*Featured photo: Wilfred Timire, Mabhiridha, 2022, tapestry, 206 x 376 cm. Courtesy Osart Gallery and the artist, photo Max Pescio
Linnet Rubaya, Franklyn Dzingai, Mostaff Muchawaya, Wilfred Timire
Curated by Richard Mudariki
Opening Day: 16 June 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
June 16, 2022 – September 24, 2022
Osart Gallery, Corso Plebisciti 12, 20129 Milano
Shanduko (to change/morph in Shona) is a group exhibition, curated by Richard Mudariki and devoted to four contemporary Zimbabwean visual artists: Linnet Rubaya, Franklyn Dzingai, Mostaff Muchawaya, and Wilfred Timire. The exhibition portrays the artists employing different materials and concepts in the creation of a visual way of shaking and shifting the conventional media and, at the same time, keeping a particular focus on representation, memory, and cultural identity.
“The subtle disruption of the traditional art canon by artists from Zimbabwe,” writes Richard Mudariki in the critical text of the exhibition, “has generally had a positive global reception, serving as a catalyst in drawing the world’s attention to the diverse art practices in the landlocked southern African nation”. Moreover, “artists finding themselves in a stressful socioeconomic and geographic space punctuated by acute shortages, have resolved to innovate and improvise on materials, turning to alternatives, existing within their immediate environment”, Mudariki says. Interweaving and sewing, besides painting and recycled materials, are recurrent elements. The curator notes that, curiously, differently from the neighboring countries, Zimbabwe does not have a distinct national dress, even if cheap fabrics can be found easily in the local market, as in the rest of the world. Perhaps, the lack of a uniform and the strong presence of found fabrics could have been a sprint for the Zimbabwean artists toward using textiles, assigning identity and new meanings to the material.
Dzingai, Timire, and Muchawaya, living in Zimbabwe, have used in their works embroidery, fabrics, and other materials recovered in different areas. Whereas, Leeds-based Rubaya works with painting, silhouetting black figures on vibrant backgrounds. Rubaya narrates the multicultural British reality, celebrating people involved, like her, in the African diaspora. In the art of all the four artists, the main character is the human: works are often intimate portraits dedicated to the family or friends. In Muchuwaya art, the subjects come alive through the material painting, supported by heterogeneous elements. He always looks towards his native land and the farm in which he grew up, in the mountain area of Nyazura, in the East of Zimbabwe.
Dzingai and Timire have shared the 2021 artHARARE Africa First art prize. The former is a mixed media artist who collages flat blocks of prints with various other picture elements extracted from newspapers, magazines, tabloids, books, and his family photo archive. While the latter mainly uses packaging materials, weaving them into tapestries, depicting everyday life situations and experiences.
In the displayed artworks, the main topics are the individual and everyday lives, discussed through diverse artistic techniques. As they are the innovators of the art scene in Zimbabwe, Timire, Tzingai, Muchawaya, and Rubaya, have reflected in an original way on their language, never forgetting the memory and roots themes. They form part of an exciting creative scene, attracting worldwide attention.
Richard Mudariki (b. 1985) after first training as an Archaeologist, devoted himself full-time to painting. He is one of the founders of ArtHARARE Contemporary art fair, a platform that brings together selected artworks presented by emerging, mid-career and established contemporary visual artists, as well as curators, artist collectives and arts organisations. This unique space aims to be a dynamic platform that is engaged in contemporary dialogue and exchange with the African and international art community.
