Black middle class and fine art in Zimbabwe

Art & Design | By Calvin Chimutuwah, Fine Artist | 07 October 2013

Every time an artist makes something, he wants that piece to communicate and the question is who this person that the artist wants to communicate with.

With our economy; there is a middle class that has emerged. If you go around Zimbabwe, Harare is expanding, there are amazing buildings that are being erected. People are building mansions and you wonder; where is the economy going. People are making money.  And you may ask what are they hanging in the walls of their homes.

I will give you a very interesting comment. A friend of mine called me and said; ‘I have this beautiful painting, it’s an original painting but it has got a bit of a mess on the edge, can you just come and fix it’. It was after he heard that I had gone to Hwange, to a museum to clean some paintings and conserve them. I went to his home. It was a print and it was not locally made. This guy is aware that he needs art in his home,  but he has no idea of what an original oil painting looks like; and he had no idea where he can get an original painting. I was disappointed. It’s a print, a terrible one; for that matter; and there’s lots of guys who are very talented that are producing works and no-one is seeing them. In all these homes my worry is, what are they hanging on their walls?

Now, whoever owns such houses, I know where they eat; where they have their businesses. It is these up market coffee shops; and go to those upmarket coffee shops and I would bet that 70% of them and most of them that I visited, don’t have original paintings. 

There used to be the popular ‘The Barnies’; they had very beautiful prints and they were not originals and they were done by an English guy. The only original work that was there was a small painting, if not two by Petros Kaseke. They were not the dominant ones and there is a very beautiful mural. One of the artists; I’m not sure of his name, did that. That’s good. But I was very disappointed by those nice large prints; I think they are almost a metre and half by a metre; and they are well framed.

With the so called ‘bourgeoisies’ if I would call them. People who want to be associated with whatever the contemporary move. When they see the work by foreign artists, they will want to go and buy that one and put them in their homes; and you hardly see them in galleries.

So, the middle class, as much as they are building beautiful homes; and I hope the designers and architects are local; for that matter and hope that they are not just uprooting a Mediterranean plan and just say; I want this at my piece of land. They also want to go further when they dress their homes, when they buy their furniture they need to buy locally made furniture. There are so many good carpenters. After they are finished furnishing their homes and working out their space, they now need to make sure they have good local artworks on their walls. If one is to visit from one studio to the next there is amazing work that we are seeing that are worth to be hung on their walls.

We need to meet them where they hangout (panodyira hove, ndipo patinofanira kuenda), Where they eat where they work. I have put together a portfolio of my work titled 'corporate art'. The good thing about corporate is that havana basa nokuti mari haizi yavo ' (they are not concerned about spending on art because its not their money). They can buy a piece for $2000 or for $10 000 so long as the receipts are going into a file. So when we meet them there and present our works. When they start to appreciate the art and buy for the walls in their offices, they will also get to like it for their homes. The only artwork anyone can buy fro the walls of their home is a portrait. A true representation of themselves, then they can hang it on the walls.

Let me give you another example which is quite disappointing. I have visited a number of prominent offices and there is the word 'Courage', with a quote  superimposed on a picture of guys parachuting. Its an aerial view, very nice photograph, but very American. Don't we have anything that is very artistic locally that can depict that, don't we have writers that we can quote, with very powerful statements on courage? The parachuting one its team work and you have parachuters, its not our culture. Maybe when our societies affluence goes up, we may start to parachute, but its copying!

We need to meet this middle class where they work, where they eat tonokanda zvirauro zvedu ipapo (cast our fishing nets) and say this is the worm to eat and we present them with good work. That will be my take and I starting to do that and I am rallying other artist and saying lets educate our fellow brothers who have now made it who are now affluent. Lets show the,m our work, good local art.

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