Many people have given the trip long-term support, and this is the opportunity to warmly thank them for their advice, help and making things possible: Joost Bosland (director Stevenson Gallery Cape Town), Pauline Burmann (African Art & Theory and director of the Thami Mnyele Foundation), Chiko Chazunguza (director Dzimbanhete Arts Interactive) and his team, Raphael Chikukwa (Chief curator National Art Gallery Zimbabwe), Jabulile Chinamasa (Conservation/Education officer at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo), Tandazani Dhlakamat (curator Zeitz Mocaa), Amy Ellenbogen (Curator Galleries & VIP Joburg Art Fair 2018), Barbara van Hellemond (Ambassador for The Netherlands in Zimbabwe), Georgina Maxim and Misheck Masamvu (directors of the Village Uhnu Crative Open Art Studio), Thato Mogotsi (freelance curator), Silenkosi Moyo (administrator and P.A. to the Regional Directorat the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo ), Gaudencia Muzambi-Hwenjere (Embassy of the Netherlands in Harare), Azu Nwagbogu (Chief curator Zeitz Mocaa) and the team at Zeitz Mocaa, Rooksana Omar (CEO of the Iziko Museums), Hayden Proud (Iziko Museums), Doreen Sibanda (director National Art Gallery Zimbabwe), Valerie Sithole (Curator National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare), Daniel Smit (Embassy of The Netherlands in Pretoria) and Claude van Wyk (Consulte of The Netherlands in Cape Town) and last but not least our driver in Harare and Bulawayo Mister Eddie.
Up until the last day (picture above: writing for the blog at Joburg Airport before departure) we have all tried to do our best to write for the blog. If you see mistakes please let us know so we can correct things.
The Gallery’s history dates back to 1970 at a time when local artists felt that they were increasingly isolated from the main institution in Harare. They lobbied and started their own gallery at what was then the Grand Hotel building. The National Gallery in Bulawayo attained its national status in 1994 when it moved to its current premises at Douslin House – a classic example of colonial Edwardian architecture. The Gallery operates under the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation and its permanent collection reflects the diversity of cultures and traditions which have contributed to the development of art in Zimbabwe ranging from traditional artifacts to modern paintings and sculpture.
Apart from pursuing excellence in the visual arts in Matabeleland and maintaining general outreach, the Gallery sees it as their mission to encourage, train and develop artistic skills – especially for emerging artists.
Stdio’s at Nationa Gallery Bulawayo
In the beautiful courtyard and sculpture garden one thus finds a great number of studios where local artists can be witnessed at work. The gallery also houses a research library as well as various workshop facilities. In other words, The Gallery is a dynamic – and very intriguing! – meeting point for artists, patrons and the community.
We were welcomed by Silenkosi Moyo – administrator and P.A. to the Regional Director – and Jabulile Chinamasa – Conservation/Education officer – who took us on a tour in the galleries, which hosted various exhibitions by resident artists (Talent Kapadza and Jeu Verbre) as well as a major group show with Zimbabwean artists curated by Raphael Chikukwa (Lost & Found – Resilience, Uncertainty, Expectations, Excitement & Hope) that interrogates the social and economic fabric in the country in light of its most recent political transition. From a certain perspective the show is indeed mourning Zimbabwe’s turbulent history, but it also seems to mark a turning point while reaffirming at the same time the position of the artist as the primary storyteller. “A new glimpse of hope for the healing of the nation and for moving forward” as one reads from Chikukwa’s curator’s statement.
Back: Valerie Sithole Front: Silenkosi Moyo
Afterwards we were also joined by Valerie Sithole (from The National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare), and Silenkosi and Jabulile provided generous information about the Gallery’s history and policies. A recurring theme was their emphasis on public programming, education and developing appreciation of the visual arts. Building partnerships is also very much on the agenda – both national and international, public and private as well as with NGOs. One of the serious challenges the Gallery is faced with is securing sufficient funds for conservation, acquisitions and operational costs, but loan fees and increased patronage from the private sector helps solve the problem to a certain extent. Furthermore, there is hope that recent developments in Zimbabwe’s administration will resuscitate the arts sector.
Farren van Wyk
Farren van Wyk
We then gathered with members of the artist community for a meet and greet which gave us an opportunity to learn more about their work. Also, the two artists in our group (Patricia and Farren) gave presentations. We were delighted that so many people showed up and shared their vision, which once again confirmed the tremendous generosity we’ve generally experienced on our trip, and it was only regretful that were not able to stay for long, but other appointments awaited.
How to experience the incredible art scene of Bulawayo in just one day? After the lively discussions at the National Gallery of Bulawayo with a full-packed room of local artists, Valerie planned for us a short but intense tour through various organizations, including three studio visits. Our first stop took us to the Arts & Crafts Center located in Mzilikazi, one of the oldest high density suburbs of Bulawayo. Established in 1963, the Mzilikazi Center is one of the oldest vocational arts and crafts institutions in the Southern part of Africa. Jabu tells us about the beginnings of formal art education in Zimbabwe and how it originated in the colonial era and in the context of the missionary schools founded by the Anglican church. Referring to Canon Paterson of the Cyrene Mission, Jabu tells us of the white Anglicans sympathizing with the black community through arts and music, installing a school within a black community in a time when they were not allowed to mix with the privileged whites. The Mzilikazi Arts & Crafts Center was not only built to foster professional art skills, but to empower unemployed school leavers and keep them off the street. Most of Bulawayo’s artists have since received their formal arts training at the Mzilikazi Arts & Crafts Center. Today the center functions under the municipal government of Bulawayo.
