Ronald Harrison, The Black Christ, oil on canvas, 1962.
Inspired by the 1961 Sharpeville massacre and the banning of Chief Albert Luthuli, this painting was completed in 1962. It challenged the apartheid system, as well as the notion that Christ was white. Chief Luthuli, then president of the outlawed African National Congress and recipient of the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize, is depicted as Christ and Dr H.F. Verwoerd, Prime Minister at the time, and Mr. B.J. Vorster, the then Minister of Justice, as Roman centurions. The work was first exhibited in 1962 at the Anglican Church of St Luke in Salt River, and was almost immediately described as blasphemous. The Board of Censors found that it was calculated to give offence to the religious convictions and feelings of a section of the population and it was prohibited from being exhibited in public. It was smuggled out of South Africa to Britain by anti-apartheid sympathizers, while the harassment of the artist, Ronald Harrison, by the security police intensified and included periods of detention. The Black Christ was exhibited in Britain and Europe for approximately four years, during which time it raised a considerable sum of money for the Defense and Aid movement. It then disappeared from public view and was stored in the basement of Julius Baker's home in London. Baker, a lawyer and owner of a bookstore in Johannesburg, had fled South Africa in 1961. Time went by and the painting was forgotten, until the artist - determined to recover his work - traced it through The Observer. On September 24th 1997, Heritage Day, Ronald Harrison traveled to London to receive the painting. It is now housed at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.