All things painting
Harare – Land is probably the world’s most prized possession. Just about every war that has ever been fought has had land, or control of the resources beneath that land, at its heart.
Land is more than just something we plant seeds in or build homes on. It has spiritual connotations, linking our present to our past and acting as a guidepost to the future.
In this, and perhaps especially so, Africa is not an exception.
The inseparable link between Zimbabweans, particularly women, with their land has now been captured by Zimbabwe-based American artist Jill Saxton Smith, whose paintings are being exhibited in Harare.
They tell a compelling story about the central role land plays in the social, cultural and economic spheres of people.
The artist says after her extensive trips around the world, she is convinced that Zimbabweans are unparalleled in their attachment to their land.
And so for the two years she has been in the country she has been brining this attachment to the land to life through a series of paintings that are now on display at the National Art Gallery in the capital, Harare.
The exhibition runs from April 20 to the end of May.
“In observing the colours and textures of Zimbabwean landscapes, I quickly noticed people in the landscape. I saw people’s unique relationship with the land and the importance it plays in everyday life, livelihood and identity.
“I have great love for nature and the outdoors but became more envious of Zimbabwean’s more intimate connection to the land and I explore the connection with these pieces,” she says.
Some of her paintings depict women tilling the land with hoes, while one titled “Waiting for Rains” shows a hand throwing seeds on dry but tilled land.
“Waiting for Rains”, she explains, while showing a normal farming practice – planting seed in anticipation of rains that are yet to fall – also depicts the resilient hope among Zimbabweans who have tied their lot to their land for better or for worse.
The mother-of-three says as an artist, she is biased towards women in honour of their unmatched contribution to their societies, from raising kids and fending for the families. And this is only fitting considering that women are responsible for more than 60 percent of Africa’s agricultural labour, though very few of them actually own any land due to traditional and legal disadvantages.
“I have chosen to depict particularly women in my art work because I can relate more with feminine qualities of their figures and I also noticed the Zimbabwean women’s incredible strength: they provide for their families and their communities.
“As a foreigner this has led me to deeply appreciate Zimbabwean culture, tradition, history and values,” she goes on.
Jill, who holds a degree in Fine Art from Utah University in the United States, says her two-year stay in Zimbabwe following her husband’s relocation for career purposes to the country, gave her a first-hand insight into this land, which she says is far cry from the images of horror that are so often beamed in the Western media.
The artist believes Zimbabweans are fortunate to occupy such beautiful land.
Another of her paintings, titled “Balancing Roles”, continues with her theme of celebrating womanhood and women’s contributions to development. It illustrates the important roles mothers play in bringing up children right up to adulthood. They do this at much self-sacrfice and for very little personal economic gain.
In that painting, an elegant mother is fixing her doek headwear while balancing her baby on her back in strap.
Another vivid image of women and gender roles is seen in “Community Burdens”. In this piece, women walk while balancing loads on their heads.
“I got this insight from speaking with my gardener and maid who were so much committed to meeting their family obligations such that soon after getting paid, they were left with nothing for themselves. In the USA my money is for me and my kids and at times my parents,” she says.
Her painting of a woman plaiting another woman’s head under the shade of a tree is an attempt to capture the sisterhood that exists among these kindred souls.
Other paintings shows a woman seated on a hilltop in the famed Matopos area of Zimbabwe, deep in meditation, and another of Apostolic Sect members in their religious regalia worshipping under trees.
She says the two paintings show the key role land plays in the religious and cultural needs of people.
The exhibition is running under the theme “Red Earth-Pink Sky” and is part of a fundraising initiative for underprivileged communities in rural Zimbabwe, with emphasis on women and children.
It is being presented by Tambira Arts with assistance from award-winning sculptor Dominic Benhura who made space available for the exhibition at one of his studios.
Jill says the name of the exhibition refers to the richness of the land as well as the intricate relationships between women and the land.
In 15 years as a landscape artist using natural colours, Jill has exhibited internationally many times and she plans to take her Zimbabwean works for display in the United States.