2 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Mbare Mural Art Depicts Real Lives

FROM a distance, the paintings of children on three Mbare hostels may appear to be no more than semi-realistic portrayals of black ghetto children. However, the murals on Mbare's Chishawasha and Matapi flats, done by Dutch graffiti artist Roy Valk, depict real people and real life in Mbare.

The murals, which were part of the Harare International Festival of the Arts' outreach programme that started in 2010, the same year that the world descended on South Africa for the Wold Cup, are just a reminder that despite all the hardships and poverty that you see in Mbare, people still celebrate the gift of life.

One cannot help but marvel at both the innocence of the subject and its aesthetic beauty amidst the vice and the filth that make up Mbare.

While celebrities who appear on billboards everywhere are handsomely rewarded, the children in Mbare or their families did not get anything from their newly found fame.

Saturday Lifestyle tracked down two children who appear on the murals to find out whether their lives have changed.

"Every time I pass by these pictures I look up and just smile," said Anisha Biyala, who appears on one of the murals with her younger sister Nokutenda.

When Valk, a.k.a Karski, painted the picture of Anisha or Nisha, as she is called at home, she was only nine years old and in Grade Three while her little sister Noku was only one year old then.

"We were young and very excited when the artist came and took random shots of children at the hostels. We were among the children who had their pictures taken but we were surprised to see our faces on the wall the next day because it was done at night," Nisha said.

Asked how her life has changed since her face was put up on the walls, Nisha said there wasn't much apart from just being popular at home and school.

"My schoolmates including my teacher used to come and see the pictures. I believe I am popular now than I was before that painting," she said.

To see how popular she is, just ask any passersby about her and you will be shown exactly the block and even the flat where she lives.

A Grade Four pupil at St Peter's Primary in Mbare, Nisha lives with her parents in a one- bedroomed flat. "We didn't get a cent from the artists or anyone. The truth is the artists came and did their thing without even asking whether we wanted our children to appear on the wall or not," Makanaka Biyala, the mother, said.

"Most parents wanted their children to have their faces painted on the walls and that thrill was everywhere and honestly we didn't stop to think for a minute whether there was any compensation or not," she said.

She, however, described the mural as a beautiful piece of art.

"We are now used to the painting and it has given a different look to what the block looked like before. It has also become easy to give directions to our visitors because it is like a signpost which no one can miss," she said.

"Quite honestly, at first we didn't mind seeing our children on the wall but at least whoever it is that was responsible for the mural should have just approached us before they painted it," Mrs Biyala said.

The project to create large-scale public art which has come to be known as the Mural Project, started by Hifa in 2010 at the Matapi Flats in Mbare, Harare. It has encompassed two other blocks of flats in the same area.

It is part of a wider "City Project" aimed at inspiring the beautification of the country's capital city, home to Hifa. The murals depict children who are residents of the flats, to help enhance the sense of ownership of the project.

The murals have appeared in numerous publications, including Sky Host and High Life and are a source of pride for the Mbare community and a growing landmark of the fabric of the City of Harare. The artists who headed the mural project for 2010 and 2011 was the duo from the Netherlands called Mooiemuur headed by Karski. Roy returned in 2012 with a collaborator, Raphael Gerlach a.k.a Satone. The group who painted the wall is Mooiemuur. Mooiemuur hold workshops around the world for companies and individuals. Mooiemuur has done work for the Municipality of Barcelona and the Municipality of Aalst in Belgium.

Mooiemuur's high-profile clientele include the biggest names in pop entertainment such as Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson; Global brand corporations like Levi Jeans, Deloitte and the Sheraton Group of Hotels.

They have also been asked to work on a large-scale project in New Orleans that is being headed by Brad Pitt. The duo behind this company agreed to come to Harare and work on the large-scale mural free of charge.

However, they collaborated with Zimbabwean artists who include Walen Mapondera and Richard Mudariki, both mural artists from Chitungwiza, as well as Admire Kamudzengere, another mural artist from Harare.

According to Hifa publicist Tafadzwa Simba, the three murals depict portraits of children who live in the area and portray youth, vibrancy, hope and the future possibilities for Zimbabwean children.

"A community project such as this fosters ownership and pride in the area and further contributes to a sense of community responsibility for public space.

"The artists who led the painting of the murals in collaboration with Zimbabwean artists are internationally recognised - visitors will want to see their work.

"It is also another example of the festival's inclusiveness: areas that are neglected receive attention from the festival's audiences and media. There is no income to the festival from this project - it is Hifa leaving a lasting and effective impression on Harare's community at large.

"The subjects of the public art are not remunerated as it is not for commercial purposes - just as the ubiquitous statues or murals of famous figures like the President, Haile Selassie, Steve Biko or even ordinary people who are the subjects of such wall paintings around the world do not have remuneration accruing to them or their estates from that public art," Simba said.

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