“It is a case of business interests interfering with artistic expression in a way that is deeply undermining of the work and free expression in general,” it said in a statement.
On Friday, the City Press website reported that the work, titled “Yakhal’inkomo — Black Man’s Cry”, would be removed from the exhibition.
This was done for fear that it would offend sponsors and important people.
The painting reportedly depicted a kneeling miner with horns on his head, metaphorically representing a dying bull.
He was being attacked by Zuma’s dog, reportedly signifying the police. Zuma, who was dressed in a suit, stepped on another dying miner’s head.
The FXI said that if the work was withdrawn for fear of offending sponsors and politicians “then the fair organisers are doing the work of censors and demeaning what is an important event in Joburg’s art calendar”.
The apartheid regime had censored artists and writers after the Sharpeville massacre.
“It would be a terrible day if, in the wake of the Marikana tragedy, that this role of restricting our artists was taken up by the private sector.”
On August 16 last year, police shot dead 34 mostly striking workers, wounded 70 and arrested 250 at Marikana. In the preceding week, ten people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in violence related to a strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in Rustenburg.
The FXI hoped other artists would show solidarity with Mabulu.
“Art is not art if it is scared of provoking or even offending. And an art fair is not serving its purpose of promoting the market for South African creativity, if it is fearful of such work.”