Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times – 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画

Feature - 26 May 2018

Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times

In the face of 'hyena politics', five artists from the Zimbabwean capital who explore the human form as a symbol of resistance 

By Sean O'Toole

Over the past two decades, Zimbabwe, a largely agrarian southern African country of 17 million inhabitants, has been buffeted by seemingly endless troubles. The carnivorous politics at the centre of these problems are hard to overlook – particularly in appraisals of art from this landlocked country – but are also easily overstated. Despite the collapse of Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy, hyperinflation, blatant election tampering, intimidation of opposition politicians and the November 2017 military coup d’état that unseated the country’s autocratic president, Robert Mugabe, artists there have continued working and exhibiting. The northeastern capital of Harare has retained a cosmopolitan character, with an energetic and worldly community of artists congregated around the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ), a prim Le Corbusier-inspired building with reinforced concrete stilts that first opened in 1957.

Painting, especially of the human figure, has emerged as a preferred form for Harare’s artists: it is a medium rife with exploratory possibility and expressive opportunity. The paintings of Virginia Chihota, Misheck Masamvu, Gareth Nyandoro, Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude and Portia Zvavahera employ divergent techniques to affirm the body in all its forms, whether at work or at rest, in pain or pleasure, alone or in embrace. How do we read the recurrence of the figure in their works? Is it an act of defiance in a place of hunger, suffering and death? And why is German expressionism so frequently invoked to make sense of Zimbabwe’s colour-rich figurative painting?


Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画

Misheck Masamvu, Zombie President, 2017, oil on canvas, 1.6 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: the artist and Goodman Gallery, Cape Town

Zimbabwe has never really been celebrated for its painters; its tradition of stone sculpture is far more widely recognized. However, for a brief period in the 1960s, black painters from the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia commanded widespread interest outside their country. In 1962, Alfred Barr, the first director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, acquired several paintings by Thomas Mukarobgwa, Joseph Ndandarika and Kingsley Sambo during a visit to the country, eventually including them in the exhibition ‘New Art from Rhodesia’ six years later. Tutored by Frank McEwen, the founding director of NGZ, these Workshop School painters remain an important reference point.

In 2011, Raphael Chikukwa, the current chief curator of the NGZ, included six of Masamvu’s existentially fraught, figurative paintings in the inaugural Zimbabwe Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, along with a bench-like sculpture titled Deliverance (2011). (A politically explicit seventh painting mysteriously disappeared in transit.) Chikukwa saw an affinity between Masamvu’s ecstatic explosions of colour and the work of Mukarobgwa. It was McEwen who coined the phrase ‘Afro-German expressionism’ to account for Mukarobgwa’s colour-rich and atavistic style, which in Masamvu’s case exceeds affinity, claiming instead direct influence.

Born three months after Zimbabwean independence in 1980, Masamvu began attending Saturday workshops at Gallery Delta, a pioneering space opened in 1975 by painter Helen Lieros with her art dealer husband, Derek Huggins. In 1999, Masamvu participated in a workshop at the gallery led by visiting German-American artist Jerry Zeniuk and, later, in the mid-2000s, won a scholar-ship to study under this colour-interested abstract painter at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts. Masamvu’s German education is reflected in his phenomenological approach to colour and strategy of incompletion. His earliest paintings were graphically accomplished figure studies offering uncomplicated statements on Zimbabwe’s grim politics. X (2004), a black male bust floating atop a red ground, is typical: the man’s face is assiduously detailed, his mouth sealed with red tape. In 2004, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Zimbabwe third after Iraq and Cuba as the most hazardous place for reporters.


Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画

Misheck Masamvu, A Gentleman’s Hustle, 2011, oil on canvas, 1.8 × 1.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and Goodman Gallery, Cape Town

Two of Masamvu’s six paintings presented in Venice showcase his mature style. Sacred Verse (2011), a particular standout, depicts an exhausted bull with a serpent tail mounted from the front by a human torso disappearing into a lizard-like creature; it is a remarkable synthesis of mythical figuration and scallop patterning, a strategy that persists in his work. A Gentleman’s Hustle (2011) portrays a stoic male figure in Christ-like pose, his face a confluence of lush yet delicate brushwork, his hollow abdomen the site of a foosball game viewed by tiny featureless figures. Though their meaning remains cryptic, both works include abstractly rendered figures involved in metaphorical labours linked to the country’s impoverished times. 

