Debby Hart’s soft heart
Monica Cheru-Mpambawashe Review Editor
Breaking into any field in the Zimbabwe creative industry is a huge challenge for hopeful artists because the talent is abound in all fields, says artist Debby Hart. She was speaking in an interview at the sidelines of her exhibition held recently at Execulink Offices in Milton Park. “Zimbabwe is full of very creative artists across all genres for our population figure and that means we have huge competition in all field,” she said.
The exhibition was mostly made up of Debby’s animal drawings which she works in chalk pastels. She modestly says she is not a very good painter but her landscapes at the entrance were no amateur pieces. Debby has held exhibitions of her works in Zimbabwe and abroad in places including the United Sates and the United Kingdom over the past 18 years.
Later this month she will be exhibiting in Sweden to raise funds for an orphanage in Mutare. On how most Zimbabwean artists across genres have to garner international recognition before getting accolades at home, Debby says this is something that can be corrected.
“It is very sad that our artists have to leave because they are not appreciated at home. This is not just for fine artists but for everyone, musicians, writers, sculptors. But I think appreciation can be taught and we can learn to consume our own art. Why should one have to go to another country to watch Oliver Mtukudzi’s perform?”
Debby got into art through a tradition of storytelling:
“I was born in Zimbabwe, which was called Rhodesia then, during quite a dark time. We were at war with ourselves and with the outside world. One of the things I liked best as a little girl, during that time, was listening to stories. My father would tell me stories about all sorts of animals and my imagination would come to alive. I would find myself imagining them as they went on their hair-raising and sometimes hilarious adventures.
“Later the stories from the childhood would come to mind as I took in my African landscape and its inhabitants whether big or small. Having returned to Zimbabwe after studying fine art and textile design in Cape Town I started experimenting with my brush and paints. Animals and all sorts of people started coming to life. Years later, Zimbabwe has changed and it continues to inspire me,” she wrote in a blurb that was part of the exhibition.
Her pictures are more than just renditions of people and animals as they evoke that second look and demand an exploration of beliefs, emotions and perceptions. Which is exactly the artist’s goal: “I want every picture to want a reaction from you, not be a mere object but emotion grabbing,” she says of her intention when she sets out to create her masterpieces.
One piece that had the red dot signifying a sale by the end of the evening was “Baby Leopard”. The subject fills the screen in all its magnificent and realistic representation and looks quite like a cute kitten. But the fierce future predator lurks in the steady gaze of the eyes warning one not to even think of taking it home and try to make a domestic pet out of it.
In “Grey Child” and “Brown Child” the artists evokes the infinite preciousness that one associates with human offspring. The chubby cheeks, bright eyes and rosebud lips invite a caress but there is a pathos inherent in both paintings perhaps because the models are from the Mutare orphanage which is close to Debby’s heart.
Debby says it takes her about a month to complete a picture and she works from seven in the morning to three in the afternoon. She says she greatly admires her friend Zimbabwean children’s books writer Sabrina Sheldon. “She paints with words,” explains Debby. Debby is also closely involve with conservation for the wild animals that provides many of her subjects. For this recent exhibition donations for Aware Trust, the only veterinary conservation trust in the country were collected at the door.