An unexpected post-Mugabe boom has caught the attention of international art collectors.
In a makeshift studio, in an empty house on a ridge with a spectacular view of trees and blue sky, two artists are setting out brushes and paint. Half-finished canvases lean against walls. The bustle and noise of the city is far away.
Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude and Helen Teede are among a new wave of young artists in Zimbabwe who are attracting attention from collectors and curators worldwide. Both now work in a converted house surrounded by forest, a 40-minute drive from the capital, Harare.
Almost two years after former president Robert Mugabe, who died on September 6, stepped down, Zimbabwe is enjoying an unlikely boom in contemporary art, despite economic challenges.
“We want to talk about the time we are living in [in our paintings] … It comes out abstract and indirect but we have a collective responsibility to address what we know, what we see … There is source material in every day,” Teede (31) told the Guardian.
Valerie Kabov, who runs the First Floor Gallery in the centre of Harare and represents many emerging artists, said the post-Mugabe boom had been “unequivocal”.
“We’ve had a lot of international collectors coming and there is interest growing all the time … For a very small population of artists, the number of internationally successful artists that have emerged from Zimbabwe is really extraordinary.”
Kabov attributes the depth of talent in Zimbabwe to a tradition of education and intellectual inquiry, and “living in a really interesting matrix”.
“They cannot make work that is not important because there is nothing in their lives that is not important. There is none of this navel gazing. Here everything is real. The work comes from a really strong place emotionally . . . You add a little bit of skill and … boom!”
Last year, the prestigious Frieze magazine published a long report on contemporary art in Zimbabwe.
The South African Goodman gallery is opening in London next month with a show that includes works by Kudzanai Chiurai, one of Zimbabwe’s best known contemporary artists. Another well-known artist, Misheck Masamvu, won fame when Zimbabwe invested in a pavilion at the Venice Biennale art fair in 2011.
Since 2012, Kabov has travelled to international art fairs to represent her artists and boost the international profile of the country in the contemporary art world.
“Zimbabweans themselves are not aware of the extreme talent in their midst, because it is not considered an indigenous tradition,” she said.
Teede is concerned that the lack of a major domestic art market will mean that little work currently being produced remains in the country.
“There’s always been a crazy amount of talent here . . . But all the best work that is being produced at this super exciting time is being sold overseas and that is a big loss. In 50 years maybe there will be a museum and it will all have to be brought back,” she said.
Amanda Mushate, a 23-year-old artist represented by Kabov, said the biggest obstacle she faced was reconciling her creative ambitions with the expectations and habits of her friends.
One recent painting, entitled WhatsApp Gold, was inspired by the intensive use of social media of many of her peers.
“The biggest difficulty as an artist is to be myself, to be the real me in my social life,” Mushate said. “Other girls of my age, they are interested in their careers and don’t understand me being an artist. If they came to appreciate what I do, that would be my biggest achievement.”— The Guardian/Arts Writer.