As opposed to the Bulawayo Polytechnic College, the center allows enrollment without academic qualification. Five disciplines are taught in a comprehensive 2-years training: fine arts (painting and drawing), commercial arts, ceramics, wood and stone sculpture, pottery and batik. Luckmore Muchenje, a former student and now a teacher for ceramics, guides us through the painting and drawing class, where we encounter a group of young students working with a wide range of techniques and motives. We move on to the pottery and ceramics class where two students demonstrate the crafting of pottery, their hands skillfully modeling the clay that is milled in their own school. After a six-weeks introduction into all disciplines, students can choose the discipline they want to specialize in. Mr. Muchenje tells us that fine arts is the most popular discipline.
Afterwards Mr. Ndiweni, who is in charge of the cleansing and selling of the ceramics products, takes us through the production spaces of the school as well as the school’s pottery shop. Whereas the products used to be marketed internationally, the arts industry has, like every other industry in Zimbabwe, been greatly affected by the country’s economic instabilities, and shifted more towards local markets. Mr. Ndiweni tells us that the pottery production is currently shut down for economic reasons with no funding to keep it running.
When I ask Luckmore Muchenje about the potentiality of adding a photography course to the curriculum, he tells me that even though there is great interest to include new media, the school currently has no funding for an expansion. Photography is still very absent in Zimbabwe’s art scene, in formal training and in actual practice. Most of the artists we encounter in Zimbabwe are painters and sculptors, among them Charles Bhebhe, who has exhibited at the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale , as well as Tafadzwa Gwetai and Neville Starling, one of the very few artists we have encountered that work with the medium of photography.
So how to even begin to write about all of these tensions we’ve encountered on our trip? After all, we’ve only been able to scratch the surface of how the colonial and apartheid regimes continue to influence todays social (and mental) fabric, with many questions marks also with respect to how (western) capitalism will shape the current transitions taking place in the art world and throughout. The complexity of these issues can hardly be understood after just two weeks – despite the intensity and richness granted by the incredible (and incredibly humbling) privilege of meeting and speaking to so many inspiring and dedicated people in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Harare and Bulawayo. All we know for sure is that many of the personal stories, social realities and repressed voices remain to be told, disseminated, analyzed and heard as counter-narratives to the dominant history of the white colonial settler.
Bulawayo in one day: part three or is it four?
Not to be missed if you are trying to do all the important art venues in Bulawayo is the ‘Bulawayo Home Industries’. Located opposite of the Mzilikazi Art & Craft Centre it is a place which facilitates women in making a living. In a country where women emancipation is not as far as one should hope for, the Bulawayo Home Industries is an inspiring place. Manager Miriam Ndlovu shows us the premises.
Women as well as other unemployed people can enter the space and learn traditional skills to make all kind of articles. These articles are for sale on the spot as well in other places in Bulawayo. Annually there is also the Sanganai/Hlanganani Fair, an exposition for tourists where the pieces are on display and for sail. Part of the price is commission fee for the artist who made the piece. And the good news is: the centre is accessible for the women without having to pay for the facilities. The funding for the institute is by the Bulawayo City Council.
Annually 300 women make use of the facilities and adapt skills as weaving with cotton, wool and ilala palm. They make products as baskets, sandals, floor mats, floor rugs etc etc. At the end of the tour the group of course was tempted to make an investment. So I think all of us bought some souvenirs. But please don’t make the mistake to underestimate the dynamics of the place.
Bulawayo Home Industries is not only empowering women and conserves the traditional arts & crafts techniques, it is also a hidden gem for artists who are inspired by those techniques. So if you are an artist who is lingering on for instance weaving techniques … you might go to the Textile Museum in Tilburg (the Netherlands) but one could also consider flying to this place. Make a financial commitment to the place and in turn learn al about local skills and their hidden heritage. For sure manger Miriam Ndlovu would welcome you . Curious? Send her an email : firstname.lastname@example.org.
And off we went to our next stop. Never thought Bulawayo was such an inspiring place to be.
Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions On Thursday 13 September we traveled from Harare to Bulawayo. After having moved in the ‘international way’, hopping from city to city, the upcoming six-hour bus drive would allow us to get a sense of distance and scale. This was well prepared for by an intense experience of space and place during our visit to Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions, located 25 kilometers outside of Harare. Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions (Dzimbanhete meaning “light footstep” in Shona, and according to our guide Jonathan Dube a quality you need to become a healer) was established in 2008 and has many facets.
Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions
The first is that it builds architectural structures of different African villages: huts from the Zulu, an ethnic group of South Africa, the Shona, an ethnic group of Zimbabwe, and for instance a Himba hut from the nomadic people of Namibia. In the photos you see the interior of a Shona hut with its clayed interior zones, stove and cupboards, each element in the space to be used or occupied by different groups within the community. The aim is to represent “Africa without borders” and to eventually have 54 African villages represented with its 155 structures (!). One could compare this endeavor to an open-air museum, like for instance the Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem, but better is its comparison with the Venice Biennial (thank you Helena) as the first connotes folklore, while the latter is more in line with the undertone of DAI’s activities, aiming to actively introduce indigenous approaches and methods in cultural practice. It’s about preserving but with an emphasis on collecting and offering a spectrum of typologies: founder, artist Chikonzero Chazunguza, refers to DAI as an arts and culture “resource center”.
Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions
The huts are also used to accommodate artists in residence, the second facet of DAI. It invites artists from the region, as well as international artists, to study, work and stay at the premises of DAI.
The third facet of DAI is that it offers mentoring projects, inviting young artists from Harare to use the workshops and available materials, and get feedback from DAI’s director and other (visiting) artists and curators. Chiko Chazunguza, founder and director of DAI, explains that he aims for a “mentoring in our own culture, introduce them to a thinking that is found in indigenous culture.” A big house, with a couple of rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, an exhibition space and a veranda, is the central gathering point, situated on a lawn surrounded by trees and rocks, and with several huts, workshops and an open-air kitchen plotted around.
