Nesisa Mpofu, the public relations manager of the City of Bulawayo, nailed it right on the head when she stated that the city of Bulawayo's creative industry is "on the verge of a huge and significant breakthrough."
Her optimism is not misplaced given the rich strata of artists that cuts through the city's underbelly and given the Intwasa Arts Festival experience in September. The city is looks deceptively passive but the artists are busy. In any given month, it could be IYASA, Siyaya Arts , Insingizi, Black Umfolosi or Styx Mhlanga travelling out of the city or on tour in some corner of the world. Something is always happening .
This time, the scene was the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo and Mpofu was guest of honour on the night of the launch of a solo exhibition of a talented visual artist, Nohlanhla Mathe.
Bulawayo is blessed this way. The artists collaborate across genres to support each other's initiatives. So, on this particular night, Ezimnyama dance group comes on first and the sheer athleticism of the dancers makes you feel like a sluggish dinosaur. You cannot help but wonder what carbo diet they are on when they move like this. Afterward, Sithandazile Dube - poetess extraordinaire - comes on stage and holds court rather than merely give a rendition of a poem in the Nguni vernacular in honour of a sister and colleague in the arts.
Looking resplendent and every bit the African princess in her regalia of beads and sarong on, Sitha is the go-to poetess in Bulawayo right now. But tonight is not about her. It's about Nonhlanhla Mathe, ten years down the line as a visual artist, and finally, her first solo exhibition.
The National Art Gallery in Bulawayo is a venue that used to be a familiar haunt of the late award- winning author, Yvonne Vera, who was then its regional director. She would have been extremely proud of the sterling achievements of Mathe who was also the winner of the best female visual artist of the year 2011. The award is a joint initiative of Visual Artists Association Of Bulawayo (VAAB) and HIVOS and it involves a one-year residency at the gallery.
" I feel that this is a glorious turn in my work after doing this for so long. I started experimenting with abstractions and tackling issues related to women's struggles and even the beauty they encounter. I used inhlama-- a technique where I mix mealie-meal, flour and water in my works. Doors are opening for me,"enthused Mathe at the scene of her breakthrough exhibition, widely attended by people from all walks of life and across the colour divide.
Voti Thebe, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe's regional director proffered that Mathe's exhibition and current work is significant given the fact that most female artists end in the "kitchen" because of a lack of spousal support.
Mathe's work depicts a range of social themes epitomising the battles of women folk with poverty, disenchantment and hope. The hues in her collection are bold and bright. The vibrancy of the colours she utilises is so infectious that you walk away with a certain hopefulness about life and about this city's prospects.