Middle of the road Sasol risks arty ire*



Business Day picked up on an interesting story yesterday. Artist Richardt Strydom won the Sasol New Signatures art prize for his black and white photograph depicting a half naked couple with a baby doll and their dog. Titled Familieportret2, the image is set in a bleak, uncared for urban back yard.


The artist describes his work depicting and exposing, both literally and figuratively, “the extreme misery, the pathos and dehumanization of poverty. In a true sense, it is a picture of severe loss and finally a loss of human dignity. At the same time, there is indeed a hidden sexual message in the couple’s nakedness and the presence of the baby doll on the mother’s breast. It is the message that when earthly possessions are lost, there is still an obstinate will to live and love.”


After the prize was awarded Sasol thought it prudent to distance itself from the winning work. In a statement to Business Day the group said “we will naturally accept the decision of the judges. We also recognise that some members of the Sasol staff as well as some members of the public may be challenged or even offended by the piece and we feel it is both responsible and appropriate that we distance Sasol from the artwork.”


Does Sasol want to position itself as a patron of the arts as long as it is art it likes or does nothing that challenges or comments on society? One wonders, are we culturally richer for this type of patronage, or poorer?


It also raises issues about Sasol’s own identity – a business giant that positions itself as progressive, at the forefront of change and innovation. But when the chips are down and it can no longer hide  behind glossy ads, more conservative, more middle of the road than maybe itself expected.

* The tabloidisation of this blog begins!


Published by Herman Manson

MarkLives.com is edited by Herman Manson. Follow us on Twitter - http://twitter.com/marklives

8 replies on “Middle of the road Sasol risks arty ire*”

  1. I think it is a disgrace that Sasol doesn’t celebrate with the artist. Instead they try to put him down. What narrow minded folks!

  2. I think Sasol did the right thing to distance themselves from this tasteless piece. I personally thnik it is a demeaning piece of garbage. In my opinion, art is something to be enjoyed, and there is nothing enjoyable for me in this. Quite recently, I have read complaints about empty theatres, artists struggling to make a living etc. If this is what we as South-Africans consider art, then I feel “may they suffer.” Why did the judges not award art that is nice to look at, have a good feel to it and at least says something positive. Without the description of what the artist aimed for, I found this to be just totally tasteless. At least, Sasol stood by their original position, and respected the opinion of the judges, although I don’t know why. It will be an enormous feat of goodwill if they sponsor this again…

  3. If “art” evokes plenty of emotion, so does rape. Does this mean we should start applauding rapists? Evoking emotions only serves a purpose if they have a positive aim. And please do not say that art is supposed to be my conscience – I have values to supply this. This so-called “art” does not support any of my values, of which one is to afford everyone on this earth dignity – something the artist obviously does not believe in. (How much dignity did he afford his models, for one?) Furthermore, nobody should ever be attacked for having values, and if the “art” does not fit into a company’s values, they have both the right and obligation to say it without ever having to feel embarressed about it. Sasol certainly gained a lot of respect in my eyes from the way they handled this situation.

  4. I think it’s unfair to compare something like art with something as horrendous as rape. Nevermind it being completely out of context.
    The models did it willingly, therefore they bought into the idea, the concept, the message. Their dignity stayed in tact.
    Also, “values” and “morals” differ, and the point being made in the original post was that Sasol’s proposed morals/values of being cutting-edge and at the forefront doesn’t really correlate with their actions.
    As for the work, I believe that Strydom is incredibly deserving of this prize. It explores issues that are timely and relevant – in a way that’s at first shocking, but most assuredly holds beauty as well.

  5. Lee, I think you missed point totally. I was not comparing the artwork to rape. I was saying that evoking emotions cannot be a standard of judgement, since something as dispicable as rape also evokes emotion. Also, one can loose one’s dignity willingly. How many prostitutes lost their dignity for money? And how many of them would dearly like to have it back? Again, I am not comparing the models to prostitutes, but I am making the point that willingness is not a guarantee against loss of dignity.

    You also quite rightly said that morals and values are two different things, but then you confuse them yourself. Sasol’s value of integrity was upheld by the fact that they kept to their agreement of accepting the judgement of the judges and paying the prize, even if they distanced themselves from the artwork. They also, as stated very clearly in the news, upheld their value of winning with people by respecting the views of their employees, and many other people who could be expected to feel the same as these employees do. They also showed integrity by not connecting their company image to this work, which has nothing at all in common with what Sasol appears to stand for. Sasol IS on the forefront and cutting edge in science, and that is what they have always claimed to be. They never (that I know of) claimed to be at the forefront of art. They claimed to (and still do) to be supportive of artists in our country, but also of sports. After all that was said and done, they still do NOT claim to be anything else than a hugely successful petrochemicals company, and that is where the cutting edge is.

    The original article asked the question if we are richer or poorer for Sasol not agreeing with a piece of art. I want to ask the same question to Richardt: are we really richer or poorer with this (In in my opinion, values and taste)piece of garbage being celebrated as “art” I simply fail to see the “beauty” in it that you claim to do.

  6. i think it is a beautiful piece of art. female nudity has always been celebrated in art, why is male nudity so taboo. this work evokes the shame, fascination, dehuminization and arrogant pity that people have towards those living in poverty. well done to Strydom.

  7. @realartlover What an a$$hole you are? Your definition of art is a joke. I can’t imagine the crap that’s hanging on your walls. This is a great pic. You should be imprisoned for the rubbish you post on public forums. Well done Strydom!

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