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Zimbabwean Artists Rising

“Galleries and collectives in Zimbabwe are ensuring the establishment of Zimbabwean artists internationally.”

White Lies, Neville Starling, 2019, installation view at the 58th Venice Biennale, photo courtesy of the artist

While researching Zimbabwean artists, I came to realise the sheer number of established contemporary artists coming from this country. The development of Zimbabwean artists’ artistic careers is probably due in part to its consistent participation in the Venice Biennale ever since the 54th edition in 2011, with Raphael Chikukwa being the chief curator each year, and 20 artists having benefitted from this opportunity so far. The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, and art galleries in Zimbabwe – including Gallery Delta’s Helen Leiros’ pivotal role since 1975 – have also added to much of the success received by Zimbabwean artists.

Despite the large number of artists coming out from the Zimbabwean National Gallery Visual Art Studio and the Harare Polytechnic, installation artist Wallen Mapondera and former curator of Tsoko Gallery, Merilyn Mushakwe realised that many artists didn’t know much about self-promotion, and that’s when they felt the need to found the Post Studio Arts Collective in 2012. Village Unhu, founded by artists Georgina Maxim, Gareth Nyandoro and Misheck Masamvu, also focuses on art production markets and how the artists need to present themselves, often offering residencies, workshops, internships, exhibitions and meetings. The Njelele Art Station is a meeting place for critical dialogue, where ideas generate into projects that make way for discussion and engage with the general public. Similarly, the Maonero Visual Arts group began in 2016 by a group of artists who work on various projects to improve the lives of visual artists in Zimbabwe whilst showcasing Zimbabwean contemporary art to the world. Black Chalk & Co is a boutique creative agency founded by writer Tinashie Mushakavanhu and artist Nonsikelo Mutiti, operating between Harare and Richmond, Va, bringing artists, academics and technologists together to engender a new culture and new forms of creative production. Major art galleries in Zimbabwe include the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, the Catinca Tabarcu (CTG) Harare gallery, Gallery Delta, First Floor Gallery and Tsoko Art Gallery, among others.

Although Zimbabwe is known for its stone sculptures, especially the great Zimbabwean soapstone-carved birds derived from as early as four centuries ago, most contemporary Zimbabwean artists are seen to have explored other artistic mediums besides sculpture. Today, we still find many practising Zimbabwean stone sculptors, and galleries in Zimbabwe specialising in this artform include Stone Dynamics Gallery, Matombo Gallery, Zimsculpt Gallery, Prime Art Gallery and Shona Sculpture Gallery. Many Zimbabwean artists have also ventured into contemporary sculpture. Amongst these artists are the stone sculptors Sylvester Mubayi, Gideon Gomo and Tapfuma Gutsa; sculptors of different mediums and found objects Terrance Musekiwa, Masimba Hwati and Voti Thebe; and welding sculptors Arthur Azevedo and Michele Mathison, whose works usually form installation artworks.

Galleries and collectives in Zimbabwe are ensuring the establishment of Zimbabwean artists internationally. The First Floor Gallery recently hosted the international art event ‘Emerging Painting Invitational’ in Zimbabwe, featuring the two Zimbabwean artists Amanda Mushate and Epheas Maposa. Village Unhu recently hosted a group exhibition with works by Epheas Maposa, Evans Tinashe Mutenga, Nyasha Marovatsanga, Kenny Maruta, Tawanda Takura and Lawrence Duri, and is currently holding a one-man show for stone sculptor Gideon Gomo. Later this year, the Post Studio Arts Collective will be hosting solo shows for the artists-in-residency Takudzwa Guzha and Clive Mukucha. In December, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe will host the annual exhibition with various Zimbabwean artists. It’s through the local galleries that many Zimbabwean artists are getting involved in international shows and fairs.

Currently in Venice, the Zimbabwean national pavilion at the Venice Biennale – which is on until the 24 November 2019 – is featuring the works by well-established contemporary artists Neville Starling, Georgina Maxim, Cosmos Shiridzinomwa and Kudzanai Violet-Hwami. A group show ‘hybrID’ at the Kunsthaus Hamburg – open between the 3rd September and 17th November – will be showcasing the work of Admire Kamudzengerere. The Catinca Tabacaru gallery of Harare, Zimbabwe, participated in this year’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London in early October and will take part in the Artissima Art Fair in Torino in November, representing both Terrance Musekiwa and Admire Kamudzengerere amongst others. The South African gallery SMAC will also be participating in the 1-54 and the Artissima Art Fair. A collaboration between the Zimbabwean project space Village Unhu and 31 Art Project in Paris formed the exhibition We Are Here Pamasonga launching on 20 September in Paris, with artists Misheck Masamvu, Evans Mutenga and Epheas Maposa. A booth at the Also Known As Africa art fair in Paris between in November 2019 will also see a collaboration between Georgina Maxim and 31 Art Project.

South Africa is also supportive of Zimbabwean artists, particularly through the FNB Art Joburg Fair and the Latitudes Art Fair, both of which took place recently. The SMAC Gallery exhibited at the FNB Art Joburg Fair representing Masimba Hwati, Wallen Mapondera and Gareth Nyandoro. Also exhibiting were Goodman Gallery, representing Mischeck Masamvu, Kudzanai Chiurai and Gerald Machona, and the Stevenson Gallery representing Portia Zvavahera, amongst others. The Latitudes Art Fair featured the Zimbabwean First Floor Gallery, representing their own Zimbabwean artists, as well as a solo presentation by Wycliffe Mundopa,. Black Chalk and Co. participated in the curators’ Underline Show in Johannesburg, and again at the New York Art Book Fair this September. The list of established Zimbabwean artists is never-ending but it’s also worth looking out for other  Zimbabwean artists, many of whom have had their works exhibited at the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, South Africa among them Anthony Bumhira, Berry Bickle, Calvin Dondo, Charles Bhebhe, Chikonzero Chazunguza, Cuthbert Mukononyanga, Dana Whabira, Doris Kamupira, George Masarira, Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude, Janet Siringwane, Lovemore Kambudzi, Moffat Takadiwa, Rashid Jogee, Richard Mudariki, Tawanda Reza and Virginia Chihota. Their determination to succeed is exemplary. The road of opportunities for Zimbabwean artists can only soar higher!

Whose Memory, Whose Place, Neville Starling, 2018, installation view at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, photo courtesy of the artist
Inkululeko (Freedom), George Masarira, photo courtesy of the artist

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