Three people were being held on Tuesday for alleged offences relating to a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with exposed private parts in a Johannesburg gallery.
Two of them allegedly defaced the picture with red and black paint, obscuring the face and waist of the figure.
A third was arrested for apparently trying to spray the word “respect” on a wall of the Goodman Gallery.
Police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo confirmed the arrests in a statement.
“The two men, 58 and 25 years of age, allegedly made crosses with red paint and smeared black paint respectively on the portrait.”
Earlier, the gallery’s attorney said the second person was believed to be a 15-year-old.
The arrests came within an hour of the High Court in Johannesburg setting down an application by the ANC to have the painting removed from the gallery for hearing by a full bench on Thursday morning.
The application had just been postponed when word spread that the painting “The Spear” by Cape Town artist Brett Murray, as part of his exhibition “Hail to the Thief II”, had been defaced.
Iman Rappetti, eNews channel anchor, was in the Goodman Gallery close to the painting when a man took out a pot of paint and marked an X in the genital area of the portrait.
“It was surreal.”
Rappetti described the man as completely “ordinary” wearing a tweed jacket. Unbeknown to Rappetti another man was standing behind her with a large pot of black paint.
The second man started “going to town on the picture”, she said.
Gallery staff apprehended both men and the police arrived and took them away.
The gallery closed afterwards, and the public and reporters crowded outside.
Inside the gallery gate were three private and armed security guards wearing bulletproof vests Ä with one guard carrying a rifle.
“It looked staged, like it was okay to do,” said student Naledi Morron, who was inside the gallery on a field trip with her art teacher when the incident happened.
Her teacher Louise Shaw said: “It was so slow motion.”
In the afternoon, a third person was arrested for trying to spraypaint the word “respect” on a wall of the gallery.
He got as far as “res” and was also taken to the Rosebank Police Station.
Inside the gallery, discussions were being held on whether the painting could be taken away by police to be used as evidence on Thursday, or whether it should stay in the gallery.
“The gallery owner and police are discussing whether the gallery will allow the painting to be taken away and that point is under negotiation at the moment,” said the gallery’s lawyer, Greg Palmer.
The Film and Publication Board will take submissions on Tuesday night from parties, including the gallery, as it reacts to complaints and decides whether the painting should be classified.
Spokesman for the board, Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase, said it would go ahead in spite of Tuesday’s turn of events, because images of the original picture were still widely available on the internet. – Sapa