THE new Arches venue at Aberfoyle Estate in the Honde Valley will be officially opened on Saturday night with The Stars Are Bright, an exhibition that celebrates the work of students of the Cyrene Mission School during the 1940s.
Located 32km southwest of Bulawayo on the edge of the Matopos, the mission under the guidance of Canon Ned Paterson (1895-1974) developed an unusual decorative style, recognisable for its lush, broad sweeps of brushwork.
Art was a compulsory subject at Cyrene and Paterson encouraged the students, many of them disabled, to “fill up the whole page” with indigenous landscapes, reimagined local myths and biblical narratives.
Western Christian themes were often translated into distinctive African imagery. The art then came to the attention of the British Royal Family during their 1947 African Tour, after which several exhibitions were arranged overseas, with the sales of art used to fund Cyrene.
The Stars Are Bright collection comprises 600 unsold works from exhibitions in the UK, Europe and USA from 1947 to 1953, when Paterson departed Cyrene. The paintings were rediscovered in 1978, having been kept in storage at a church in London.
Lisa Masterson, the local director of The Stars Are Bright exhibition said: “After 70 long years, this astonishingly brave and truthful work can now be reunited with the very landscapes that inspired it, which makes for an exciting and emotional homecoming.”
Cyrene produced an astonishing pedigree of black artists, scholars and practitioners: Adomech Moyo became the first African teacher of occupational therapy in southern Africa; Livingstone Sango became a prominent taxidermist with the National Museum; William Mariwi became a highly praised artist of religious iconography.
Randford Sililo was commissioned to paint three large murals at the Livingstone Museum, while Richard Rachidi became the first qualified black art teacher in his home country. Kingsley Sambo and Samuel Songo both finished school at Cyrene and continued to teach art alongside Paterson for many years.
The Stars Are Bright exhibition at The Arches will see 81 of the most outstanding pieces by 40 artists on display until March 2022. The Arches adjoins Aberfoyle Lodge, which was built in the 1950s for tea estate managers, before it was renovated into a lodge and conference centre that can accommodate up to 50 guests.
Going forward, The Arches will function as a multi-use facility for art exhibitions, conferences, workshops and special events like weddings.
The paintings are on loan to hydropower operator NRE from The Curtain Foundation and will be exhibited in the national galleries in Harare and Bulawayo in 2022.