Putting urban life to test

Dr Tony Monda Art Zone
In an exhibition of paintings and sculptures entitled “In Black and White”, Zanele Anne Mutema and Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude at First Floor Gallery examine urban psychosis and the dark side of urban life in Harare.
Neurosis, psychosis, poverty and depression are linked in socio-psychological studies of societies. In many studies in art, these aberrations have been given vent to by many artists in both historical and in contemporary times and situations.

Examples can be seen in works by Georg Grosz (1893-1959), whose work took on a nightmarish and surreal quality, the twisted neurotic line of Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Picasso’s (1881-1973) El Loco, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s dismembered, fragmented figures and faces, et al, created art which found inspiration in society’s insanity and examined the plight of mad people.

At the height of the drought in the 1990s, 2002 and the subsequent infamous fiscal crash and food shortages of 2007-2010, similar responses emerged from the artists. In the 1990s, Louis Meque’s award-winning work and social critique on Zimbabwe’s high rate of unemployment simply entitled “Poor” wrought similar sentiments.

Many more artists explored and sought to examine the plight of people surviving on the outer edge of society, the social cranks and those considered mentally unhinged. In Zimbabwe, there are a growing number of mentally challenged people, whose plight as a result of the challenging economic circumstances and the poor conditions of mental institutions which have been well documented.

A resident of Harare’s infamous Mbare, artist Gresham Nyaude captures a different side of the high density conurbation. His subject of visual interrogation for the exhibition is a day in the life of an indigent man who has found refuge in a shopping trolley. Painted at different times of the night and twilight, Nyaude presents the viewer with a fragmented contorted study of a mad man asleep in his trolley, “Experiencing his Demons”.

Installation artist-sculptor Zanele Anne Matema looks introspectively at the decapitated female torso. Several female effigies wrapped in polyurethane black bags, are suspended from the ceiling in diffused sinister red light as if in a private gallows. She transports us into a dark nightmarish world of insecurity.

Here time and space oscillate and mental orientations are disjointed in a manner reminiscent of a dark, sinister boudoir in an Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller. The room draped in black synthetic tulle fabric is dark, sinister, and foreboding. Matema’s work leaves one moved, if not in total fear — in a weighty dark contemplation that remains with you long after viewing her macabre, sombre work.
Currently, there seems to be a tendency amongst young Zimbabwean artists to examine the underside of life in their art works. As a critic, I am left wondering if something, or someone, has snuffed the sunlight out of Zimbabwean Art. On an inquiring note one is inclined to ask: “Are these recent socially inquiring dour artworks of social misfits a sign of the times?”

The exhibition “In Black and White” reveals an unusual grave social profundity. The two artists disclose the vulnerability of the human condition in all its complexities. Here, is the life of a society stripped of its cosmetic visage in austere contrast to the blithe artworks often produced by many young artists.

Patronage of this hard hitting art exhibition at First Floor Gallery is certainly worth your time.

Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) in Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He worked as an intern in Psychology of Art and Remedial Art Therapy at the Lafayette School of Art Therapy for the Mentally Handicapped Children, in New Orleans, US. He is an author, art critic, art consultant and a practising visual artist.

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