Disowning my totem
Stephen Garan’anga Visual Art
Anyone that refuses to acknowledge their ‘mutupo’ (totem) is regarded as a prodigal child who has been mentally colonised. It is grossly unacceptable in native African people’s traditional way of life, worse if this is being questioned by a native African child who left home to get tertiary education in the Western former colonial master’s world.
‘Disowning my Mutupo’ is the theme of a debut professional solo exhibition by young and upcoming female artist Tandazani Dhlakama currently showing at Koo Vha Creative Hub gallery at Newlands Shopping centre in Harare.
Dhlakama’s two dimensional artworks on show narrate great potential and talent that need to be nurtured. She also works comfortably in various forms of sculpture though she exclaimed her impatience when chipping away at stone.
Her paintings at the ‘Creative Hub’ gallery range from very small to huge in various styles with animal imagery. When asked why she chose such a theme she said most of her work that she created in the past three years has monkey or baboon imagery in it because of her Mutupo (roughly translated as a family totem in Shona) is Soko (monkey). She said she has used primates to personify family issues, difficult circumstances and personal hopes.
Dhlakama further explained, “Sometimes, in order to understand the present, one has to understand the past. Who we are now may be rooted in yesterday’s occurrences.
Our traits, our character, the happy and traumatic subtle patterns found in those who bare the same family name.
These can all be off shoots of seeds planted in our pasts.
It is possible for a person to find themselves facing either favourable or unfavourable consequences of the past. They may not have initially directly involved the individual who now faces their results.
Yet, sometimes products of things established by one’s ancestors appear in their lives.
It is essential for us today to decide on what traits, characteristics or patterns we want to cut out or discard from our lives.
For example if your great grandfather was an alcoholic, it probably affected the couple of generations negatively.
Understanding your family history will help you to understand your family’s financial status, challenges and general patterns.
However, there are important decisions that you can make to break those destructive patterns in your blood line – you can do this for your sake and for the sake of the future generations.
I once heard a preacher say that some people have ideas and dreams, but the enemy comes like a bird and it perches in their mind and leaves bird droppings there.
I found this interesting. You are what you think. What or how you think shapes how you perceive the world. Birds are like thoughts.
Controlling your perception and ultimately your destiny”.
Dhlakama’s explanation is touchy and reflects very personal. This is vivid in her painting titled ‘Soko on chair’ which has a multi green baboon in rough brush strokes sadly confined to a wheelchair in a secludedspace reflected by an empty wishy-washy background dominated by hot orange colours dribbling into yellows, bits of browns and a dose of cold light blue.After the opening she lightly gave me an insight on how her father has been sick for the past five years.
Presumably the art piece is dedicated to the memory of the uncomfortable situation.
She found the power in art to express her heartfelt emotions and finds relief to make sense of the situation. Even the sensitivity of thehard-hitting title of the exhibition ‘Disowning my Mutupo’ is neutralised by the purpose.