17 March 2019

Zimbabwe: The Folly of Nudity in Showbiz

Photo: The Guardian
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The nude human form has always been a topic of controversy in the conservative Zimbabwean culture and when nudity is displayed in works of art, it often provokes fierce resistance from sections of society.

While in other countries like neighbouring South Africa and the United States, among others, nudity in art sells just like any other form of art, locally, it is met with mixed reactions and only the bold ones would brave themselves for such type of an art.

In what appears to be the "new trend", from their dressing, dirty sexy lyrics that has been mainly associated with an array of dancehall singers among them Soul Jah Love, Seh Calaz, Killer T, Jah Signal, Lady Squanda, Lady B and Platinum Price to PG-rated videos, local artistes appear to be slowly tapping into the Hollywood products.

Unexpectedly, these Zimdancehall chanters openly confess that they are completely unfazed about how their art is interpreted by the consumers of their products.

Whether it is creativity coming through the excessive exposure to the Hollywood products or seeking attention, it is definitely something that raises more questions than answers.

Recently Netherlands-based Zimbabwean songstress Vimbai Zimuto sent tongues wagging as she touched off a storm on different social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp over her nudes which she, however, heavily defended as a form of art.

Of late, Zimuto has been posting a series of pictures in her birthday suit and has amassed over thousands of views, which has become a hot subject with general concern on the local showbiz scene and across other spectrums that Zimuto was making mortal dents on the local scene as nudity has no scope in society.

While locally, nudity might be perceived as immoral, and has no space of acceptance, it has, however, been prevalent of late in showbiz circles with many local artistes appearing to be of the view that for a video to be successful it has to show less body cover, leaving nothing to the imagination and the song too has to be laden with dirty lyrics.

There is no doubt that sex sells in any art, but not in Zimbabwe where the trend appears to be taking root with bedroom antics nothing short of pornography being laid bare in many of the local night clubs by the majority of dancers. Famous pole dancers Zoey Sifelani and Beverly "Bev" Sibanda's names are among those being on many people's lips.

From leaked sex tapes of celebrities like rapper Stunner and socialite Pokello, radio and television personality-cum-actress Tinopona Katsande, songbird Tererai Mugwadi, rapper Zhetstar and actor Denzel "Jabu" Burutsa, that is definitely a new wave of artistes who are no doubt different from those of the late 80s such as the late sungura maestro Leonard Dembo, music superstar Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi and Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, who made great strides on the showbiz scene.

Interestingly, it appears as there is an increasing craving for nudity and vulgar content among a significant section of followers of showbiz matters. Could this be an influencing factor among these artistes?

Taking a closer look at the late 80s music and videos, there is a widening gap that is being witnessed though it must be appreciated that music evolves just like culture which is also dynamic.

In a sense of trying to be morally correct, and sensitive about the issue of nudity locally, at one point the then deputy minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry Walter Kanhanga was grilled by senators during a question-and-answer session in the Senate on why his ministry had allowed semi-nude people (Samba dancers from Brazil) to stroll on the streets during the Harare International Carnival.

Chiefs' Council president Fortune Charumbira on several occasions has come out guns blazing on issues of nudity such that he is on record accusing the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the organisers of the carnival, of being hypocritical by portraying the event as cultural, yet it displays nudity which is against the Zimbabwean cultures.

In an interview with Standard Style, some creatives expressed mixed feelings over nudity in showbiz.

An educational psychologist and music critic, Fred Zindi, said Zimuto was not supposed to parade herself in her birthday suit as she had such an amazing talent, adding that her nudity was an embarrassement to her family.

"It makes me sad when I see an artiste who has extreme talent showing off her nudity. Does sexualisation sell music? I wonder, this is embarrassing to the Zimuto family, if not to all Zimbabweans as this is against African culture although she thinks this is being an African woman," he said.

"I personally don't see the reason why she needs to expose herself like this when she has such an amazing talent. She just has to be patient, her time will come."

United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean actress and choreographer Enisia Mashusha said while art endeavours to express emotions to be understood by all human souls, artistes do not have to be nude for them to be appreciated.

"Sadly, Zimbabwean female artistes are labelled as sex objects and people of loose morals in our society. Not that I am dictating what a woman can and cannot wear and that I might be taking a step backwards because it denies the freedom that everyone should have, but I strongly believe that it is important not to support the idea that all a woman has to offer is her body," she said.

