Southern Africa: Overview of Art in Southern Africa

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The National Gallery of Zimbabwe met artiste Michele Mathison on the sidelines of his Sculpture Workshop at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s Visual Art School to talk to him about art in Southern Africa; the administrative situation here, curators and how best this sector can become more productive and at best, more lucrative.

Michele Mathison

National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ): Last year you were part of the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. How has that experience influenced your career?

Michelle Mathison (MM): It was a positive development for me because it presented my work to a global public. The Venice Biennale came at appoint when I had briefly taken a break from executing any artwork whilst most of my focus was on media and television. The creative process was thus refreshing as I paid a lot of attention to detail and explored new materials and methods to make my sculptures.

NGZ: Before Venice, what had you been working on aside from media and television?

MM: In 2011 I had approached an organisation in Johannesburg called the NiROX Foundation. NiROX gave me a boost as they function as an experimental space for Artists. This culminated in a solo exhibition entitled “Exit Exile”. In this exhibition I used found objects to question the conditions of immigration throughout Africa and the plight of the migrant.

NGZ: Your Venice Biennale sculptures have an agrarian theme. Why is this so?

MM: I felt these sculptures could best represent the people’s connection to the land by either being the tools that are part of the growing process or the grain that comes from it. There is movement in the work which clarifies the progressive element.

NGZ: Is your work now housed in a collection?

MM: Yes. It was acquired by PUMA.

NGZ: The response must have been remarkable. How was it to showcase your work alongside the other artists?

MM: It was resplendent as each of the artists had a way of presenting their work and used different media. This helped in generating interest as it widened the appeal and handling of the theme by the artists.

NGZ: You recently held a workshop for students at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe Visual Art School. What did you take note of during the exercise?

MM: Amongst the students I would find succinct concepts that only needed to be complemented by what material they chose to use. This is where I found their Achilles heel so we spent the whole week working on how to best use material that conveys emotion and message to the viewer. It was all practical but I took care to enlighten the pupils on how to handle their ideas.

NGZ: You exhibit in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. Are there any differences between the two nation’s art scenes?

MM: Yes. South Africa has a large internal consumer base for both African and Western art and they can satisfy a global market and they have the skills and resources to develop that further.

Zimbabwe is present on the art scene but faces pitfalls as it lags behind technologically. Beyond that you will find most Zimbabwean artists facing difficulty to balance their art practise with everyday life as opposed to South Africa where one can pursue artistic practise full time. We can push the levels of our own creativity and productivity as Zimbabwean artists by exposing our artwork to the global audience by working with our local institutions and international partners.

NGZ: You said South Africa has a large consumer base of African art. Why do you think this is so?

MM: There are many galleries and institutions that offer platforms for artists. These appeal to different potential buyers on a large scale. It would be good to see such a situation take shape in Zimbabwe.

NGZ: So is it a question of administration?

MM: It is. I would strongly commend if more of our institutions of higher learning were to offer curatorial and art administration programs. Such a move would create an environment which could benefit the art scene here and establish potential viewership on a global scale.

NGZ: Some artists are not that fond of curators. Would this not be a move toward entropy?

MM: Artists should concentrate on having constructive relationships with the infrastructure around them. The harsh reality for such artists is curatorial practice has become a keystone of the infrastructure within the last decade. Hence there should be a readjustment of the artist’s perspective which should create cooperation between the administrators and the artist.

NGZ: Do you have any projects lined up?

MM: I have been invited to France to work towards an exhibition. Before that I am returning to South Africa to work on a few projects.

NGZ: Thank You for your time.

MM: You are welcome.


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