25 September 2017

Zimbabwe: Rock Art Comes to the Gallery

The National Gallery of Zimbabwe recently opened an exhibition on rock art.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Embassy of France in Zimbabwe and is running in partnership with the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the University of Zimbabwe. A specially built pavilion in the National Gallery's Sculpture Gardens grants free access to the public, and provides education and informative aid accompanying visuals from numerous sites around Zimbabwe.

Rock paintings are human made markings placed on stone, from the archaeological perspective, while anthropology stipulates that this ancient art form is images carved, drawn onto immovable rock surfaces.

Rock art is found in culturally diverse regions all over the world. Scholars point out that rock paintings and engravings are Africa's oldest continuously practiced form of art. Zimbabwe's rock art is said to be a product of many authors, time periods and cultures that portrays the masterful hands and trained eyes that our and ancestors had.

Rock art is largely found in and around Matopo Hills, Bulawayo and the Eastern Mashonaland region. Research indicates there are 30 to 50 major sites on the granite rock faces. Granite hills provided shelter for artists, the paintings and their communities. The rock was therefore a symbol of endurance and immutability.

Rock paintings are mostly centred on the frequent super position, early monochromes, numerous and scattered motifs, hunting activities, methods of hunting and the wounded animal. Through early monochromes one is able to identify stylistic differences in the paintings show the various art ages responsible for painting the art. Some of the painting's motifs are centred around intensive hunters who depended on meat. From evidence on the rock different methods of stalking, killing and trapping animals can be deciphered. Such paintings are found at Robert Mcllwaine National Park in Zvimba District.

Exact dates for the rock paintings are problematic to arrive at, however they can be deciphered through evidence of human occupation in caves. Indirect carbon dating poses a supposition that paintings were executed 30 000- 2000 years ago with the majority of them executed between 10 000 and 2 000 years ago.

This is debatable as archaeologists such as Nicholas Walker postulate that rock art found at Matopos Hills in Western Zimbabwe that was from around 13 000-5 000 years ago. Other schools of thought suppose that the representation of bows and arrows in the paintings indicate that they lived during the later Stone Age. Khoisan hunter-gatherers and later Bantu farmers painted the surfaces.

Modern-day people are critical to attributing all the art to one racial cultural group, although there is consensus in different schools of thought that ancestors of the present Khoisan were no means the artists and contributed very largely to Zimbabwe's pre-historic rock art.

The earliest art is difficult to determine in rock paintings of Zimbabwe. Central areas of Mashonaland provide evidence of very large animals in outline; elephants were predominantly drawn in this style. The other phase was characterised by clear human and animal figures in which the animals were not big in size and the representation are in strict profile.

Colours used in painting were obtained from local rocks mainly haematite, limonite and other ores thereby giving the range of yellow, brown and brownish red. The purplish black may have come from manganese ore whilst the white pigment may have been bird droppings or vegetable origin. Paints were thick, opaque and uniform in colour and consistency. These paintings were of high quality as they have stood the test of time.

Interestingly the figures of rock art takes different shapes and forms with some being a mimic of authentic beliefs and cultural rituals such as rain making ceremonies that were pursued then by our ancestors. Zimbabwe has more than 15 000 rock art sites across the Country. These representations reveal how our forefathers lived and as interest in early history increases, more sites continue to be discovered around the country.

Rock art can be found across the region and beyond. This is a clear sign that at one time the development of communities was once at par. Therefore the advent of colonialism stunted the socio-economic development of Africa's forebears. Rock art sites in Southern Rhodesia predate those in Indonesia, Argentina, Spain, France and other nations.

Zimbabwe is a rich country as it preserves this rich African heritage which is a story to tell from generation to generation rock art enables documentation of rich history as people are able to decipher the inhabitants' way of life through the paintings. The artists responsible for painting the art just painted for leisure it was their social activities for whiling up time. Today these rock art sites have become a very significant national monument National Monuments. Some of them have become prominent tourist attraction sites whereby people from far and wide part ways with huge sums of money to come and familiarise with these legendary sites. A good example is the Matopos Hills, Domboshava Caves, Murehwa and the Great Dyke.

The major rock art sites boost the nation's tourism sector and tourism comes accrued with foreign currency which is of paramount importance to the country's economy.

Matopos has been accorded the World Heritage site status which is appraisable. To add on, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education's new curriculum has introduced Heritage studies. This therefore is a National treasure.

Rock art in Zimbabwe has great potential for the expansion of the tourism industry as well as employment creation which is a cluster in the country's economic blue print Zim-Asset. It is a force to reckon with in terms of poverty eradication as employment is created.

The rock art and cravings depicts natural landscapes, animals, elegant human figures dancing, hunting and ware-fare. These figures combining human and animal features continue to inspire admiration for their sophistication and skill. Rock art is Zimbabwe's Heritage and remains an irreplaceable cultural resource of the Zimbabwean National Heritage.

The rock art exhibition is currently running at the National Gallery's sculpture garden free of charge. The exhibition seeks to bring to light authentic beliefs, customs, rituals and an understanding of ancient symbols in Zimbabwean rock art that arguably many people have no understanding of. The exhibition will run to the end of October.

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