Theatre artiste and political activist Silvanos Mudzvova said there was no definition for what is right or wrong in the arts, adding that nudes were optional.

"If it is Colombian singer Shakira or American singers Beyonce and Madonna, there is nothing wrong with their nudity in art, but when it is our own female artistes we attack them. When South African dancer and socialite Zodwa Wabantu, famed for not wearing undies, came to Private Lounge in Bulawayo, many paid to watch her, yet it was 100% nudity, but when it is done by our own they are outraged," he said.

"I do political theatre, hit-and-run theatre, developmental theatre, so if at any time my plays demand that I become naked as a means of expression, I will definitely go naked on the stage. I cannot just be naked for no reason. In the case of singer Vimbai Zimuto, she uses nudity as a way of expressing her feelings towards any topic and that is being brave, open-spirited and progressive."

Mudzvova said those critics who cite culture on Zimuto's case should be reminded that there were many cultural norms that women have complained about as being oppressive and using that same culture narrative in her case is oppressive as well.

"How many musical videos have you watched that have nudity and you still watch them, why? I have watched Vimbai Zimuto's videos and they are good. Money and nudity in arts, this issue there is no need to expand on it. It is clear that nudity pays in the arts and that has been proved many times," he said.

Arts critic Benjamin Nyandoro said: "Good art is disruptive and provokes thought. It delivers multiple meanings and interpretations. Nudity is looking at, you need to look through."

Clayton Ndlovu, posting on social media platform Facebook, said sexualisation sells music and it's part of art.

"There are many artistes who have chosen to do whatever with their artistry and it's not a problem. Some even perform naked and many throng to see them for example Zodwa Wabantu. Vimbai exposes her body we criticise her for being naked when she is coming up with a different angle in terms of her creativity," he said.

Ndlovu said people should not be quick to suppress others in the name of our culture.

"When will our African sisters be themselves and do what they want to do? Our African girls need to be bold and take creativity to different levels without fear or favour and we should not judge them and lower their esteem based on our own biases," he said.

"We make it as if nudity is unAfrican, why? She [Zimuto] just showed her beautiful body, that is all. "Yet the criticism is more than for those who have done sex tapes. Vimbai, do your thing."

In a bold move, creative artist and designer Darius Mutamba, as part of her final-year academic exhibition, sought to debunk the belief that nudity was taboo as he showcased photography, print works, three-dimensional sculpture, drawings and paintings centred on nudity at KooVah Gallery in Harare.

Mutamba, in an interview with our sister paper NewsDay Life &Style on the sidelines of the exhibition, said the exhibition represented his ideals of freedom of expression, open-mindedness, individualism and identity while at the same time celebrating the human form through a mythical and artistic story.

"With the Object of Desire exhibition, my attempt is to draw mankind's attention to the nude human form and encourage debate and appreciation on it and enable me to present my perspective of it and the thoughts it provokes," he said.

"The image of the nude body reminds me that sexuality and mortality are our very nature and that the beauty of our animality cannot be separated from the beauty of our spirituality. The nude is an image of unity, of spirit incarnate and matter imbued with life."

Mutamba said he was inspired to do the nudity art as a feeling of fulfilment when he creates work of art adding that he cherishes the heightened pleasure of creating and strive to influence the sensation that viewers have when they look at his work.

He added that nudity hides neither its eroticism nor its mortality, but shows the human as a cell of the body of earth.

"The nude is a talisman to heal the ancient division afflicting humanity and an assertion of the ideals of freedom and triumph over fundamentalism and fear.

Historically and biblically, the nude figure has been seen as representing innocence and purity as well as sensuality and sexuality," he said.

"The artistic nude can be Apollonian, showing the harmonies of sacred geometry as embodied in the human form, or it can be Dionysian, expressing unconstrained energy or emotion; power and weakness, pride and shame, pleasure and pain. All these are the experiences of being in the flesh and all can be shown in the image of the flesh."

May those local artistes who want to engage or are already in this trend of nudity disguised as passion of art be at least reminded that people walked half-naked during the colonial era not by design, but because of the times as man was still on the discovering path.

Feedback: wantonio@alphamedia.co.zw

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