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
About five kilometers from DAI, the collection of African domestic architectures finds a pendant in a collection of exhibition structures, the fourth facet of DAI. This collection is in progress, with a first pavilion realized. It is situated in a vast open field, designed by artist Rachel Monotov and produced by the CTG collective, an initiative of the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery based in New York. It is a concrete pavilion in the white cube tradition, with a big round window opening to the landscape, unpolished walls, and a wooden door. It is an elegant space (small scale and one room ground plan) with a robust touch (textured sturdy walls) protecting the art works from the impact of the elements (it reminds a little of Insel Hombroich). Chiko explains that the pavilion is financed by the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, that also curated the exhibition currently on show, outcome of a residency of the artists Xavier Robles de Medina, Andrea Abbatangelo (high chair), Felix Kinderman, Rani Bam, Caucine Gros, Rachel Monosov, Terrence Musekiwa (golf club snakes crawling in the sand around the pavilion) and Justin Orvis Steimer. The idea is that this is the first of more architectural structures to come, built and financed by external partners that can programme it as a branch of their institution and after a four-year lease hand it over to DAI. The pavilion is open during the opening, occasional live events, and upon request.
What made the visit impressive and made me introduce this report referring to the intense experience of space and place, was our introduction to the sacred space of the Nharira Cave located on DAIs premises. After a walk uphill on terrain covered by light green leaves with cocos scent, Jonathan led us to a space hidden by massive rock formations with 500-year-old paintings made by bushmen of the animals found in the area. During our visit, witnessed by a troop of Baboons, Jonathan, who’s healer name is Samaita, told us about the seven-day (no rest, no going home) rituals taking place in and around the cave, appeasing the spirits through offerings, drumming, clapping and singing. He explained us the principle of ancestors and guardian spirits: the ancestors, totems represented as animals, are in mother (left leg) and father (right leg) lineage and can’t quit you (parents), while the spirits can (friends).
On our way to and from the gallery pavilion, we passed the dwellings of local inhabitants, almost all working for either the adjacent Lion Cheetah Park or Snake World, both owned by Bristol. The whole area is under huge pressure: many Chinese corporations, Jonathan mentioned the number 26, have their eye on the area as it is rich with metals they would want to mine, meaning that the sacred rocks in their magnificent forms and formations would be destroyed. The pressure is huge as the new government is eager to get developers on board, but as Jonathan states: ”we don’t have a seed to grow another mountain.”
Catinca Tabucara Gallery CTG Harare/ Zimbabwe – A cool Art Space in the middle of nowhere, like a white cube gallery, but definitely different, meant to form precedent for collaborations with international high score galleries.
Chiko Chazunguza (the director of Dzimbanhete Art Interactive) followed us to the project Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, located in the countryside surrounded by bushland and small villages 3 km from Dzimbanhete.
The gallery, which is designed by artist Rachel Monosov, is the first step of a larger project.
It is co-founded by the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery in NY, a contemporary art gallery founded by the Romanian-born curator Catinca Tabacaru. The project is more than just a gallery, under the names CTG Collective and CTG (R), it includes a traveling art residency program initiated in collaboration with Dzimbanhete Art Interactive back in 2015. Through an Open Call artists from all over the world can apply. This year they had over 120 applications from artist from 40 different countries. Of these, 8 were selected to participate in the 1-month residency.
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
The current exhibition consists of works as a result of the residency – a group exhibition with the 8 artists; Xavier Robles de Medina, Andrea Abbatangelo, Felix Kindermann, Ranti Bam, Rachel Monosov, Terrence Musekiwa and Justin Orvis Steimer from respectively France, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Surinam, USA and Zimbabwe. The exhibition is open for the public every day, but I doubt that there will be that many visitors due to the far distance location. On the other hand, their events attract many visitors from the creative crowd around Harare. I don’t assume that reaching a large number of visitors has been an ambition, but instead to create a unique and prestigious project profiled as anchored in the local art scene. But as Chiko Chazunguza explained, the project is under continuous development. On a longer term the aim is to get more international galleries to follow, so that the area in the future will have several pavilions to create income and be able to buy the land and hopefully a get a more sustainable economy.
Up to Bulawayo – Hotel N1 After many hours of driving, some stops and even a road fire we arrive at our hotel in Bulawayo.
Gallery Delta, at the heart of Zimbabwe’s art world since 1975. Our first stop of the day is Gallery Delta. We are welcomed by the fantastic and hospitable Derek Huggins and Helen Lieros on the front porch of this idyllic ‘Robert Pauls’s Old House’, 110 Livingstone Avenue. The path towards the complex runs through the first part of the beautifully done sculpture garden in which Helen and Derek welcome us.
Derek Huggins and Helen Lieros
Gallery Delta, Harare
Helen Lieros introduces us to the vibrant history of the gallery filled with numerous collaborations and enthusiastic stories she had experienced since their establishment in 1975. In the forty-three year’s they’re running the place they didn’t only present a series of exhibitions and numerous public events (they hosted plays, poetry nights, music) but also educated a lot of students. A humble but passionate story packed with collaborations artists that studied there and now found their way into the canon of contemporary Zimbabwean art. But also stained by the difficulties the country has faced.
Helen, also practicing artist, understands better than anyone how you can help an artist to develop a practice. And of course what kind of assistance is needed in Harare with the slowly developing art scene in Zimbabwe and the continent.She works from an -in her words – ‘anti gallery system’ approach. A passionate, personal approach in which she does not draw up contracts with the artists, giving them a lot of freedom. The main reason to do this is to give every artist the freedom to exhibit where they want and to make their own choices along the way.
