In a bid to provoke and motivate artistic creativity, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe held a historic exhibition and competition called, Live ‘n’ Direct.
The exciting exhibition stimulated nostalgia, of the Annual Heritage exhibition of the early 90’s, a major event in the visual arts sector calendar where cutting edge works were exhibited at the National Gallery from all parts of the country.
The Live ‘n’ Direct exhibition, officially opened by the Spanish ambassador, Pilar Fuertes Ferragut on the 25th of May 2010, provided a platform for visual artists who had been restless awaiting the day when the Annual Heritage Exhibition would be reborn. Despite being Africa Day, a huge crowd gathered in the Gallery to witness the 3 works that would be selected by the judges as the best pieces of the exhibition.
The exhibition consisted of selected works by artists from the whole country, who had responded to the call by the National Gallery, to submit their best works. A panel of local and international judges was set up in order to select the 3 best works that could be taken as an epitome of Zimbabwean creativity in the visual arts.
The panelists included an international jury member, Dario Basso of Spain, local artists and curators namely, Taylor Nkomo, Andrew Madzivanzira, Heeten Bhagat, Calvin Dondo and Thakor Patel, as well as Zimbabwe born Professor of Art at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Chido Johnson and Polly Savage from the United Kingdom.
Notwithstanding the challenging task, the panelists unanimously agreed on 3 works. The first prize of USD10,000, was given to Gareth Nyandoro for his work, National Recyclisation Gareth Nyandoro a young artist who recently graduated at Chinhoyi University, specializes in conceptual art using found objects. His type of art challenges the mind in its creativity while initiating debate on its meaning.
His piece commented in a subtle way, how the outside world views the Zimbabwean situation. The work had an inscription, “Hatina vetengesi panze” commenting on the various people who pretend to do Zimbabwe a service by interpreting the Zimbabwean experience while they are not informed. Gareth’s piece complemented on the motive of the exhibition, producing cutting edge work that speaks on being proudly Zimbabwean within the global context.
The artwork had shoes which were in different states of use, ranging from the modern to the traditional sandals, “hwasho”, and these were in a case which had on one side a broken window pane joined with sealing tape, with another inscription “50% off”. The shoes mirrored the diversity of Zimbabweans and the different ordeals that the people have gone through. Gareth’s piece challenged viewers, with some walking away without a comment, interpretation or understanding on the art work.
Misheck Masamvu received the second best price of USD5,000. The oil on canvas painting entitled, “Sweet and bad breadth”, showed an omnibus broken in two with naked people inside who looked perplexed. His work as signified by the name, commented on society’s good and bad though one could easily miss out on the details of his painting since the artist used very hard and wide brush strokes in order to bring out the theme of his work.
Chenjerai Mutasa scooped the Culture Fund prize of USD3,000. His piece, an installation exhibited in a dark room, created a lot of interest amongst viewers. The work consisted of a fiber glass skull suspended with a flickering light inside, with wings on the sides and a hand just below the mouth and a chain below the head while on the floor there were interlocking white and black maize seeds forming the Zimbabwean map.
Mutasa is a conceptual artist whose works question conventional methods of art while creating debate on social issues. His work entitled Tarzah (Visionaries of the future) questioned society on its ability to share ideas as signified by the skull which had a sealed mouth and eyes, sewn with copper wire. Mutasa commented that the wings represent the possibility of an idea to take flight if it is not shared with others.
Chenjerai Mutasa also noted that the chain below the skull denotes the transfer of ideas from one generation to the next. The interlocking black and white maize seeds on the floor, forming the Zimbabwe map, can be noted to allude to the transition process through which the country is going through, where people of the same nationality though having their differences are working together.
The Culture Fund, one of the major sponsors of the Live ‘n’ Direct exhibition, congratulates Chenjerai Mutasa and the Domboramwari Art Village for gaining recognition at such a national exhibition of the visual arts. The creativity at the Village has inspired and spearheaded new trends in Zimbabwean visual arts.
Chejerai Mutasa has benefited from the Culture Fund grant through the Domboramwari Art Village. He has also undergone a capacity building training programme initiated by the Culture Fund in partnership with the British Council called, the Creative Entrepreneur Programme and many other workshops relevant to the sector.
While some have questioned the criteria used by the judges in selecting the “best” works, it is encouraging to note the recognition that has been given by the judges to experimental and conceptual art. The young contemporary artists have lived under the shadows of the Old Masters for a long time but it is encouraging to realize that their work is finally being recognized on a national scope.