Masamvu uses the figure as both a formal and metonymic device. ‘I am interested in the balance of space, and how a figure relates in that space,’ he told me, further describing how his technique has evolved from ‘disfiguring’ to ‘transfiguration’. Painted shortly after Masamvu’s Venice debut, the four-metre-long canvas Fruit of Life (2012) portrays a bare tree holding up a lifeless body and bears out the artist’s habit of balancing exegetical statement with exuberant colour. His blocks and circles of colour are not simply background fill. In his pastel-toned Zombie President (2017), for instance, a work that references Zimbabwe’s former premier, two loosely painted figures with big, cartoonish hands emerge from a crowd of circular heads that also constitute a backdrop, or painterly ground.

The collapse of figure and ground that is so pervasive in Masamvu’s work also typifies Tapiwa Nyaude’s paintings, several of which appeared in the 2018 New Museum Triennial in New York. The motley, camouflage-inspired, agitprop canvases conceal far more than they reveal. The standout diptych, If You Want to Help Us You Need to Understand, Part 1 and Part 2 (2018), employs bright blocks of colour as a claustrophobic setting for half-formed interlaced bodies, some with suggestions of heads, all of them obscured by dense patterns. In Wrong Conversation, Part 3 (2016), two crudely delineated male figures are portrayed against a bold patchwork backdrop that partially subsumes their bodies. Politics, identity, propaganda and consumer culture all collide in Nyaude’s work, which is as indebted to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s decomposing figuration as to Masamvu’s existential paintings.


Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画

Gareth Nyandoro, Painter, 2018, ink on paper mounted on canvas, 1.2 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: © the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town

Unlike most of his peers, Nyaude explicitly engages with race. The face of one of the characters in Wrong Conversation is painted in an undifferentiated shade of charcoal black, reminiscent of Kerry James Marshall’s depictions of African-Americans. Many of Nyaude’s canvases, such as his pop-surreal The New Zimbabwe (2018), portray incomplete figures with fat-lipped mouths that quote the hoary visual legacy of ‘Sambo’ caricatures. The constant inclusion of these degraded symbols of blackness in his work is complex, though broadly consistent with a strategy of creative hijacking – or détournement, to quote Guy Debord – evident among a younger generation of artists, including South Africa-based painter Mxolisi Vusi Beauchamp and artist collective Dead Revolutionaries Club. For instance, in Nyaude’s The Red General (2018), a disfigured central subject with a laughing Sambo head foregrounds identity politics and the body in a work ostensibly about martial power. 


Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画

Virginia Chihota, Kuzvirwisa (Fighting Self), 2016, screen print on paper, 1.3 × 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and Tiwani Contemporary, London

Chihota and Zvavahera also explore these themes in their figurative paintings, but in ways that register a different understanding of power and criticality. Writing in 1999, the author Yvonne Vera, a former director of NGZ’s satellite space in Bulawayo, observed that a woman writer ‘must have an imagination that is plain stubborn, that can invent new gods and banish ineffectual ones’. Chihota and Zvavahera both transmit this iconoclasm through their work. Chihota’s drawings and monoprints, though less explicitly colourful than those of her peers, are more ranging in style. Some are cartoonish and biting, such as her gaudy bridal portrait of a jet-black figure with a mask-like face and elaborate floral dress, from her series ‘Mistakes in the Right Lines’ (2013). But Chihota is just as adept at life studies: Ndombundira Chokwadi Chandinoziva (I Embrace the Truth I Know, 2011) is a disarming image of a sleeping woman, arms folded, lying on a pink couch, the green pillow supporting her head forming a kind of halo. Meanwhile, in her screen print Kuzviwira (Fighting Self, 2016), two ballooning figures, caught in a strange embrace, blend into near abstraction, evoking coupling and intimacy.


Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画

Portia Zvavahera, Cover Me, 2017, printing ink and oil bar on canvas, 2 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: © the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Zvavahera uses oil-based printing inks and oil bar to create limpid portraits of club-footed giants and spectral female figures decked in regal finery that are reminiscent of Diego Velázquez’s stately portraits. Cover Me (2017), a full-length study of an apparitional figure in a billowing dress, is typical for its mucky application and elaborate patterning, which the artist prints rather than paints. What I See Beyond Feeling #2 (2016) is an arresting portrayal of grief: Zvavahera loosely conjures the act of mourning in two bodily forms that interlock against a thick purple ground. Sacred Vessels (2016) also explores this figural union and includes a child-like form beneath the pattern of the central figure’s dress. For all their raw, expressionist verve, the grace and intricacy of these works recall Gustav Klimt.

Like Zvavahera and Chihota, Nyandoro is a graduate of Harare Polytechnic. An outlier among this group of painters, his installations depicting Harare street life – and also footballers in his 2017 exhibition, ‘Stall(s) of Fame’, at Palais de Tokyo in Paris – are made from layers of paper that he inks, cuts and lacerates to form portraits, in a process similar to décollage. Timau Ichiita Madhiri Ayo (2016), for example, features two bare-chested labourers, expressionistically evoked, building a wall. The work is from a series about urban hustle in Harare and is noteworthy for its recognition of the reciprocity and mutuality involved in labour. This process of recognition is, perhaps, what is most fundamental about the new painting coming out of Zimbabwe. In a country tenuously negotiating political change, the figure – whether alone or in communion, suppressed or even disfigured – proposes fragile transcendence in the face of ‘hyena politics’.

Virginia Chihota is an artist based in Podgorica, Montenegro. In 2016, she had a solo exhibition at Tiwani Contemporary, London, UK, and in 2017, her work was included in a group exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria.

Misheck Masamvu is an artist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2017, his work was included in group exhibitions at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, and Heong Gallery, Cambridge, UK.

Gareth Nyandoro is an artist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2017, he had a solo show at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France, and later this year he will have a solo exhibition at SMAC Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude is an artist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2017, he had a solo exhibition at First Floor Gallery, Harare. Earlier this year, his work was included in the New Museum Triennial, New York, USA.

Portia Zvavahera is an artist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2017, she had solo exhibitions at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg, and Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles, USA. Her work is currently included in the 10th Berlin Biennale, Germany.

This article appears in the print edition of frieze, June/July/August 2018, issue 196, with the title 'Defiant Bodies'.

Main image: Gresham Tapiwa, Nyaude, New Zimbabwe (detail), 2018, oil on unstretched canvas, 1.8 × 2.7 m. Courtesy: the artist and First Floor Gallery, Harare

Sean O'Toole

Sean O’Toole is a writer and editor living in Cape Town, South Africa. He contributed an essay to David Goldblatt’s updated 2016 Steidl edition of In Boksburg (1982).

Sean O'Toole
group show
Virginia Chihota
Misheck Masamvu
Gareth Nyandoro
Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude
Portia Zvavahera
Altered States

