By Isak Burger

"In the past few days we have seen an unprecedented range and number of opinions expressed about certain art displayed at the Matric art exhibition held at the Grantleigh Curro school in Richardsbay. The matter has demonstrated the very strong emotions and views that people of the Christian faith hold in our country - they can simply not be ignored or suppressed by intellectual reasoning.

Much has been said about the opposing rights and freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. Very little is unfortunately being said about the societal values that underpin our Constitution, which values should be instilled in all the people of South Africa and more so in the next generation of South Africans who will lead us in future in all spheres of life.

In its mission statement, as it appears from their website, Grantleigh states: "To uphold Christian values and encourage principled, caring and responsible behaviour at all times". Christian values differ very little from the foundational values of other religions and respect and responsibility is a value common to most religions and societies.

The art displayed by the matriculants at the exhibition held at Grantleigh was not done overnight but would have been the product of a year-long process prescribed by the Independent Examinations Board syllabus for Visual Arts. It would have included the development of the theme through a visual diary and formulating rationales over the course of at least the past eight months. The IEB requires that all the work must be done under the supervision of the art teacher. The question that needs to be asked is whether Grantleigh can confidently say that, over the course of the past eight months, their mission statement held true in the education process and whether, by endorsing the public display of the art work, the Headmaster and the Governing Body exercised the necessary care and attention to ensure that they were responsible custodians of their own mission statement.

Until such time as the art work was displayed, it fell squarely within an academic context and could be assessed merely in terms of the requirements of IEB. Once it was displayed to members of the public though, it moved from the academic domain to the public domain. Was the learner made aware that his art could be perceived as disrespectful and humiliating? How did the school guide him over an extended period of time as to what responsible behaviour would require?

Through the ages art has undeniably greatly influenced culture and thinking. From the face of the art which the learner has created, there is no doubt that he is extremely talented and has a promising future as an artist. Was he properly guided by his adult teachers to anticipate the consequences of, on the face of it, his images ridiculing Jesus Christ, the central figure in the Christian faith? Did he understand that the Bible is the Holy Book of Christians and that they would not take lightly if its pages were torn out and used in his artwork in a manner which they find offensive? The excuse that it was merely copies of Bible pages makes no difference.

When considering all of the competing interests of the various parties in this furore, fairness has to come into play. Is it fair to expect of a lay member of the public to read the fine print of a rationale to seek for justification of something that is on the face of it disrespectful and humiliating to your faith? Is it fair that an artist, whose name is withheld most probably on the account of him being a minor, can be given unbridled freedom of creative expression without being held personally responsible for his art? Was the rationale which was in recent days circulated by the learner on social media in which his art was explained / justified written by himself or by others in an attempt to mitigate reputational harm?

Our educators and educational institutions have a duty to our children and to our country to not only teach the next generation their rights and freedoms but also teach them the responsibility which goes with it. A bit of respect and consideration for others will go a long way - even for the most talented amongst us.

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