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From: David Robert Lewis
Date received: 17 March 2008
Subject: Editorialising by Ed Young
Dear Sue Williams,
As you are most probably aware, Ed Young and I have a difficult relationship, the least being his participation a number of years ago in an act of thuggery involving a bar tab at Lola's, and a more recent incident in which he attempted to concoct an outrage involving myself, Ralph Borland and Ronald Suresh Roberts. There were a number of witnesses, including Julia Clark and in fact I was in the midst of a conversation with Borland and Clark when Roberts suddenly took offence to my presence at the Waiting Room (I was there at the invitation of Borland, following a seminar at Michaelis) and Ed Young weighed in, turning the incident into some form of assault on his dignity or person.
The matter rapidly descended into enmity, with another incident involving Gael Reagon. As you know, Gael is a contributing editor for Chimurenga. As it so happened we were at Joburg Bar during one of its memorable Early Friday occasions. A couple of art students including Timothy Leibrandt, were sitting at a window cubicle drinking. Gael attempted to engage them in conversation and they started passing remarks, which at first appeared to be nothing more than stupid drunken humour. We ignored them, and I wasn't about to get involved in what was presumably a couple of words said off the cuff and with little meaning.
Later Gael returned to the group with a more critical and serious tone, and appeared to be engaged in a serious debate about race and class. I became concerned and went over to the table to see what was wrong. There before my very eyes, a young women, was telling Gael off - something to the effect of 'you should know your place, girl, we're white, you're black, just go away, we don't talk to the hired help.' Or words to that effect.
I asked her what the matter was, and Gael then asked: 'Is it because of my race or my colour?' The student then proceeded to tell us off using words which I do not care to repeat. I turned to Timothy Liebrandt who I am acquainted with, and he just looked at me, and appeared to agree that the situation was exactly as it was. I was therefore forced to defend both my own dignity and Gael's honour, and took the rash move, of pouring my drink, which I had paid for, over Tim's head, slowly. He was so drunk he didn't seem to react, so I smashed the glass on the floor. Destroying property of course - something which I will probably live to regret, however I am quite prepared to reimburse Joburg Bar for the said glass and do not believe strongly in the notion of property or capitalism for that matter.
Anyway, I then grabbed Gael and we were exiting the premises, when Ed Young pulls this Clint Eastwood 'make my day' move and then acts as if he is the Bar manager. We are already out of the front door, when Young attempts to grab Gael and have the both of us arrested. There was a scuffle, I explained to the security guard outside that this was all nothing more than a racist incident, and we leave, feeling quite aggrieved, that:
Ed Young is not only acting in a patronizing manner, but is also throwing insults and pitching for a fight.
I am not about to become the reason why Ronald Suresh Roberts makes a come-back, getting even for his law case against the Sunday Times, which he lost outright.
As a result of the incident I moved my MOPP exhibition material (the pictures were assigned to the back of Joburg), to Katalyst in Observatory, since I feared the work would be damaged, and, also I was technically in the cooler.
Young has now started to editorialise about me on his Artthrob Diary, which may be misconstrued as the opinions of Artthrob as a whole, and in fact he is listed as 'new media editor'. This in and of itself is not all that surprising, and I am not objecting so much to the content (which I have refuted on my site) as to his use of profanity. In various statements, published by Artthrob, he calls me a 'fuckhead freak' and a 'knob'
'fuckhead freak David Robert Lewis attacks my friend'
'Lewis is a knob'
'This guy is just a knob and needs to speak to someone or be locked up.'
These words are highly defamatory and actionable under South African law. While I do not entirely agree with South African insult laws as they stand, I am forced to stand by a recent case that found the use of the word Bushman, for instance, was dependent upon the context used. Also there is a vast difference from reporting that so and so said x was a, to quote Young, supposedly quoting Gael, 'a fucking maniac' and calling a person a 'fuckhead', a 'knob' etc. as if these words are well-known facts and without any attempt to vary the meaning of the terms - criminal defamation as far as I am concerned.
While I find Ed Young's work pretty banal, his public persona is extremely offensive. In fact I am not the first person to comment that the combination borders upon hate speech. Carl Collison has already taken Young to task for his recent exhibition deploying the term: 'nigger' - 'Ed Young, a controversial artist, seems intent on making art out of racist offence and profanity, and of riling black people in particular.'
With issues such as 'context' and 'literary allusion' and 'irony' all too often lost, it is no wonder that people like Gael feel aggrieved when young students embark on a course of action that unleashes old wounds and strikes at sensitivities that are not only the result of apartheid, but the failure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to give effect to a legal framework that takes into account both the history of struggle, as well as the presence of a human rights culture dependent upon freedom of expression.
I am therefore stricken like a madman. Forced to entertain a neurosis that can see no difference between the word Nigger or Hottentot, Kaffir or Jew. In fact Suresh Roberts has become Ed Young, and Young is now desperately trying to morph into Robert Sloon. Whatever I have written on my blog, about Ed and the Church of Satan, happened the way it happened and I encourage you to read the ongoing saga and my refutation of the allegations made by Young. (http://davidroberttlewis.wordpress.com)
I also humbly request that you publish this letter, to give Artthrob readers a more balanced view in the light of Ed Young's recent editorial.
David Robert Lewis