Text by Richard Mudariki and Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti (c. 2022)
Shanduko (to change/morph) is a group exhibition by four Zimbabwean visual artists at Osart Gallery in Milan. The exhibition highlights the emerging artists’ different use of diverse materials and concepts in creating visual expressions, as a way of shaking and shifting the conventional practice by introducing new elements and considering other forms. The title of the exhibition denotes change which can be seen as positive or negative, and as such can either be embraced or resisted. Interestingly, the subtle disruption of the traditional art canon by artists from Zimbabwe has generally had a positive global reception, serving as a catalyst in drawing the world’s attention to the diverse art practices in the landlocked southern African nation. Curated by artist Richard Mudariki, Shanduko showcases artworks by Franklyn Dzingai, Wilfred Timire, Linnet Rubaya and Mostaff Muchawaya
Of the four artists in this show, the Harare-born, Leeds-based Rubaya is a painter whose distinct practice is dedicated to the everyday lives of Black people encountered in the multicultural British cities, individuals whose heritage can be traced to the [not so] Great Britain’s former colonies. The Kwekwe-born Dzingai is a recipient of the 2021 artHARARE Africa First art prize. He is a mixed media artist who collages flat blocks of prints with various other picture elements extracted from newspapers, magazines, tabloids, books, and his family photo archive. For the Makoni-born Muchawaya who works with textiles and paint creating layered brightly coloured works, embroidery is a form of painting. The artist depicts people who are close to him. Based in Harare is Timire who completes this quartet. The second recipient of the 2021 artHARARE Africa First art prize, Timire, who observes and documents his surroundings, works with packaging material weaving it into tapestries depicting his lived mundane experiences.
The tendency to link the use of non-conventional art materials like textiles, packaging material, and various found objects to Zimbabwe’s persistent economic challenges is a narrative that is oft repeated and is inherent in the public domain. It is valid. By virtue of the artists finding themselves in a stressful socioeconomic and geographic space punctuated by acute shortages, they have resolved to innovate and improvise on materials, turning to alternatives existing within their immediate environment. The glaring shift in materiality is usually accompanied by sound conceptual frameworks as the artists do not just make art for art’s sake. However, the nation’s socioeconomic stress is not the only factor pushing the artists to resort to alternatives. Some do so because they find purpose in transforming fabrics which have undergone a lifecycle, accumulating meaning at various stages of that cycle. Others turn to them because they are the best communication media for conveying a particular meaning. While some are obsessed with the idea of stretching the lifespan of objects, others use them because they are the heirs of artistic lineages they will not turn their backs on.
Despite the recent political posturing in search for a national dress by the nation’s rulers, Zimbabwe does not have one. Neither does it have distinct designs for particular ethnic groups as seen in neighbouring countries. However, identifiable dresses are common for religious sects like the white robes adorned by the apostolic churches and those worn by performing masquerades (zvigure). Nonetheless, there is the red, white, yellow and black retso cloth worn for traditional ceremonies and mbikiza skirts in dances. Because it is a revered dress serving a ritualistic purpose, retso is not worn on the streets every day. For a nation without a distinct national dress, it is amazing that a significant number of Zimbabwean artists have turned to using textiles, even assigning identity to the material. That the resource is readily available, considering that the local market is heavily flooded with cheap fabrics imported from Asia, could also be a factor influencing local artists to work with them.
Be it in Rubaya’s paintings or in the other three artists’ mixed media works, what comes out strongly is the emphasis on figuration of the human form. Most of the works fit within the realm of portraiture, as they almost imitate photography. For some of the works, the depicted beings are members of the immediate family or friends. The artists take time to document and carefully present their figures in a respectful and dignified manner. While the body of work in this exhibition documents the daily activities of people of African heritage, Rubaya’s matte, ultra-dark skin figures stand out. Her painting style is an amalgamation of different elements derived from the figuration produced by Kerry James Marshall, Barkley L. Hendricks, and Amy Sherald, artists whose oeuvre reflectively affirm Blackness.
If the feminist artists of the 1970s, whose practices encompassed weavings, embroideries tapestries, and many other realms, managed to push the medium and the boundaries, challenging the distinction between textiles and fine art in other parts of the world, what can be said of these contemporary Zimbabwean artists? If Marcel Duchamp and Europe’s modernists of the early 1900s did upset the canon indeed, why are we saying the work coming out of Zimbabwe signals change? For a nation whose mainstream practice was its modern stone sculpture, and painting to an extent, lately Zimbabwe’s contemporary scene has been dominated by artists working with found materials and exploring other avenues like printmaking and embroidery. Dzingai, Timire and Muchawaya are part of this conceptual movement. While these practices may be ordinary in other corners of the world, they are certainly transforming the local arts scene in the country now while managing to grab the world’s attention.
