June 1, 2017
HARARE, ZIMBABWE — A deep semblance of Zimbabwean culture, tradition, social beliefs and way of life is expressed explicitly through art. With every artwork, creativity is a key element to ensure that the artwork’s message is plainly conveyed, but with some art pieces, only the artist can decipher the meaning.
Zimbabwe has a vibrant art sector that targets both tourists and local people. For art enthusiasts visiting Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, the National Gallery is one way to take in the talents of the nation’s artists. But, the artists who sell their works street-side are not to be overlooked.
Granite stone, ceramic, metal, beads, fizzy drink cans and wood are some of the materials used to make artwork found in Harare art centers.
A chain from an old bicycle and an axle, useless pieces of metal, are creatively put together to make a work of art that imitates a bird.
“Every art piece has a meaning attached to it,” says Elvis Demba, an artist who sells his work at Shandai Pamwe Avondale Arts and Crafts Center where a group of artists sell their pieces outside at Avondale shops, 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) from Harare’s city center.
Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe
Most of Demba’s work is inspired by the natural surroundings in Zimbabwe, including natural resources, economic conditions, the institution of marriage and the importance of family, Demba says.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe, the center of recognition of Zimbabwean artists in the world, has been in existence for almost 60 years.
The gallery is devoted both to the presentation of contemporary art and to the preservation of Zimbabwe’s visual heritage. It’s also home to a collection of paintings, masks, images and sculptures, both ancient and modern, from across the continent.
The arts and crafts industry not only provides income opportunities for groups which have access to resources, but also offers employment opportunities for many economically disadvantaged people. Yet, there is an increase in the number of visual artists in Zimbabwe who sell their work outside art galleries as a way of creating employment for themselves.
Tawanda Chipiri, an artist, creates sculptures that depict the culture of the Shona people. He says he was inspired by his father to be an artist.
Chipiri is registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe but does not have any of his work in art galleries, he says.
“Sometimes if you put your art pieces in galleries they don’t give you your money in time,” he says, “So selling by myself is quicker.”
For small-profile artists, getting artwork sold in art galleries is a struggle.
Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe
Demba does not exhibit his work in galleries because his dream is to sell his artwork outside Zimbabwe, where he can earn more profit, he says.
“I send some of my artwork to South Africa; in the art galleries here I do not have any work exhibited because big artists are the ones that have most of their work sold,” he says.
Zvikomborero Mandangwa, the information and public relations officer at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, says that some of the country’s most celebrated artists are a part of the gallery’s permanent collection.
“As we move to the future we identify work from contemporary artists in Zimbabwe and abroad and we find means to collect their work and house it in our collection,” he says, adding that the process of selecting artwork for exhibition is fair.
“We have a committee acquisition which identify work for the selection and decide what is collected,” he says. “We come up with a curatory schedule two years ahead of time and from the schedule we develop calls that are sent to the public domain and artists respond to those calls.”
Over 600 Zimbabweans responded to the 2016 annual exhibition and the number is constant each year, Mandangwa says. He cites that artists can submit their work for individual consideration, without registering with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.
Fadzai Veronica Muchemwa, the assistant curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, says most of the works they exhibit have specific meaning.
“Some of the work we have is autobiographical, some is to do with myths and folklore,” she says.
They exhibit various kinds of art such as stone sculptures, mixed media, world art and metal sculptures, video work and ceramics, Muchemwa says. She says they work with anyone who submits their work for the gallery’s consideration.
“We usually have open call exhibition and curated shows; from the open calls that is where we get to know what artists are doing and we come up with concepts for curated shows,” she says.
Experience the Artwork
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe: To enter the gallery the cost is 50 cents for children and $1 for adults, for both local and foreign visitors. The gallery is located at 20 Julius Nyerere St. in Harare, Zimbabwe. Artworks are available for sale. Visit National Gallery’s website on www.nationalgallery.co.zw.
The Shandai Pamwe Avondale Arts and Crafts Center is found at Avondale shops, 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) from Harare’s city center. Artworks are available for viewing for free. The pieces are available for sale; prices vary.
Linda Mujuru, GPJ reporter, translated some interviews from Shona.