Right from the start Gallery Delta offered room for young, talented and aspiring African artists to explore the boundaries of creating. This gave a lot of artists over the year the freedom to step away from being traditional sculptors, the only art form that was populair at the start of the gallery, and focus on becoming painters. Something they found very important but a kind of practice that was non-existing since they didn’t have art schools in the country.All stoled under a personal preference. “I’m not interested in pretty pictures, I’m looking for innovative work.” Helen explains.
Now, over four decades later they have an amazing line of artists they’ve worked with and it’s save to say that the biggest chunk of the contemporary artists in Zimbabwe all were students at Delta, studying under Helen at one moment or another.
Which logically made the yearly exhibition of young artists a very big part of they program. Creating single handed a market for them and turning Gallery Delta into a real institution in Zimbabwe and I think even the entire continent. Since it’s inceptionover 360 artists studied there and many more showed works.
It’s not for nothing that they’ve been closely involved as advisors and in the development of Zeist Mocca’s catalog for the current exhibiton FIVE BHOBH. An exhibition of contemporary painting from Zimbabwe, featuring twenty-nine artists that all stept foot in the gallery.
Meeting Derek and Helen is truly humbling. And just walking through the gallery and sharing a Greek coffee with them on the porch only gives us a small idea of what happend. But it became very clear that the history is rich. I would have loved to stay there for hours, talking about their history.
First Floor Gallery Harare: Welcome to the Family Oddly enough, First Floor Gallery Harare (FFGH) is located on the second floor of a large office building. Business has been going well and the gallery recently moved from their 1st floor (tiny) front room to their current location which also houses a few artist studios and a huge terrace boasting impressive city views.
Valerie Kabov and Marcus Gora founded the not for profit trust space in 2009 as a response to the total lack of artist-run experimental spaces in Harare. They follow what they themselves coined an environmentally responsible model, meaning that they want to invest heavily in the local art scene, and bolster visibility of the Zimbabwean artists internationally as well as locally. Valerie also refers to the gallery and its artists as “the family” since they go above and beyond to support their artists and creating the circumstances for them to continue working, be it by helping them out with paperwork, providing studiospaces, or even taking them or their family members to the hospital. It’s also a way to involving the bigger support structures of the artist (parents, spouses, friends, children) and growing the local audience.
They pride themselves on not being a UFO but instead are looking at the cultural imperatives on the ground. The challenges are plentiful in Harare, and artist are lacking funds and access to materials, decent art education and technical skills. But even though the artistic community might be cash poor, they are resource rich and FFGH and their artists are getting things done through collaboration, trading and asking senior artists to coach the younger ones.
With a fierce objective to accelerate this whole process, they developed two programs for kickstarting young artists’ careers. The first one being a three week, by invitation only, bootcamp residency for emerging artists from all over the continent. This fully funded immersive experience pushes the artists to get out of their comfort zone and freely explore the boundaries of their chosen medium. At the end of the bootcamp, the work is presented in the gallery. The second program involves FFGH’s own artists (all of whom are under 30!) who are regularly invited to present solo exhibitons, with the aim of propelling their practice and speeding up their development as artists.
It’s a far cry from the increasing urgency in the West to slow down and look for the more sustainable approach to developing an artistic practice. But in an environment where even the basic standards of arts education are not upheld one wonders if in fact FFGH is not onto something.
FFGH’s need to experiment is imperative and they are consciously staying away from Western funding, which is almost always ideologically conditioned and usually comes with strings attached, to avoid compromising their independence. Under these circumstances it took them about 8 years to become economically sustainable. Only five years ago they were the first ever Zimbabwean gallery at Berliner Liste and they’ve been doing well on the international art fair circuit since.
They are hopeful that the change of regime will attract more international visitors and curators and with their new space and ambitious program they are ready to accelerate.
Studio visit Portia Zvavahera After our visit to First Floor Gallery we drive with our wonderful chauffeur Eddie to the outskirts of Harare. The urban landscape is changing in a rural area. New homes are being built with a barbed wire fences.
Our driver: Eddie
Why? I wonder, because the road is not easy going and as a potential thief you have to endure quite a lot of pits to get away with your loot. In addition to the large houses, small shacks are scattered here and there. Children in school uniforms wave and smile happily at us. Women in colorful clothes with their children tied behind their backs look surprised. Followed by a big smile showing their beautiful white teeth and they wave back. The landscape is arid with here and there a tree of which the blossom in exuberant colors purple and red does its best to contrast in the yellow arid landscape.
Halfway up a golden sand road Portia Zavahera is waiting for us in her shiny red pick-up. She is the artist we are going to visit in her studio. Immediately a part of our group wants to leave the stuffy van to sit in the back of the pick up and feel the wind through the hair and the sun on their skin. The landscape has changed. Large granite boulders are scattered in the arid landscape. We wonder if this is the same material from which the sculptures were standing in front of the National Gallery of Harare, which we visited a day before. The pits become deeper and the road becomes more impassable. We look at some of our colleagues who shoot up one by one in the back trunk like little pull puppets.
We arrive at a beautiful large house built from granite stones of the area with a thatched roof. In the yard are beautiful sculptures carved from the boulders that we saw on the way. Everything radiates peace and harmony. Portia opens the door to her studio and in choir we release a sigh of admiration.
The studio is very spacious and cool. Works in progress are hanging on the wall. Portia is a gentle shy woman. the conversation starts cautiously and I suspect it is because a group of 14 people in jolly voices are invading a place where peace and harmony predominate. Then the energy has to find a place. And it happens too. Soon there is a silence and I feel the peace descend into the group.
Portia is currently working on new works for 2 shows in Joburg and San Francisco respectively.