Issue 196

First published in Issue 196

June - August 2018

特色- 2018年5月26日食肉政治,反抗的身体:动荡时代的哈拉雷绘画,面对“鬣狗政治”,来自津巴布韦首都的五位艺术家探索人类形态作为反抗的象征Sean O和039岁,在过去二十年里,津巴布韦是一个农业大国,南部非洲国家有1700万居民,受到了没完没了的麻烦。在这些问题的中心,食肉政治是很难忽视的,尤其是在这个内陆国家的艺术评估中,但也很容易夸大。尽管津巴布韦农业经济崩溃,恶性通货膨胀、公然的选举篡改、恐吓反对派政治家和2017年11月军事政变推翻了国家专制总统Robert Mugabe,但那里的艺术家仍在继续工作。寓意。哈拉雷东北部的首都保留了一个世界性的特征,一个充满活力和世俗的艺术家聚集在津巴布韦国家美术馆周围(NGZ),这是一个由柯布西耶在1957年初首次开放的钢筋混凝土高跷建筑。绘画,尤其是人物画,已经成为哈拉雷艺术家的首选形式:它是一个充满探索性和表达性机会的媒介。弗吉尼亚·齐奥塔、Misheck Masamvu、Gareth Nyandoro、Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude和Portia Zvavahera的绘画采用发散的技巧来确认身体的所有形式,无论是在工作中还是在休息中,在痛苦或愉悦中,独自或拥抱。我们如何看待他们作品中的人物形象的重现?在饥饿、痛苦和死亡的地方,这是一种藐视的行为吗?为什么德国表现主义如此频繁地被用来理解津巴布韦色彩丰富的具象绘画?WebMyMy2017ZoMeMeNo.McKYK.JPG Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画 MasHek MasaMvu,僵尸总统,2017,油画油画,1.6×1.3米礼貌:艺术家和古德曼画廊,开普敦津巴布韦从来没有真正为其画家而闻名;它的传统石雕的认识更为广泛。然而,在20世纪60年代的一个短暂时期,来自英国南部罗得西亚殖民地的黑人画家在他们的国家之外得到了广泛的兴趣。1962,新约克现代艺术博物馆的第一位导演Alfred Barr在访问该国时,获得了Thomas Mukarobgwa、Joseph Ndandarika和Kingsley Sambo的几幅油画,六年后,他们最终将其列入罗得西亚的新艺术展。NGZ的创始主任Frank McEwen辅导,这些车间学校画家仍然是一个重要的参考点。在2011,Raphael Chikukwa,现任NGZ的首席策展人,包括六的Masamvu的生存充满活力,比喻绘画在就职津巴布韦馆在第五十四威尼斯双年展,以及一个长凳状雕塑题为救赎(2011)。(一部政治上明确的第七幅油画在运输过程中神秘地消失了)。丘库瓦看到了Masamvu狂喜的色彩爆炸与穆卡罗布瓦的作品之间的亲缘关系。正是麦克尤恩创造了“反德国表现主义”这个词来解释穆卡洛布瓦的色彩丰富和返祖风格,在马萨姆维的案例中,它超越了亲和力,而不是直接影响。出生于1980的津巴布韦独立三个月后,Masavu开始参加星期六在画廊三角洲的工作室,这是一个开创性的空间,由画家Helen Lieros和她的艺术经纪人丈夫Derek Huggins于1975开张。1999,马萨姆武参加了参观德国裔美国艺术家Jerry Zeniuk的画廊的工作坊,后来,在2000年中期,赢得了一艘学者船,在慕尼黑美术学院的这位有兴趣的抽象画家的带领下学习。马萨姆维的德国教育体现在他对色彩的现象学方法和不完整的策略。他的最早的绘画是图形化完成的图形研究,为津巴布韦严峻的政治提供了简单的陈述。X(2004),一个黑色的半身像浮在红色地面上,是典型的:男人的脸是刻苦细致的,他的嘴用红胶带封住。2004,保护记者委员会在津巴布韦排名第三,仅次于伊拉克和古巴,这是记者们最危险的地方。WebyMISHECK-MasAMVU-A绅士-HuSTE-2011-Cul-Cavas180CM-X-150 CM-2Y-CMYK.JPG Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画 MasHek MasaMvu,绅士的2011,油画上的油画,1.8×1.5米礼貌:艺术家和古德曼画廊,开普敦Masamvu六的两个在威尼斯展出的绘画展示了他成熟的风格。神圣诗篇(2011),一个特别的突出,描绘了一头筋疲力尽的公牛,尾巴从人类的躯干前部消失,变成了蜥蜴般的生物;它是一个神奇的合成神话和扇贝图案,一种持续存在于他的作品中的策略。