Sunday, 15 August 2010

Zimbabwean Art by Stephen Garanan'ga

Zimbabwean Art Legacy Firmly Secure 

By Stephen Garanan'ga

The country's art legacy is truly secure in the custodianship of the current crop of the young and upcoming artists who never seize to amaze when it comes to creativity.

They have the nerve and conviction to uphold the international success and legendary excellence of executing the reputation that the country's modern art has been riding on  long before donkeys lost their horns.

Football Fans by Ita Vangani | Acrylic On Canvas

Football Fans by Itai Vangani | Acrylic On Canvas

It has since continued to be a thread of inspiration invested in today's young master practitioners who undoubtedly are highly alert that dismounting is not an option. The high recommendations that one hears from across continents where Zimbabwean artists have graced is incredible. In Zimbabwe art is very serious, it is survival, it is a career of choice that allows what is inside to rise to the surface and what is felt to be revealed.

Making a work of art should be something the artists want and are compelled to do, something which can be done in "that uncertain time before the morning" when blood sugar and the conscious mind are at their lowest ebb. Among young visual artists the current common phrase is "ari sei mabasa", a widely spoken national Zezuru language translation meaning; " how's work and life in these torrid times?" - a concession to the economic times in which we live. Their artworks being made through dire necessity have much to say and create a direct link between art and contemporary Zimbabwean society. The young artists offer a gritty face to issues that are bursting out to be heard, be they social, political, aesthetic or economic. They are streetwise witnesses to our time and ask us to introspect and face realities affecting us. Their work will be used as a point of reference in the future to tell Zimbabwe’s story through the artists’ eyes. For years art has played an integral part in creating harmony and encouraging reflections on social identity.

Today, we live in an environment of career moves, options, choices, but we also realize we are only  one of many for any opportunity around. Solid grounds have given way to shifting sand, companies come and go like ships in the night. So many people run their offices ‘on the move’ through their cell phones, in the internet cafes, even on the streets. There is something reassuring about art materials, which in stable marriage with the mind can become an imposing sculpture, a painting or a mixed media which can sell, and allow us to earn at least a little bit - a small portion of our living. So rather than a vocation, or something to whittle away the time, in Zimbabwe, art is a conscious career choice, a career path without the bumps and pitfalls and roadblocks of more orthodox career choices bound up with pieces of paper, caps and gowns, certificates, small bronze statue, redundancy packages and letters saying ‘sorry, the job is taken’.

Stuborn by Mambakwedza Mutasa

A few tonnes of stone or scrap metal, paints and canvases or various other materials give the artists ‘tenure’ for a couple of years, the cost of an e-mail attracts the overseas market, and one does not need a diploma to prove one is a good artist.

What do works of art lead to? The young artists might be lured away from what is on the ground for the successful artists, a steady income, a steady job, a creative and fulfilling life by dreams and high flying schemes of travels and fame and fortune. Many are called and few are chosen.
What one needs to do is to limber up the creative imagination, train the mind to work with the various art materials to generate ideas and, train the mind to observe what is taking place in the immediate environment. It is equally important to nurture the eye to appreciate the beauties of nature, and exert the brain to recall a cultural heritage, full fathoms five deep with spiritual associations, a cultural heritage with unwritten rules about family and marriage, and the harmonious and conciliatory operation of society.

Not all climes where artworks go are sunny. An artist may find himself in the everlasting dark of a Nordic winter, borne down by layers of clothing, lips chapped by biting wind, hacking away at granite with chilblained hands. Artists themselves are opening studios and "arts centers" so that young artists can benefit from less formal more hands on training. Young artists who travel do not do so "on spec" so that they end up washing dishes, the elderly or the dog, and return home with nothing. Young artists who travel give workshops, attend exhibitions, meet other artists, and come home with more abilities, more social skills than they had before they left home. In Zimbabwe today the arts are the young persons oyster and many young people choose carefully - and choose the arts even if they are not 'called' to the arts as a profession.

The arts are now a respectable profession and collectively speaking they are an industry and a rapidly growing industry at that, gathering all sorts of professional sectors into their thrall. 
Closer to home the young artists are running havoc in both private and national exhibiting spaces, cementing their young custodianship of the country's art future. In a three month long national group exhibition opened in May 2010 titled "Live 'n' Direct", more than 80% of art pieces on the audacious contemporary art show were masterminded by the young creative minds.
The first and second prizes rewarded to artists for their outstanding artworks on the adjudicated exhibition were scooped by the young blood, Gareth Nyandoro and Misheck Masamvu respectively.
Gareth Nyandoro is a young tenacious mixed media specialist who appears to be on a critical lookout timelessly when he is on his errands. He is highly alert of his materials that seem to scatter all over the cityscapes. His pieces mostly are wired, tied with fish-line, silk, thread, nailed and sometimes glued on aged highly rusted and rotting metal objects and discarded timber. Strips of split electrical cables and discarded fragments of technology too assist in his constructions.

Untitled by Mercy Moyo  

Misheck Masamvu is an abstract painter whose work is first and foremost about the use of paint, about giving paint its reign, allowing paint to be part of the process of painting, to almost have its own ideas about what it wants to do and where it wants to go. Other recently held outstanding art exhibitions by the future major artists include respective solo shows by painters Admire Kamudzengerere at Gallery Delta Foundation for the arts and humanities, Tonely Ngwenya at Richard Rennie Gallery, Percy Manyonga at the Doon Estate Gallery, an exhibition celebrating the art of print-making at Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions and the list is endless.

Internationally, from Cerncice Gallery in the Czech Republic to Korea Foundation Cultural Center in Soeul, The Republic of Korea amongst other numerous places across continents, the story about the greatness of Zimbabwean fine-art is like an extract from the same book. In rural Zimbabwe where majority of the young artists are stone sculptors, the day starts with sculpture rather than the bus to go to the city and pay the rent. For a bath take fresh stream water - not tub, for breakfast take fruits not bread and tea. For material read raw stone, not what's in the trash can and the pailings falling off the back fence. For buyers forget e-mail, wait for the 4x4 to drive up the dirt road. The family is not a single mother or father coping with the kids but an extended family, the grandmother making her pots and the old men talking the day away under a tree.

The rural sculptors get their stones first-hand from the mine rather than off another sculptor's truck the left-overs of the deal. They get time to know the shape and textures of a stone, rather than "make do" with a stone they are uncertain of. In these bush settings, sculptors do not sculpt in a back yard filled with empty bottles, take away left-overs and playing children. Each sculptor has their own "little acre" - their personal and professional space. As these sculptors lock their cell phones, restore the sanctity to their marriages and browse the raw stones at length, sculpting becomes a way of life, to be pursued when sales are not there. That's the mind set of today's young generation of contemporary artists who are to jealously guard the legacy that has been left behind by their old masters.

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