Portia is inspired by her dreams. She makes sketches of her dreams as a starting point for the further elaboration of her paintings. She works entirely from her emotions and intuition. Her work is literally built up in layers. She designs her own templates which she stipples in her work. This refers to fabrics that are decorated by women of her culture, through traditional block prints. Religion is an important aspect in her work. She believes that God gives her messages through her dreams. In her sleep she deeply connects to Him. I have rarely seen a person so much in balance with herself and her surroundings.
Portia loosens up and starts to talk more and more enthusiastically about her work and her sources of inspiration. She explains the importance of Totems in her culture. Everyone has a totem which represents an animal. The animal symbolizes a character trait. As a person you can not eat your own totem and you can not marry into the same totem. This is to keep the bloodline clean. The totem is passed on via the father line. Portia is an Elk that symbolizes hard work, but also prostitution. She giggles softly when she says that.
That she is a hard working mother of two beautiful children is clear. Success gives her the freedom to purchase materials and mix her colors. That is a luxury because many artists in Zimbabwe can not afford to buy expensive paints and colors and therefore depend on cheap synthetic acrylic paint in screaming colors that barely mix. On the kitchen counter stands a bottle in containing bright orange liquid, representing orange juice. Annet enthusiastically starts filling up glasses and some of us drink thirsty. Portia turns around and starts to laugh. It turns out that the the content needs to be diluted with water. We all laugh hilariously and the last remaining reserves disappears like snow in the sun.
Together we drive back to our next appointment on our way to Unhu gallery.
Zimbabwe has stolen my heart. Artists who, despite the limited infrastructure with so much creativity and few resources get so much done. Goethe once wrote that in the limitation the mester is recognized. I have already encountered many potential ‘masters’.
Portia says that she is happy and grateful voor everything in her life. She is a living example of living a life in love peace and harmony.
Village Uhnu Creative open art studio After riding on a jeep’s trunk from Portia Zvavahera’s studio in the countryside nearby Harare, we arrive at the so-called Village Uhnu. Just moving in to their new place, in a residential house of Harare, this art space run by Misheck Masamvu(successful artist represented by the Goodman Gallery in South Africa) and Georgina Maxim (his wife) feels like home. They are using the place to host exhibitions, as well as workshops, art lessons, residencies (and as a participation, the artists invited have to give one of their work in return to support the open art studio as well) and Misheck’s studio as long as he doesn’t need “another place to finish the paintings, with another light and another environment”. In the future, they also want to invest the garden, which is now hosting a container hanging on an iron structure. The idea is to build a terrace, a library, a studio, and a bar, making the place even more friendly and welcoming for artist to experiment and visitors to discover artworks. Regarding to the specific artistic landscape of the city of Harare, and the well-respected work the Delta Gallery is aiming, Village Uhnu intends to be an additional art space and wants to push the artists on more experimental projects and hangings. “Helena and Dereck are the foundation of all the artists in the country” they say (about Delta’s directors), whilst with Uhnu they want to extend the possibilities of experimentation in the area.
Georgina Maxim and Misheck Msamvu, directors of the Village Uhnu Crative Open Art Studio.
After the warmest welcome and around a delicious meal shared together, we discover the practice of Tawanda Takura, Evans Tinashe Mutenga and Epheas Maposa who we also have the chance to meet and talk to. When the first one uses trash (especially cigarette butts) and found objects from the street to build figurative sculptures, the second creates aleatory paintings on carton superimposing them and then snatching the multiples layers. The third, Epheas, uses the canvas as a way to condense several elements of the condition of life in Zimbabwe, and the composition of the paintings is particularly balanced. Feeling the atmosphere of Harare, and also the lack of facilities for the artists to be able to work, one can also relate these works to this specific context. Found objects reveals their poetic meaning, while an iconoclastic approach reminds of the publicity or propaganda imposed in the streets, and of gestures of vandalism being badly seen.
Village Uhnu depends mostly on selling the artworks of the artists they present, and the directors invest all their energy and dedication to be able to propose this space as an experimental place for the artists who want to benefit from it.
“Philosophically, the term Hunhu or Ubuntu emphasizes the importance of a group or community. The term finds a clear expression in the Nguni/Ndebele phrase: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons)”. Misheck and Georgina, trying to distant themselves from the indivual approach in the artfield, definitely are building a community of solidarity in the arts around their place, and hopefully will acquire the building in the future.
At the very day that an exhibition with 29 contemporary artists from Zimbabwe opens at Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, we visit Zimbabwe’s National Gallery in Harare. Chief curator Raphael Chikukwa is not only responsible for exhibitions here, but also founding curator of the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennial. He explains how his success in raising international funds for the first edition in 2011, provided the leverage to convince the government to launch the pavilion. It is evident from his stories that he has been a true ambassador for Zimbabwean art. Exhibiting at the Venice Biennial pavilion has been a turning point in the careers of artists such as Portia Zvavahera and Charles Bhebe.
The National Gallery does not only engage with contemporary art but holds a collection that runs from Chris Offili back to the 17th century, stored and presented across three venues, in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare. Significant historical donations were made by British textile magnate Stephen Courtauld (who spent the last 15 years of his life in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe), including works by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Lucas van Leyden and many other key figures in European art history. But the majority of the collection involves art from Zimbabwe since the Gallery’s establishment in 1957. Raphael strives to make the museum as “a living organism”, rather than a depository, where curators and artists interact with the collections and bring them alive through exhibitions as well as collection mobility.
