of Cape Town must keep artworks that were removed from the walls in storage pending a broader consultative process. This consultation may take the form of displays of some of the contested artworks, (in dedicated spaces such as the CAS Gallery), debates and discussions around specific artworks and/or themes. Seminars that may involve artists of ‘contested’ works may also be hosted by the WOAC and other departments in the university around different artworks and symbols.”

8. 2017 UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price blacklists anti-apartheid photographers, suggesting their works contribute to institutional racism.



UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price blacklists the works of anti-apartheid photographers Peter Magubane, David Goldblatt, Omar Badsha and Paul Weinberg (who is a UCT staff member), suggesting that their works contribute to institutional racism.


9. 2017 UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price states intention to display ‘contested’
 artwork selection for debate.