Harare — Talking about torrid times on planet earth, year 2009 is one that visual artists, gallerists and art dealers in Zimbabwe would like to allude to very briefly and promptly erase in totality from their memories. The year of the global recession saw artists and their businesses having to be content with unsatisfactory transactions and meager returns whilst in possession of some grand investments that the creative minds strove to produce with inadequate resources. Now firmly into 2010, Africa's most famous year it is with hope that artists have been motivated by the World Cup experience. But will the year create wonders in art?
During the course of the infamous year 2009 one of the country's long serving galleries, now called Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities, formerly "Gallery Delta", strategically branded that it could access various aid; had a benefit show on the 19th of June dubbed 34 Years Plus: The Gallery Delta Benefit Exhibition'. The gallery had been experiencing acute viability challenges for a while that it had to call to artists for donations of artworks to sell for its continual existence.
With more than 34 years of flourishing existence, promoting artists and leading in sales of artworks, the gallery was now struggling to survive entirely from commissions taken from the sales of artworks. Fortunately, artists loyal to the gallery overwhelmingly heeded to the call and saved the day. Afterwards on several occasions the gallery relied on diplomatic missions' sponsored art shows and competitions.
The same shear financial stress severely hurt other galleries including the country's three National Art Galleries in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare. Caught in the smoke of it all were artists who scrounged around to find what they could use to produce their work, often not being able to afford or find what they wanted, seeking alternatives, often more effective than what they wanted in the first place.
But new stretches of creative imagination among artists during the difficult year saw art as more as a matter of invention and the processing of ideas based on artists' new spiritual bearings than art as an outcome of social observation. There was the bringing together of established media in daring ways, there was striving for effect, there was the evolution of entirely new mediums for art. The year saw individual arts of scale and scope of imagination seldom seen in Zimbabwe before, works which deserve to be seen on their own, rather than part of a solo or group exhibition, works which "take to the floor" while people stand around and applaud.
Amongst the innumerable astonishing artworks of the year 2009 was Richard Mudariki's "Struggle Behind Walls". This uncannily mediocre painting portrays six mysterious disabled human beings like mummies scattered all over a square tiled floor. An outrageously over-sized multi coloured cubistic cock stands firmly, head facing backward in the middle of the canvas, overlooking some nightmarish crippled nude figures.
Behind the giant cock on the extreme left going off the canvas, an unusual animal with a unicorn-like head face backwards too in the same direction as the giant cock. Partially obstructed directly ahead of the animal cross-legged sits a startled half naked female mummy dressed in an ancient zinc white robe. On its lap awkwardly lies a naked headless and handless baby figure whilst to its immediate right lies a motionless single legged robe less male figure holding a blunt knife underneath and in-between the spread over legs of the giant cock.
Adjacent on the extreme right of the cock lies yet another struggling undressed white long horned baldheaded male facing in the same direction as the cock with both its hands cut through the limbs and heavily bandaged. The man's upper body leans heavily on tiny white padded black metal crutches, bearing evidence that it has never risen beyond the height.
Further aback in an ivory black background emerges a spectacled, well shaven head with a single left hand holding a flash light above it. From the same background on the middle extreme right edge, a ballet dancing like figure raising hands exhibiting its undressed back is the only one facing elsewhere. Behind the entire weird scenario is a pitch black and dull purple zigzag wall with a single block of very bright ultramarine blue colour.
"The Democratic Deconstruction of a Wall" is Greg Shaw's graphic work that was also outstanding but provocative. He tidily wrapped a brick by a white paper and drew his expressive timid lines on all surfaces before inscribing on the upper most side with the words "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person". In his own words he said "This work celebrates the 20th anniversary of the demise of the Berlin Wall, an act now seen as a triumph of humanity. This work is not the wall, nor a depiction of it, but its removal in this regard it is not the aesthetic value that is paramount, nor is there any material value inherent in the work other than the materials of which it is constructed. Rather it is a process in which the meaning resides, momentary and transient.
The fragments remain, and are invested with new meaning as the context in which they exist transforms. No longer part of an object that divides and contains, but symbols of the unified process. The work is the removal of an obstacle, literally and symbolically a democratic act".
He went on to wrap about 120 more bricks that he wrote various messages for his installation that he entitled the same. He blocked a doorway and invited the audience to deconstruct the wall by removing a brick each that they would take with them. What a noble thought and splendid performance it was.
Included on the outstanding list is Gareth Nyandoro who had a series of iconic masks in which a very unusual one entitled "Mazihobi Aro -- Tribute to Sigmund Freud" had some things extra. It was constructed of remains of a corrugated ancient, deformed round lamp black pot lid that seemed to be telling tales of the infernos it has seen through. Split into halves, wired and nailed by rotten remains to an irregular shaped piece of discarded timber, rigged and roughly wound to a filthy multi-coloured aged plastic paint brush handle used as the nose. The stuck wide open round eyes of different sizes retrieved from indistinguishable gargets gave the piece a scary look with other parts of the mask made from all sorts of uneasy to look at matter.
Finally without going through the whole list it will be unjust not to mention "Private Room" by Munyaradzi Mazarire which was executed out of a solid rectangular white block of wood cut-off in parallel linear perspective from either bottom corners toward the middle creating a negative space that became the floor. From the far right back corner of the room in the middle of the block, a closed door has been carved and on the same wall to the left, a chair realistically crafted is imaging as outlines carved on the wall down to the seat where it is suspended into the negative space as a real physical fibre glass structure. A long table leaning against the extreme left wall into the negative space right in front of the chair is constructed as a physical half solid linear structure and the other half carved too in form of linear drawings on the wall.
But what kind of fine-art do we look forward to in this final year of the first decade of the millennium? We wonder where many artists will be in their minds, their heads, what they will draw and use to make their art, what fantasies will be behind their work, what directions their imaginations will take, what literary basis and allusions their work will have? Let once more necessity be the mother of invention and the producer of works which are unique and eminently unforgettable but with satisfactory returns to keep the fire burning.