He argued that “the fact that the artwork formed part of the student’s IEB final submission in no way removes the responsibility that Grantleigh bears for the final product”.
Following artwork by a matric pupil at Grantleigh School in the KwaZulu-Natal town of Richards Bay going viral and causing outrage, a former head boy from the school has written an open letter siding with those who were angered at the young artist’s depiction of Jesus.
“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?” asked Sinjon Moffett, who was head boy of the school in 2011, in his letter.
The pupil’s art included an interpretation of Italian renaissance painter and inventor Leonard da Vinci’s Last Supper with Jesus depicted as a clown as he broke bread for the last time before his crucifixion, with dollar signs painted on the lintel behind him.
The disciples were depicted as people and animals, with hats, sunglasses and some with horns.
Torn strips of the Bible featured in another work.
“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,” Moffett wrote.
He said if the school wanted to claim the accolades it gets due to the work of its learners, it must also take “full responsibility” for artwork and the backlash it caused.
He further argued that “freedom of expression” cannot be used as a justification for the artwork, as the school doesn’t allow “racist and homophobic” viewpoints, “and rightly so”.
He said the artwork should similarly have been disallowed because it’s incompatible with the school’s aim of “moulding” its pupils to have “an open and compassionate world view”.
Moffett went on to acknowledge that the pupil who created the artwork exhibits “artistic technique” which is “clearly exceptional”, “besides the fact that a number of his pieces carry plagiaristic similarity to other international artists’ works”.
He said, however, that while the artist was clearly “an extremely talented individual”, “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,” Moffett wrote.
He added that “children are impressionable” and that kids as young as five years old could have seen the artwork as they have free access to the school hall where it was displayed.
“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.”
Moffett said the artist was “perhaps revelling in the attention his work is currently receiving” and that staff of Grantleigh’s reaction could be “a statement on the school’s behalf to disassociate yourselves with the Christian ethos rooted in the school’s history”.
“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 towards 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,” Moffett wrote, before signing off: “With love, as a proud Grantleigh alumnus”.
The artist himself this week said that his art had been misunderstood.
In a rationale, he said: “Despite what the parent depicted in the recording purports my artwork to be, the rationales seen nearby each piece in the video quite clearly explain that they are the furthest thing from so-called ‘satanism’.”
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman.)