Following an outcry on social media in South Africa about a Grantleigh matric student’s artwork (which one father described as ‘demonic’ images, in a video that has gone viral), the executive head of the school near Richard’s Bay has issued a response. Others have also reacted, including a former Headboy who has penned an open letter to the school (see below) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) which urged concerned parents from the exclusive Independent School to refer their complaints to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL).
Response from Grantleigh Head
Grantleigh’s Head, Andrew Norris, said the project that was featured in the video (which includes a clown replacing God and Jesus, and torn pieces of pages from a Bible) is part of a final submission to the IEB. It appeared in the foyer as part of a year-end exhibition.
He said the matter is currently subject to an internal investigation.
Norris said: “We want to reiterate that comments made is not an accurate reflection of the school and the situation referred to and we reserve our rights in this regard.”
He said constructive comments that lead to meaningful discussion are welcomed, but that “we do not condone cyber bullying, religious intolerance, hate speech, derogatory language, misrepresentation and comments reflecting negatively on our brand on any social media pages”.
Response to ‘Demonic’ Artwork from the DA
The artwork and video has drawn responses from around the country. Dr Imran Keeka, DA KZN Spokesperson on Education, called on concerned parents at the school to refer their complaints to the CRL.
Dr Keeka said “there can be no denying that the images within the clip are deeply disturbing.
“Equally alarming is that they are within the walls of a school with a strong Christian ethos. There is, however the South African Bill of Rights, which must be respected.
“Notwithstanding, it must also be remembered that the freedom of expression, which is an inalienable right in the same Bill, is not without limitations and responsibilities related to such freedoms.”
The DA says it therefore believes that the CRL is well placed to give its opinion.
The DA has also raised the matter with KZN’s Education MEC, Khwazi Mshengu, so that he can exercise his Executive authority – together with his HOD – to get to the bottom of the matter.
Open Letter to Grantleigh from the Headboy of 2011
The following letter was submitted to SAPeople by former Headboy, Sinjon Moffett:
Dear Grantleigh Staff, particularly Mr. Andrew Norris,
I, alongside many South Africans, have recently been witness to the artwork prepared by one of your current Grade 12 learners that formed part of the year-end exhibition. I have also been following the widespread upheaval in reaction to this display.
Furthermore, I have seen the school’s official preliminary response. I believe it is my responsibility as a past-pupil and a representative of the Christian faith to voice my deep disappointment over this matter. Before I do so, I would like to point out the following:
- The fact that the artwork formed part of the students ‘IEB Final Submission’ in no way removes the responsibility that Grantleigh bears for the final product. All accolades achieved by learners within Grantleigh are claimed as a result of the excellent education offered by the institution. And rightly so. Learners are truly only as good as the opportunity’s and care they are given. However, this means that Grantleigh assumes full responsibility for this learners artwork, as was established when the learner was rewarded and commended publicly by the school.
- ‘Freedom of expression’ is unfortunately not a viable justification. You should make no attempt to pretend that Grantleigh allows students to express their unbridled personal opinions and beliefs. This is simply not true, and I say this to your absolute credit. I was witness to a number of students during my time in Grantleigh who expressed racist and homophobic viewpoints, who were instantly shutdown and disciplined by staff. And rightly so. The school and all of its staff are actively involved in moulding the minds of their learners to develop an open and compassionate worldview.
- The artistic technique used by the student is clearly exceptional. Besides the fact that a number of their pieces carry plagiaristic similarity to other international artist’s works, it is clear to see that they are an extremely talented individual. However, the first lesson of contemporary art is that it is the message, not the method, that carries importance. Any art teacher or enthusiast will attest to this, as this has been the general understanding of art since around the time of Duchamp. This removes the prospect for any explanation that the learner’s art was skilfully executed and therefore respectable.
- Children are impressionable. I am not referring to the young adults occupying Grades 8 through 12. I am referring to the little children, as young as 5 years old, who have free access to the school hall and therefore these artworks. Disregarding the religious controversy that the artworks present, they are objectively violent and graphic in nature. Surely the public display of these works within a sheltered school environment is deeply irresponsible and a complete oversight on behalf of the staff body. A school should be where dreams are inspired, not nightmares.
I am well aware that the learner who created these artworks is perhaps revelling in the amount of attention their work is currently receiving. I am also aware that you perhaps consider this situation to be a statement on the school’s behalf to disassociate yourselves with the Christian ethos rooted in the school’s history. With all this in mind, I have one question I would like to pose to you:
Why was it deemed appropriate to publicly deface, misrepresent and mock the figure who many within the Grantleigh family, as well as millions of people globally, worship as their God?
The simple truth is that if this was attempted with any other religion, Grantleigh would (hopefully) never have permitted it. If the learner had made an artwork that encourages racism, Grantleigh would (hopefully) never have permitted it. If the learner had made an artwork containing bigoted slurs against the LGBTQ community, Grantleigh would (hopefully) never have permitted it. I say this with such confidence because I know that Grantleigh does not allow their learners to be hateful, disrespectful, or prejudiced toward any group of people, but to rather be respectful and loving of all races, cultures and religions. This is what Jesus himself preached, what Jesus himself displayed, and what Jesus himself still inspires within people today. I am deeply disappointed to see that it is Jesus who has been belittled under the flag of the school that claims to embody a Christ-inspired ethos.
Grantleigh, you are responsible for this iniquity against all the people who follow Jesus, and against God himself. I hope that you are humble enough and wise enough to accept this responsibility, ask for forgiveness, and disassociate yourselves with the artworks and the artist.
With love, as a proud Grantleigh alumnus,
Friends of the artist have told their parents that the learner was trying to show how empty life has become since people replaced spirituality with materialism like McDonalds (represented by the Ronald McDonald clown). In response to this, Moffett told SAPeople: “If that was the motive of the student then it seems strange that hundreds of Christians were instantly offended by the imagery. If it was a pro-faith message then it was at the expense of the image of the Christian faith’s figurehead, Jesus Christ. Knowing that was the motive would not change my response. It doesn’t remove the defacing and violence portrayed.”