A painting about what happened at Marikana.
Guns are roses by Khaya Witbooi. 150cm X 120cm. Oil and spray paint on canvas. 2012
Khaya Witbooi’s latest painting, pictured above, was inspired by the unfortunate events that took place in September 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mines near Marikana in South Africa where police shot and killed 42 protesters while on strike to demand a better basic wage.
What made this event so shocking was the fact that it went against everything that South Africa is supposed to stand for today. After centuries of colonialism and decades of active struggle against the Apartheid government and its race based policies, South Africa was supposed to have achieved democracy, equal rights for all and, most importantly, the end of the shameless exploitation of poor people. At Marikana, people who stood up for these principles were harshly reminded that perhaps not so much has changed.
The title refers to the fact that though South Africa is a beautiful country with beautiful ideals and people, the powerful still rules and they do so by using the threat and now even acts of violence.
The painting is dominated by the use of two central iconographic images – the reference to the Pietà, the Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo, and the prominent use of roses.
His reference to the Pietà was executed by painting a woman holding a slain mine worker, giving a familiar image a geographically specific expression related to mourning, the price paid for liberation and the continuous struggle of the masses.
The roses are metaphoric to beauty – both what is and what is strived to – and the fact that despite the ugliness of violence and what happened, it did not take away the beauty that lives within the people. It is also a reference to honouring those who have paid the highest price in pursuit of dignity.
The majority of the painting was created using stencils and spray paint, a medium Witbooi has become particularly proficient in. This adds to the language of rebellion and the questioning of events that took place, just like street artists all over the world do.