Beyond the Echo Chamber: Hide by Brett Murray
Hide, the long-awaited show by Brett Murray at Everard Read, turned its satirical head to look beyond state politics toward the chatter of the Twitterverse.
Although I’ve never met him, I feel close to Brett Murray. His work is always an evocation of the present and future; a prescient commentary on the beloved country.
But it’s not only for that reason. In 2012, he and I and City Press, the newspaper I edited at the time, were umbilically tied. City Press had published a review of Murray’s exhibition, Hail to the Thief, and all hell broke loose. The paper had run an art review of the exhibition and used the image of ‘The Spear’, featuring then-president Jacob Zuma as Vladimir Lenin, but with his penis exposed. It was a local rendition of the story of the naked emperor, and produced as the kleptocracy began to grip South Africa. The country and the governing ANC went berserk as the image was taken out of the gallery and into a mass black newspaper.
I thought about Murray a lot this past April as I reviewed his latest work – at the same time, parts of the ANC threatened to burn copies of journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State, about the party’s secretary general, Ace Magashule. The burning was condemned by the ANC high-ups, including its chief whip at parliament, Jackson Mthembu.
In 2012, Mthembu was the leader of a group who wanted Murray and City Press artistically lynched. In the end, under pressure, I digitally lynched ‘The Spear’ when I had it removed from the City Press website after Nompumelelo Ntuli – one of Zuma’s first ladies – burnt copies of the paper in the streets of Durban.
Things got heated as every leading columnist opined about the pain the image had evoked of the indignities visited on black bodies. But removing the image is an act I regret because I gave in to bullies. To make up for it, one day I will follow the ruined painting (daubed over in black paint by a madman at Goodman Gallery) to its home in Germany, where a buyer has exiled the work.
In the meantime, Murray has gone on to dizzying heights. I’ve followed him through art fairs and, one year, was dismayed to see that he’d repainted ‘The Spear’ as a border with nothing in it. You couldn’t find a more evocative way of capturing censorship.
Now there’s Hide, his latest exhibition at Everard Read. It hasn’t had much mass media attention, but perhaps it should, for the cutting commentary it provides. Or perhaps we have grown more tolerant of satire, which warns you of danger before it arrives. After all, Murray pinpointed the state to which SA would descend with Hail to the Thief.
This time, Murray excoriates Twitter. The blue bird that symbolises the social-media platform that has become the foremost medium for information and disinformation gets his treatment as he refashions it into a half-pig half-bird in bronze. ‘Echo Chamber’ is a cluster of bird-pigs, signalling the way Twitter can create and recreate viral echo chambers that narrow the news agenda to the tiny trending topics of an often ill-informed elite.
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As the world begins to cotton on to how disinformation can misshape societies, Murray’s work captures the new narrative that has moved beyond the ‘miracle’ of social media to begin the investigation of the platforms that now define how we think.
In short, Hide is an endless commentary in mixed materials, with one particular image reflecting another story being replicated in politics: ‘Populist Cock’. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose party colour is red and which is led by cocky men, is a phenomenon of populism that we will come to understand better in later years.
Using Twitter as its stage to communicate to a nihilistic urban electorate, the EFF has proven to be a disseminator of disinformation campaigns as they’ve created viral echo chambers. And what is Murray’s response to the populists and thieves? A metal piece that aptly reads, ‘TSEK!’.