The National Gallery has two exhibitions on display, which each deserve special mention. One is the exhibition ‘The Equalities of Women’, which was assembled after an open call to women artists from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria for works addressing the position and experiences of women in society today. The exhibition includes powerful and gripping works, which touch on topics ranging from motherhood to what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated context. Over the days in Harare, this proves to be an urgent topic that comes back again and again. The open call principle is a fruitful tool to reach out to more established artists such as Portia Zvavahera, as well as less-know and younger artists, even students. Olivia Botha, for example, presents an impressive installation with textile and bloodlike liquid, in response to the illegality of abortion and its consequences for women’s lives.
Doris Kamupira shows us her installation ‘I Will Be Late for Work’. With a fashionable handbag and pair of shoes on a bedding made of sweeping brooms her work points to growing class divisions: as some women manage to enter the middle class and can afford a life with personal luxuries, the simple fact that they now do their domestic work with vacuum cleaners means that women who earn a minimal income by making simple wicker brooms are increasingly deprived of their livelihood. What if the growth of one group of women is to the detriment of others?
The participating artists we encounter at the opening, and later in Bulawayo, are very happy to be part of this all-women exhibition where they can give these topics visibility collectively.
The second exhibition, entitled ‘Meeting of Minds’ features Zimbabwean artists related to the Netherlands. Our visit was seized by both the museum directorship and the Dutch ambassador in Zimbabwe, Barbara van Hellemond, as a strategic opportunity to highlight international connection and collaboration. Having the directors of the Dutch and Danish national funds for the visual arts present at the opening of the show, sends a diplomatic message to the government that art and museums are worthy of public support.
The exhibition features Zimbabwean Rijksacademie alumni Patrick Makumbe, Admire Kamudzengerere and Gareth Nyandoro (who still lives between Harare and Amsterdam), as well as artists Terrence Musekiwa and Option Nyahunzvi who participated in the Thamy Mnyele Foundation residency in Amsterdam. It is great to see their works, but also great to see Pauline Burmann’s Thamy Mnyele Foundation acclaimed for the role it plays in fostering the careers of African artists, something which is well-known on the African continent and internationally, but often remains undervalued in the Netherlands.
A third point of connection is Tengenenge (‘the beginning of the beginning’), an artists’ community initiated in the 1960s by Tom Blomefield, a tobacco farmer from Dutch/South-African descent, who turned his land into a sculpture farm. With the help of artist Crispen Chakanyuka, Blomefield encouraged his workers to make sculptures with the stone deposits on his land. Tengenenge continues to thrive, allowing artists with and without previous training to develop a practice and use the village as an open-air gallery and as a home for their families.
Tengenege sculptures became renowned, and the village is now hub for artists interested in stone sculpture from all over the world, as well as a popular tourist attraction. ‘Meeting of Minds’ features works by Josi Manzi, Kilala Malola, Amai Manzi, Sylvester Mubayi and Paulo Meza.
With their collection and exhibitions, the National Gallery deserves a larger audience than it is receiving now. The audience mainly exists of other artists, tourists, and school children. Others we meet in Harare confirm that music and poetry are popular art forms, but that Zimbabweans have a troubled relationship with the visual arts and museums. Raphael sketches in no uncertain words why this is the case. Historically, art museums were colonial institutions (this museum opened in 1957 as the National Gallery of Rhodesia) and a no-go area for black people. Signs on the building said: ‘no blacks, no dogs’. Museums still suffer from that colonial legacy today.
To build new audiences, and help build an art scene, education plays an important role in the museum. Not only does the museum reach out to schools, but it also provides talented youngsters with primary art education. Since there are no independent or university related official art schools in Harare, the National Gallery has taken over part of this role, with financial support from HIVOS and the Norwegian government. The entwinement of the Gallery with young talent ensures that the institution can help artists convince their families that being an artist is a respectable profession, offer them a platform with a grad show and other exhibitions, and connect them with other practitioners and professional contacts. Many go on to develop their artistic voice at Delta or Village Unhu (see elsewhere in this blog). Some also come back for further support: when Portia was selected for the Venice Biennial, for example, she was given the museum’s meeting room as a studio, so she could produce new works at a scale her own limited means at the time would not have allowed. The Gallery thus encompasses much more than what the European understanding of the term ‘museum’ would suggest and plays multiple key roles in fostering art in Harare.
Njelele Art Station
Njelele Art Station is an independent project space that focuses on contemporary, experimental and public art run by Dana Whabira and her team. The name Njelele is based on a sacred shrine in Zimbabwe and it is located in one of the oldest streets in the city of Harare. Next to engaging with local artists in the neighbour-hood, international artists can also apply for a residency.
Nancy Mteki is a Zimbabwean artist who collaborated with Njelele on her project ‘Looking for Love’. Nancy dressed herself in a wedding dress and asked a couple of men in the streets to marry her. By doing this, Nancy was reacting to the male dominance in the street in a most direct engagement. She had beautiful reactions from the people interacting with her during this project and everybody wanted to have their picture taken with Nancy.
Joyce Jenje Makwenda is an archivist-historian, researcher and author. Joyce participated in the Njelele residency exchange programme. With the help of Njelele, Joyce published various books about the influence of Township Jazz music in her hometown.
Farren van Wijk
Motor Republic Hub Moto Republic is a space dedicated to the practice of diverse creatives that have as their shared aim, speaking truth to power. It is a cultural activist organization that promotes freedom of expression via different platforms: youth activism, music and satire, tv program’s, new media conferences, and festivals. Next to traditional funding, they finance their activities through outsourcing the expertise in house, for instance assisting in making music video clips, and hiring out their venue.
One of the platforms is Magamba TV (magamba means heroes) that provides social commentary and satire in the form of online video reports spread on social media. In a country where there is only one national TV broadcast that is connected to the state that governs all outings, Magamba TV wants to contribute to an alternative narrative. One member of Magamba TV shows us a sketch with a man seen from the back impersonating Mnangagwa (to recognize by his trademark scarf) who is in the process of selecting his ministers for the cabinet who all turn out to be friends. During the previous government one would be arrested for this kind of work, even a re-tweet could be enough.