一位绅士的喧嚣(2011)在基督般的姿势中描绘了一个斯多葛式的男性形象,他的脸庞是一个郁郁葱葱而精致的笔触的汇合,他的空腹是一个小人物的小游戏。虽然它们的含义仍然是神秘的,但这两部作品都包含了抽象的人物形象,它们涉及到与国家贫困时期有关的隐喻劳动。他告诉我,“我对空间的平衡感兴趣,以及一个人物如何在那个空间里感兴趣”,他进一步描述了他的技术是如何从“毁容”演变为“变形”的。在Masamvu首次亮相威尼斯后不久,四米长的生活画布(2012)描绘了一棵光秃秃的树,支撑着一个没有生命的身体,并展示了艺术家平衡平衡的训诂和旺盛的色彩的习惯。他的块和颜色圈不是简单的背景填充。例如,在他那柔和色调的僵尸总统(2017)中,一部引用津巴布韦前总理的作品,两个身材松散的卡通人物的手,从一群圆圆的脑袋中浮现出来,它们也构成了一个背景,或者是绘画的地面。在Masamvu作品中如此广泛的人物和地面的崩溃也代表了Tapiwa Nyaude的绘画作品,其中一些作品出现在纽约的2018个新博物馆三年展中。杂色、迷幻、伪装的画布隐瞒得远比他们揭示的要多。如果你想帮助我们,你需要理解,第1部分和第2部分(2018),使用明亮的颜色块作为半幽闭的交错体的幽闭恐惧的设置,一些有头部的建议,所有这些都被稠密的图案遮蔽。在错误的对话中,第3部分(2016)中,两个粗略描绘的男性人物被描绘成一个部分归入身体的大胆拼凑背景。政治、身份、宣传和消费文化在Nyaude的作品中都发生了碰撞,这与Jean Michel Basquiat对Masamvu的存在主义绘画的解构有一定的关系。WebGaGrth-NyANDROOH-PaTeNET2018ON纸质裱糊-CANVAS-KuCHKAKEAKAK123-X313YHR CYMYK.JPG WPA60260602IMG Gareth Nyandoro,画家,2018,纸上裱在画布上的墨水,1.2×1.3米礼貌:开普敦艺术家和SAMC画廊,UNILK他的大多数同龄人都与种族有着明显的联系。一个人物在错误对话中的表情被描绘在一个未分化的炭黑阴影中,让人想起Kerry James Marshall描写的非裔美国人。尼奥德的许多油画作品,如他的新津巴布韦(2018)的流行超现实主义,用胖乎乎的嘴描绘了不完整的人物,引用了“三宝”漫画的古老视觉遗产。在他的作品中,这些退化的黑色符号的不断包含是复杂的,尽管与一个创造性的劫持策略——或DeouTounEngress,引述Guy Debord——在年轻一代的艺术家,包括南非的画家Mxolisi Vusi Beauch中是显而易见的。AMP和艺术家集体死亡革命者俱乐部。例如,在Nyaude的《红色将军》(2018)中,一个被毁容的中心主题有一个笑Sambo头前身身份政治和身体在一个工作表面上关于军事力量。Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画 VijiaCHIHOTA,Kuzvirwisa(战斗自我),2016,丝网印刷在纸上,1.3×1.8米礼貌:艺术家和蒂瓦尼当代,伦敦CHIHOTA和Zvavahera也探讨这些主题在他们的比喻性绘画,但在方式上对权力和批判有着不同的理解。作者1999岁的作者Yvonne Vera是布拉瓦约NGZ卫星空间的前主任,他观察到一位女作家必须具有一种朴素的想象力,它可以发明新的神并驱逐无效的神。Chihota和茨瓦拉赫都通过他们的作品传递了这一形象。Chihota的画作和单色画虽然比她的同龄人色彩不那么鲜艳,但更具风格。有些是卡通和咬,如她的华丽的新娘肖像一个黑色的面具与面具面具和精心制作的花式礼服,从她的系列“错误的正确行”(2013)。但是Chihota对生活研究也很在行:Ndombundira Chokwadi Chandinoziva(我抱着我所知道的真相,2011)是一个睡着女人的解脱形象,手臂被折叠,躺在粉色沙发上,绿色的枕头支撑着她的头,形成了一种光晕。同时,在她的银幕上,Kuzviwira(战斗自我,2016),两个气球状的数字,陷入一种陌生的怀抱,融入了近乎抽象的状态,唤起了耦合和亲密。WEBYM5YMGY099-覆盖MEAXCMYK.JPG Carnivorous Politics, Defiant Bodies: Harare Painting in Turbulent Times - 肉食政治,反抗的身体:动荡时期的哈拉雷绘画 PurTa ZVavaHela,封面ME,2017,在油布上印刷油墨和油条,2×1.3米


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