Stephen Garan’anga Visual Art
Despite economic challenges in the country, local visual artists are determined to stay afloat and have devised means of creating art from the limited resources they have. The artists seem to have taken to heart the advice of a great poet and playwright who said “Use what you can.” The current remarkable multimedia exhibition themed ‘‘Mutations and Permutations: A Situationist Proposal’’ by renowned veteran artist Tapfuma Gutsa — a repository of wisdom — and his accomplice duo of mentees Daniel Chimurure and Ronald Mutemeri is an example of how artists can utilise what they have to come up with good works.
The premier show has been in the making for a couple of years since Gutsa terminated his stint at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare as the deputy director and curator of the institution. He had assumed artist-in-residence status at the Harare Polytechnic when he was invited to create work for the Zimbabwe Pavilion’s inaugural participation at the 54th edition of the International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Italy of 2011.
That is where he met with the then Harare Polytechnic student artists Daniel Chimurure and Ronald Mutemeri who constantly visited his studio for knowledge and inspiration.
Unfortunately the aspiring artists were struggling for their school fees and he accommodated them in the studio as long as they would work artistically.
During the same period he had secured an exhibition at the National Gallery in Harare and the ‘‘situation team’’ evolved as well as work for this exhibition commenced.
Since then the ‘‘situationist team’’ has performed various artistic projects of dizzy heights outside their comfort zones with scarce resources of which at periods considered abandoning but eventually soldiered on as learning experiences and giving back to community.
Gutsa a creative practitioner of repute in the 1980s and 90s enjoyed an economic boom chiefly because of his exploits in the stone art form, accessed premier art platforms, realised handsome art business transactions and had initiatives that he provided materials and space for aspiring and upcoming artists.
Since the turn of the millennium his economic boom dried and has been in and out of the tightest of economic situations that one wouldn’t imagine for a person of his stature.
Such is the nature of the arts, but being a natural born artist, his drive for creative knowledge and traditional history keeps him afloat, level headed and navigating through the days of his life.
The ‘‘Mutations and Permutations: A Situationist Proposal’’ exhibition is a result of these tight situations and a proposal to artists and the nation at large to find ways to make great things out of the tight situations they are deeply immersed.
The body of work that fills up much of the lower and upper deck of the Gallery’s exhibiting space incredibly vary from the sculptural work on the floor dominated by wood and a single stone piece and the loose hanging; immaculate colour combinations on drill in paintings which incorporate block printing.
Gutsa says he pays homage to the local great artist Thakor Patel for mentoring him.
Mixed media work on canvas hung on the walls upstairs with no artificial colour but combinations of numerous small natural materials including cylindrical wood cutups of various sizes glue stuck and belonging to ‘‘Mulonga project’’, a body of work that Tapfuma created with the inspiration from the Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley.
There are more wood sculptures with combinations of found objects which include animal horns and hard plastics; figurative linear ink drawings of various postures in naturally extracted light brown colour.
Then there is a column of phased out angular metallic bins rising up to the sparkling ceiling level under natural light dome; performance framed platform and all sorts to highlight some.
The exhibition is inclusive of work created during the various carried out projects by the ‘‘situationist team’’ with Gutsa as the brainchild.
Most amazing in a particular way are the paintings for many who know the practitioners involved.
None of them have been seen creating paintings and are neither recognised as painters. The use of sparing plain colour combinations on plain colour backgrounds of similar sized colour patches on block prints segments of the angular metallic bin column such as vermilions, cadmium yellows, cobalt blues and ivory blacks on purple.
The bin print columns in single colours of chromate black, cobalt blue, crimson and of the mixture on orange, to mention some are incredible.
Ordinary house paints were used on all the paintings belonging to a series called ‘‘Permutations’’. They do not reveal any traits of first-handers on the medium. The wooden sculptures and the single stone piece on the ground floor belong to a series themed ‘‘Mutations’’.
In a recent art talk dedicated to the exhibition at the National Gallery’s ‘‘Harare Conversations’’ platform, Gutsa expressed that the ‘‘Mutations’’ sculpture series explore a common form that resemble a truncated calabash but still evokes many other forms. They are mutations of a simple form intended to wake up cognitive images.
They avoid specific references and yet seem very familiar. He said the public was a great source of inspiration as they recognised images on the forms and gave them names such as ‘‘The Octopus’’, ‘‘Drinking Horn’’, and ‘‘Dinosaur’’.
Gutsa said the idea of propagation is central to this body of work. Variation of the same form and theme multiply exponentially automatically supplying new forms leaving the artist as a medium and facilitator.
For the paintings he explained that during the process of making the team (situationist team) encountered some discarded bins that responded to the ideas of the wooden sculptures, this time in distinct modules that recall Brancusi’s columns. The works moved to two dimensional plain but were not attempts to paint but rather fat objects that generate variants that subtly recall the bins.