The current government allows for more freedom, but it is still risky as the government can force social media blackouts or even arrest people at home. As a means of protection, their strategy is to put as much content online as they can, and be as public as possible, so in case things happen international media and the public are aware of it. The fact that they are ‘watched’ became overtly clear last year, when one of the buildings they are in, constructed out of sea containers, on higher order of Harare officials was tried to be demolished. Because the community demonstrated, the city managed to tear down only the 3rd layer as after the “save Moto Republic’ action they pulled back.
Bus stop TV is another, and according to our guide, most disruptive and popular (the Bus stop TV team members are “celebs”) online platform making satirical programs. Here the focus is on featuring events or topics that are taboo, through documentary stories interviewing citizens. Bus stop TV wants to create a platform for every day struggles, create a dialogue, get people’s opinion as they otherwise don’t get their voice heard.
Another initiative is Citizens Manifesto that aims for bringing citizens together and feed them with ideas how to create movements so they can have more impact. When we visit, a member of Citizens Manifesto is busy wrapping cards with USB sticks containing instructions for how to build a movement: they will be handed out for free, a physical and untraceable way of distribution.
The effect of these on- and offline activities is big: they have millions of followers both in the country but far more international. During the last elections youth contributed to the highest vote registration and also the Facebook and YouTube statistics show that there is a big group of diaspora followers.
Magical performance by William Kentridge and his team This morning we set out for our last meeting in Johannesburg before we fly to Harare (Zimbabwe). We are heading for The Center for the Less Good Idea. As is often the case in Joburg, the street decor is constantly changing. One moment we drive through a rough-looking neighborhood. Then the van takes a turn and you are suddenly in a different world. A world of refurbished old factory halls and stylishly decorated cafes where people sit online behind their laptop. In short, comfortable locations but you can find them anywhere in the world.
The Center for the Less Good Idea is located in Maboneng Precinct, in the eastern part of the city; a neighborhood where gentrification has created not only places for artists but also hipster spots for coffee and food.
Bronwyn Lace is visibly busy but receives us friendly and efficient. Great is the surprise when the founding father of this place appears on the scene: William Kentridge. Both tell about the identity of the venue. The Center is in fact the ideal playground for artists and curators. Or as the website says: ‘an interdisciplinary incubator space for art’.
The beautiful name of the institution is a reference to the idea behind the original plan. Lace: “The less good idea is not a bad idea, but the idea behind the initial plan, the idea peripheral to it”. Artists must submit plans and account in the regular system for financing their work. There is little time in that system for the experiment and certainly too little room to deviate from the submitted plan if the process requires it. While very interesting things can happen there. Once again Lace: “This is a safe place for artists to fail; failure is a thing which is very important “. And Kentridge adds: “… giving the impulse the benefit of the doubt and what happens; that is in the core of this center “.
The center has a number of studios where artists from different disciplines work together for a period, learn from each other and make discoveries. Their is no open call; an artist must be invited. The period of research is finished with a final presentation. “To put some pressure on them” says Kentridge. The interdisciplinary nature of the institution is evident. Only this morning we meet visual coasters, a puppeteer, dancers (urban and classical educated), musicians (jazz and classical educated) and spoken word performer.
We are welcome in the studio of Gerard Marx. Under his hands a car has been reconstructed into a sculpture. Using electronics, ‘the car’ has been transformed into an instrument with, for example, the doors as sound boxes for strings. Marx is curious about the performative quality of musicians; to the relationship between looking and hearing. Today is the first time that the sound that is ‘captured’ in the instrument is discovered during an improvisation; with our group as an audience. After a few ‘knor, beeps, scratch’ sounds, some time later, the electronic potpouri creates a certain rhythm and a harmonious sound. A blessing for the ears.
But also exciting to experience how that moment arose from the improvisation of the musicians. Then we are treated to a short but powerful performance by an actor who, through an intervention by the director, sees his physical space limited to a round moving disc with a diameter of 1.5 m. And last but not least we see the pianist with the monkey, actually the collaboration between a classically trained pianist and a puppeteer.
The biggest surprise is yet to come: a gig has been arranged for us in the large hall of the complex. Kentridge was inspired by the Ursonate by the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. We hang on his lips while he recites this aburdist text from 1932 with a beautiful diction and at the same time look at the parallel video projection. The ensemble is addressed in that part of the Ursonate where improvisation is prescribed. An explosion of sound, image and movement follows. The whole is certainly not inferior to the original performance, it is at the same time disruptive and moving.
Another moving conclusion is the knowledge that Kentridge is the financier of this beautiful place. In a country with few public funds for the arts and private financiers that seem to be more likely to go for ‘ power’ institutions that generate international visibility, Kentridge supports the experiment and the artists. The Center for the Less Good Idea is therefore unique and exemplary. How beautiful would it be if there were such playgrounds in other places in the world?
On the way to Harare After this amazing visit to the Center for the Less Good Idea the bus takes to the airport and we are on our way to Harare (Zimbabwe).
VANSA (Visual Arts Network of South Africa) is a support and development agency for contemporary arts practice in South Africa. It operates as a network of artists with over 8000 members; membership costs the equivalent of one euro. The urgency of VANSA’s activities is outlined by its new director Kabelo Malatsie (who has worked as a curator in both independent and commercial contexts, and has explored alternative funding and institutional models that are rooted in their viability in the South-African context). There is a lack of independent, public institutions for the arts in South Africa; and where public infrastructure for the arts fails, she says, it fails the artists. Yes, there is a growing commercial arts scene, with galleries and private museums; and yes, a group of South-African artists features prominently on the world stage of biennials and fairs. But behind this story of success and glamour, hides a structure that is structurally not supportive and often exploitative, whether deliberately or not. VANSA aims to look beyond the few dominant players, and beyond discussions about which artists are good, which themes are popular, and which critical debates are given a symbolic stage, to advocate structures across the entire field of art that are more fair and safe.
