Three cultures, three nations, three artists conversations

Tinashe Muchuri

Art is defined as life and a reflection of the society’s conversations through creatively expressed objects. Art is also deemed to be a connection of universal conversations at some point in time not privy to the artist.   

Numerous artistic conversations took place in Harare at the recent National Gallery of Zimbabwe organised International Conference of African Cultures under the theme “Mapping the Future.”

As the conference bustling with cultures and activities hosting artists, curators, arts critic, architectures, designers and scholars from all over the world, their conversations were not only in the conference room but extended to gallery space where art dialogued with each other.

Among the sculptures in conversations were a painting, an installation and a photograph telling a compelling story of human’s temporariness on earth and the need to cover own back when helping others to prevent being exposed from adversaries.

Dineo Seshee Bopape’s compressed anti-hill soil sculpture titled ‘Mavhu, Ivhu, Pasi’, Ogopoleng Kgomoethata’s photograph titled Envoy exhibiting at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and a student Sandra ‘Sangara’s Footprints on the Sand’ are some of the artistic creations exhibited at the National Gallery School of Visual Art and Design situated in Mbare high density suburb that were in a conversation.

Early 2017, Southern African nations of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa were hit by a Cyclone named Dineo, but this is not the centre of this writing.

We are talking about Dineo Seshee Bopape, a South African multimedia artist exhibiting an installation sculpture titled, ‘Mavhu, Ivhu, Pasi’ which if loosely translated says; ‘Soils, Soil, Earth’. The sculpture is described as a, ‘Site-specific compressed soil sculpture created from locally sourced loose soil, healing herbs and various other materials.’

The clay soil is compacted into a rectangular form with variable dimensions. On the top of the compressed soil are objects and designs. There are three heaps which look like anti-hills, herbs tied together into bundles, herbs partly burnt in clay bowels, moulded clay objects which look like stars and others in circular shape, a river running diagonally from the centre to North-West with three dry pools, maize seeds, round nut seeds and unshelled groundnuts and a small brown bottle with a white top resembling those hospital dispensary bottles. Aluminium foils placed under star like clay objects are seen in the east. The walls are splashed with soil reflecting a place not attended to.

Bopape creates an awareness with her sculpture of human’s temporariness on earth and the interdependences of the clay soil and humans. Clay soil signifies strength. If sand soil becomes weaker, we dig anti-hill soil to strengthen the weaker sand soil in order to strengthen it. When we become sick we dig tree roots to strengthen our health. Our health is embedded in the food we eat and we cook it from the clay pots. Clay bowels are from which we take our herbs. Clay soils compounds most wetlands and is where our children are buried and adults are in the anti-hills. Clay soils bring joy to the living by providing bumper harvests but are places where our history is buried in without being documented.

The sculpture tells a story of abandonment, a disconnection and a lost link with our culture, as conveyed by the herbs lying in unused tied bundles and an attempt to go back to the cultural herbal use as signified by a few partly burnt herbs in clay bowels. The artwork seems to tell us to look at our back in order to solve our lack in the society. Landlessness is still an issue in most Southern African issues.

A Student at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe School of Art and Design, Sandra Sangara’s ‘Foot’ prints in the San’ apainting was part of an exhibition at the school. Bones are seen lying bare on sand continuing the conversation by Dineo’s. The intense clearer black and yellow colours surround bones which make up a figure of a person sitting in a cross-legged stance in white colour. Bones on sand become the said footprints in the sand. This sculpture shows how vulnerable a man without knowledge of the past is.

Though Sangara said the painting signifies protection from the almighty as signified by the intensely coloured surrounds, footprints in the sand endure not to the forces from the exterior as they are left not on lasting pads. Soon the wind may carry them away or the rains may wash them away. The uncovered bones yearn for a good a decent burial.   

Ogopoleng Kgomoethata a photographer’s ‘Envoy’, a photograph of three Motswana men, one lying helpless on the ground and the other two bending over in a posture that signifies people helping the sick. An envoy is a messenger from a government to another government carrying special messages hence the three Motswana men are an envoy from the past carrying a message to the future. The two men bending to help the future is exposing their back which is only covered with a cloth between their legs leaving their bums exposed. Light is focused more on their back and their front looks dim.

The photograph conveys a message that as much as we look forward, we must cover our back. Leaving our back uncovered exposes us to danger lurking in the dark and create a bleak future. Since the conference was themed, Mapping the Future’ the three artists conveys a message on how neglected our past is as shown by their showing of naked earth, naked bones and naked bums leaving it to variable interpretation by those who lack knowledge.

The common narratives by the three artists borders on the strengthening of covering the past trough documentations thereby allowing the future build from a point of knowledge of dangers lurking in the dark with a potential to destroy them. Though we have a future, Africa must not forget the now. Today milks from the past preparing a rich future, well covered with ownership to own art, culture, spirituality and history minus dilution from aggressive outside cultural forces.

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