Mostaff Muchawaya was born in 1981 in Nyazura, Manicaland, Zimbabwe, and currently lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe. He attended the National Gallery of Zimbabwe School of Visual Arts and Design from 2002 to 2003. Muchawaya references a deep connection to his experiences, which are inseparable from ‘his people and his surroundings. The artist grew up in the province of Manicaland, located in the mountainous East area of Zimbabwe. He continuously refers back to his rural upbringing – his family was part of the workforce on a white-owned farm. Muchawaya’s interest in the arts started at a young age, from making his own clay toys to making sketches of the farmers’ dogs. Muchawaya has exhibited in several exhibitions, including ‘Memory / Ndangariro’, a solo exhibition at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town (South Africa: 2017); ‘Landmark’ at Gallery Delta in Harare (Zimbabwe: 2016); ‘Mharidzo’ and ‘Zimbabwe Meets Italy’ at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare (Zimbabwe: 2015 and 2018, respectively); and ‘My Entire People and Places,’ a solo exhibition at Alliance Francaise in Harare that was held in collaboration with Village Unhu (Zimbabwe: 2013). Mostaff Muchawaya’s works are featured in the Zeitz MOCAA exhibition, Five Bhobh – Painting at the End of an Era (2018 – 2019).
Winner of the Saul Hay emerging artist award (2021), Linnet Panashe Rubaya (b. 1991, Harare, Zimbabwe) is a self-taught British-Zimbabwean figurative artist based in Leeds. Born in Harare and raised in London, Rubaya studied Biomedical Science (BSc) at the University of Brighton and moved to Leeds to work as a Software Test Analyst. The Black female identity along with the diverse multiethnic and multicultural melting pot of London is central to Linnet’s practice as she draws from her experiences and conversations to create predominantly acrylic paintings that emanate relatability and radiate emotional and intimate engagement with otherwise marginalised Black subjects. Rubaya’s works aim to inspire, empower and educate observers: “You are important, and your story is important. Your story means you choose the tone and invent the language you use to say who you are and what you mean. But you are not just your story, you are your potential fulfilled.” Linnet’s geographical, literary and creative influences stretch across multiple perspectives. She builds on the figurative work produced by Kerry James Marshall and Barkley L Hendricks, and Amy Sherald, creating a style that is distinct and uniquely hers. Artists and cinematographers such as Alma Thomas, Zhao Xiaoding, and Christopher Doyle have influenced her use of colour as language. Deviating from her earlier work, Linnet has sought to depict the vibrancy and beauty of the world despite the expectation of misery. Her work echoes Alma Thomas, who stated, “Through colour, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness rather than man’s inhumanity to man.” Linnet has been shortlisted for several awards including UK Young Artist of the Year (2019) (now known as UK New Artist of the Year), Bridgman Studio Award (2019), and Art Harare Africa First Prize (2020).
Franklyn Dzingai was born in 1988 in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, and is currently working in Harare. Recently, he was a recipient of the 2021 ArtHARARE Africa First art prize. In 2009 he started his fine art studies at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe Visual Art Studio in Harare and finished in 2011 with a focus on printmaking. He often incorporates Collage and drawing into his prints, typically characterized by vibrant colour. He sources his images from books, magazines, newspapers, and family photos. Themes such as social interactions and personal memories are typical in his prints. Dzingai is one of the few artists in Zimbabwe who focuses on printmaking and has perfected the cardboard printing method. That led him to win many awards at various shows and exhibitions in Harare.
Wilfred Timire works and lives in Harare. He won the first prize in ArtHARARE 2021. Timire art expression stands from deep analysis and research of his surroundings, highlighted by his tendency to assemble fund elements like packaging materials and weave them into a tapestry to express everyday life experiences.
Moreover, the combination of recycled materials, embroidery, and sewing provides him a place in the lately Zimbabwean contemporary scene. In 2020, he was part of the group exhibition Artists in the Stream X at Gallery Delta in Harare. Indeed, till now, he was only exhibited in his native land.