An important tool is VANSA’s website, which is a resource for information about resources, funding and job opportunities, residencies, internships, and networks. VANSA also offers legal advice, about contracts, copyright issues, collectors who fail to pay for their acquisitions within reasonable time. VANSA also lobbies with governments and institutions, for example for artist’s fees and resale rights.
The kind of fair practice VANSA advocates, is an issue everywhere. But the predicament of the majority of South African and other African artists, Kabelo explains, is extra harsh because of the massive gaps between the international ‘scramble’ for African contemporary art, and the real material conditions behind the scene, which tend to remain unspoken. Discursive programming and supposed criticality are part of every biennial, exhibition, even commercial gallery show these days. But we don’t talk about the artists who did not make it to the selection because they could not afford to travel abroad. We don’t talk about the artists who did not manage to meet the international curator in their own town because they could not afford to front the taxi fare and fancy latte macchiato for a vague ‘get together’ with no clear purpose or intended outcome. Kabelo’s examples are confronting, because they are so very recognizable, and they also implicate all arts professionals engaging with (South)African artists, including ourselves.
In order to help build opportunities and equity across the country, one of VANSA’s focus is to support independent practice outside of the main city centres, fostering diverse local opportunities and networks, so artists are less pressured to relocate to the urban centres where their chances at a career and at a life are actually not necessarily better. At the same time, VANSA is part of an international network of independent arts organisations, like KUNCI Cultural Studies Center in Yogyakarta (Indonesia) and lugar a dudas in Cali (Colombia), which share knowledge and exchange strategies.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Today we went to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, a beautiful building from 1915, surrounded by a sculpture park. If you search for JAG – Johannesburg Art Gallery on Wikipedia, you’ll read this: ”The Johannesburg Art Gallery is an art gallery in Joubert Park in the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is the largest gallery on the subcontinent with a collection that is larger than that of the Iziko South African National Art Gallery in Cape Town”.
Unfortunately it was not the experience we had (or I had). It seems that a large part of the museum was closed down. Only a very small selection of the collection was on display, almost hidden away in the lower floor. However, there were some very good works, e.g several photo series by David Goldblatt, one called “Going home” or “Going to work”, featuring the time the black working class spent every day on busses between home and work. And a painting by Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi, which we saw at the Noval Foundation, tiled “Modern Marriage” (1988-1989). In an additional exhibition space a small collection of heritage items from the KwaZulu-Natal region from 19th and early 20th century (a collection acquired in 2013) were shown. It didn’t catch my full attention, which may as well be because of my state of mind and the limited time.
But impressively, they had this very beautifully installed comprehensive solo presentation titled “Fragile” by Wolfgang Tillman on display. Even though you may have seen a lot of him during the last twenty years, it still works. The on-going concern with issues about intimacy, relations and minority community, seems as relevant as always. The well balanced shift from close-ups and small details to depictions of situations from everyday life and communities. The characteristic way to compose the layout of his works and the way you, as a viewer or recipient, have to shift position watching the images. Sometimes you have to go really close to see the motive and then step back to get the needed distance to capture the content of the big scale photos, and then again kneel down to get close enough to se the small snapshot-like photos.
We were supposed to meet with the director Khwezi Gule, but unfortunately he didn’t show up, being too busy with the JoburgArtFair and the Art Week. A pity because it could have been very interesting to hear something about future plans and hopes for the museum. We heard that he was newly appointed and therefore must have a lot of ideas of what’s to be done. It was clear that the whole building needed restoration. Already from the outside it looked dilapidated. Of course, to finance such a massive renovation project and to build up a sustainable economy must be the biggest challenge. I wish him all the best of luck. There really is a potential to create a great institution.
In Good Company
Our final night in Joburg is spent in good company. In Troyeville Hotel, located in one of the eldest suburbs on the eastern edge of Johannesburg, we are having an informal dinner with a few local artists and curators, some of whom we’ve met in the previous days.
Thato Mogotsi, who was instrumental in getting the whole crowd together, in the grey hoodie, is an independant curator and researcher, a teacher at the Market Photo Workshop and currently in the process of obtaining her masters’ at Wits University.
We also spoke to Molemo Moiloa, to Thato’s left, the founder of Vansa, and a member of the artist collective “MADEYOULOOK”.
Speaking to Anders Gaardboe Jensen is Rangoato Hlasane, an artist and scholar and a founding member of Keleketla! Library, a space that addresses issues of heritage and the danger of one story. Instead, it proposes to be a place where multiple stories and multiple narratives can exist parallel in order to challenge dominant narratives. Keleketla! Library was also part of the last Berlin Biennial.
We also spoke to Thenjiwe Nkosi (front left), a South African/Greek artist based in New York. In her work she deals with the questions second generation exiles face. Victoria Wigzell (back left) is an artist and researcher who recently started an artist run film production company called News From Home. Chlöe Hugo-Hamman, seated in the back right, is an actress and artist working in mixed media. She’s talking to Jamal Nxedlana whom we’ve met the day before at Bubblegum Club.
Seated between Rangoato Hlasane and Frederique Bergholtz is Minenkulu Ngoyi, an artist and founding member of the print collective Alphabet Zoo, affiliated with Danger Gevaar Ingozi. Anna Rubbens is seated on the right. We bumped into her at Stevenson gallery and it turned out she was a recent animation graduate from LUCA Ghent travelling in South Africa. So we invited her to join the program for two days.