The painting is a modern take of a 17th century Rembrandt painting called “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tripp” which depicts an autopsy being undertaken in front of a group of doctors.
In artist Yiull Damaso’s version, former president Mandela is the cadaver with late Aids orphan Nkosi Johnson performing the autopsy. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and politicians FW de Klerk, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, Trevor Manuel, Thabo Mbeki and Helen Zille look on.
This week the Hyde Park shopping centre, where the painting is being housed, received complaints about the work.
Damaso said he was called into the shop because a person wanted to speak to him on the phone.
Freedom of expression and art
“The person on the phone told me that she was a friend of one of Mandela’s daughters and that the daughter was very upset about the painting. I was told that they had recently had a death in the family and that they are still very bereaved”.
The Hyde Park shopping centre’s marketing manager Nicola van Kan told the newspaper: “We feel it is a controversial piece… but we support freedom of expression and art.”
She said the centre had spoken to Damaso after the complaints.
“He explained the piece and we were happy with that.”
Talking about the controversy, Damaso told the Mail & Guardian: “The eventual passing of Mr Mandela is something that we will have to face, as individuals, as a nation.”
Nelson Mandela turns 92 on July 18.
In 2000 Damaso produced a series of paintings depicting Mandela with dreadlocks and as elderly and wearing boxing gloves and a tiny belt.
At the time the Nelson Mandela Foundation apparently took issue with the paintings.
“They told me that his image was copyrighted. But how can you copyright the image of a public figure,” he told the newspaper. – SAPA