The recently ended Cape Town Art Fair was an indicator of the strengths on which Contemporary Art in Africa are gaining as a nominal Special Project entitled Tomorrows/ Today was advanced for eight solo exhibiting artists. Continuing Zimbabwe’s run of garnering international attention through penetrating bodies of work and substantial analysis of themes, Masimba Hwati came to the fore by way of an exhibition held through Stellenbosch Museum of Art and Culture (SMAC) composed of earlier works that expressed urbane interpretations of Indigenous Knowledge Systems.
Hwati took the Cape Town Art Fair Special Project Prize ahead of compatriots Gresham Nyaude and Mathias Chirombo, both National Gallery School of Visual Art and Design alumni who predominantly paint. Rehema Chachage, a Mixed Media Artist from Tanzania, Laura “Lady Skollie” Windvogel, a South African painter, ruby onyinyechi amanze, a Nigerian artist whose works centre on drawing, Kyle Morland, a South African sculptor and photographer, Thania Petersen who is also from South Africa. The artists were judged by a panel comprised of Luigi Fassi, Steirischer Herbst Festival Visual Art Curator and the South African National Gallery’s curator for Contemporary Art, Ernestine White.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) sat down to discuss the Cape Town Art Fair, the Special Project Prize and the AVA Pixels of Ubuntu exhibition run with Masimba Hwati (MH).
NGZ: What was the key focus area for Tomorrows/ Today and what was the dominant demographic with regards to the artists that participated in the Project?
MH: The artists who participated in the Tomorrows/ Today Special Project were mainly from Southern, West and East Africa. There was a diverse mix of young artists from the three regions with different approaches to style; with varied messages and subject matter.
NGZ: What do you feel was the Selection criterion for the Special Project?
MH: I feel that the curators sought out artists who can create works that have an appeal to the global market; therein there is a facet to appeal to the regional market also, where the artists could produce artworks that appeal to the South African lens.
One may notice that most of a large number of the exhibitors are from the Southern African region and thus can provide insights that the buyers there can definitively peg as a reflection of the Contemporary Art scene on the continent, with an ingrained knowledge of the affairs that are prevalent within it. Noteworthy is the fact that the co-curators have an astounding knowledge of tastes and trends regionally and globally, so it is with great interest I embarked on this special project, with the backing of the Stellenbosch Museum of Art and Culture (SMAC).
NGZ: What do you think, in your personal capacity, the Special Project Prize will give you?
MH: Aside from the honour of being the very first artist to win this prize, the Cape Town Art Fair Special Projects Prize will allow me to invest more in my work. There is a tendency by individuals to dwell on the ephemeral; sadly stunting their productivity and development whilst not viewing their creative practice at a premium, thus I intend to generate expansion practically and contextually through a process of constantly capacitating my means of production.
NGZ: Your booth received a positive influx of viewers and reviews amongst the eight exhibitors, what was your piece de resistance?
MH: One of my works entitled “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (which was the overall title of Hwati’s exhibition) is a personal favourite as it is derived eponymously from the song by Bobby McFerrin. It amplified the booth in which I exhibited as a whole as it drew viewers to the contextual parameters I sought out to address regarding the overall theme of the project.
It serves as a diplomatic response to how Africa is viewed through the global lens; the ostentatious concern with the continent is placed in proximity with the local urge that the rest of the world mind their own business. Through that scope, all the concern for the continent draws out the malicious intentions that are present in international affairs.
NGZ: As for the work itself, in what context did you initiate the showcase?
MH: Symbolism was key to the whole exhibition, I used inert would not move without external force exerted on it, the work is composed of a wheelbarrow and a table; two paradoxical objects. The table forms a platform for dialogue while the wheelbarrow is a mobile device.
The two elements investigate the lens in which Africa is viewed by and how Africans view themselves introspectively. The mobility of the wheelbarrow and the stationary nature of the table define the internal and external conflicts the continent faces.
NGZ: If you could give a self appraisal of Don’t Worry, Be Happy, what do you think was the main driver for you clinching the Special Projects Prize?
MH: Firstly, the work was fresh to the viewers as it was all three-dimensional for presentation on walls and on the plinth; which was comparably different from the other participants, consequently inciting more traffic and commanding more attention.
Lastly, it represented Brand Zimbabwe, which has garnered top drawer attention in the art world over the last couple of years. This is largely because of International platforms such as the Venice Biennale, which have used Zimbabwe’s creative spirit to bolster the country’s image in a positive light. Pixels of Ubuntu, which is showing at the AVA Gallery is receiving gratifying reviews and audience, a continuation of its nominal wave in Venice, which I hope will be reiterated when the exhibition returns to Zimbabwe and opens in May. As visual artists we are pushing Brand Zimbabwe and understand there is an overwhelming interest in Zimbabwean art, hence we provide the expressive output to the International art market.