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Zimbabwe Artist in Court After Controversial Exhibit

  • Peta Thornycroft

Owen Maseko's painting of the 1987 Unity Accord between Robert Mugabe (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU) which brought the ZANU-PF party into existence. The painting shows a bloodied Nkomo bending over the accord, while Mugabe is the other individual seated

Owen Maseko's painting of the 1987 Unity Accord between Robert Mugabe (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU) which brought the ZANU-PF party into existence. The painting shows a bloodied Nkomo bending over the accord, while Mugabe is the other individual seated

Zimbabwe artist Owen Maseko was in court in Bulawayo after the government shut down his art exhibit exploring violence blamed on President Robert Mugabe.

Owen Maseko's exhibition at the national art gallery in Bulawayo focuses on an uprising that was crushed in western Matabeleland after Zimbabwe's independence in 1980. Thousands of civilians were massacred by members of the Shona tribe trained by North Korea and loyal to Robert Mugabe.

The most striking image shows the late Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe signing an accord leading to a unity government. In the painting Nkomo is slumped across the table, blood dripping from his shoulders. Behind the two leaders is a line of men all wearing dark glasses, whom many presume are members of the Central Intelligence Organization.

Joshua Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe helped lead the guerrilla war against white rule in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Maseko's exhibit was supposed to run through April, but last Friday Maseko was arrested and police blacked out the gallery windows and covered the murals with newspapers.

Maseko is charged with inciting violence, undermining Mr. Mugabe's name, and demeaning Mr. Mugabe's tribe, the Shonas. The charges carry a prison sentence or fines.

Lawyers acting for Maskeo applied for bail at the Bulwayo Magistrate's Court and judgment will be delivered Tuesday. Meanwhile, the artist remains in detention.

Many people in Zimbabwe, particularly in the past 10 years, have been jailed or fined for allegedly insulting Mr. Mugabe.

Last week, photographer Okay Machisa was arrested shortly before his exhibition of photographs of political violence in the 2008 elections opened at a gallery in Harare. Although he was released, all of his photographs were seized by police.

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