My Honors Work 2011

Life is always giving us signs and codes that reveal hidden truths from the past. These hints are supposed to warn us, encourage us or help us to understand why we are at the place we are at.  As I grow up, I hear the echoes more distinctly and more often. As a result of this, my work is an exploration of personal memory, history and cultural values. It is an analysis of how the past can affect one’s present and can create a new sense of identity.

I experiment with textures by using various organic materials in unconventional ways. This is because organic material such as earth, wood and stone all a have a sense of history to them. In some cases, these elements outlast generations of people. I merge old traditions and ideas with new concepts and techniques to portray how the past is linked to the present.

Through my work, I explore my Zimbabwean history, in particular the Chimurenga War years. I reference particular narratives that I have heard from my father and older family members. Thus, my work is enables me to better understand to the challenges that they have gone through.

Images can also be viewed  HERE.

cutting out my textured paintings…

What is a hero?

I have always grown up thinking that my dad is a hero. Even during my rebellious stages as a 15 year old, I always looked up to my dad and esteemed him for all that he has done. To me, my dad might as well be Nelson Mandela. They both served hefty sentences because of their political views and struggle for human rights during the Independence movements. They both came out of that experience with enlightened views of the world and they both forgave their oppressors.

Little boys like to play with plastic super heroes. They get so excited about each new action figure and treat it like its a treasure.

I have grown to know that there is no such thing as a perfect hero. My dad has never been perfect and he has made some mistakes through out his life. A plastic action figure can break, get lost in the garden, or loose a limb. In the same way, real life heroes like my dad are fragile. Their health can affect them in negative ways.

My idea is to highlight heroism, and to show the fragility that every real life hero has. I also want to show how the concept of heroism is very personal. Each little boy is personally attached to his action figures. His life revolves around those figures in ways that the boy’s siblings, parents or friends may not fully understand. In the same way, my dad is just another ordinary man to people around me. He may only be a hero in my eyes alone. That is totally fine. I want to hightlight this too. I have already began playing around with imagery of action figures and the like.

More Collages

Collages: Works in Progess

In the collages above, I am playing around with the idea of colonization. Imagine if imperialism had occurred the other way around, for example if Africans had settled and conquered Europe. What would that look like, would would the first African explore do or say? I chose European buildings, (including one church) and collaged some Zulu dancers and a Shona diviner. Just as colonization brought about Christianity to Africa, perhaps the diviner would have brought ancestral worship to Europe.

In the other images, I am playing around with the idea of mother and child, art and beauty. During the Byzantine era, the stiff faced expressionless Madonna was considered beautiful and appealing. In West Africa, things that were considered appealing included Hleeta a form of scarification on the skin. The concept of what is art and beauty is appealing in different way to different people.  In these images I am also showing the marriage between Western and African culture. What does it mean to be authentically African, or authentically European? The two have come together to create new ideas of identity, well at least in my life they have.

Important Things to Ponder from the Committee Meeting today.

During the Honors committee meeting today, I was talking to Professor Collins about wood burning. I mentioned that I am not aware of a type of pattern or print that is prominent and unique to Zimbabwe’s visual culture. Some of the patterns that I could think of can be traced back to Ndebele wall paintings, Venda or Tonga art. But what of the Shonas? What comes to mind is the zigzag pattern on some of the walls of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins or the spirals on the headrests. (These headrests were found all over Southern Africa) Here are some well known examples:

Pattern and designs in traditional artifacts or textiles was probably very limited, especially when one compares this to adinkra, kente, nsibidi and uli or other art forms in Central and West Africa.

So Prof. Collins introduced the idea of patterns in my traditional heritage that may be metaphorical. Now I am thinking of behavioral patterns, thought patterns, tragic patterns, happy patterns, mannerisms found in 3 generations. Once I come up with images or symbols that can be used to signify these sort of patterns, I will be more confident about burning designs into the carved wood pieces. Perhaps I can use the patterns on the headrests too. This will help  me to give those sculptures more meaning.

El Anatsui uses fire and a saw to create some of his wooden wall panels. In some of his  interviews that I have seen, he explains how the saw is a reference to the thoughtless brutality of  lines that were drawn up at the Berlin Conference. The use of fire in his work symbolizes groups of African peoples unifying in the post colonial world.   Today the idea of creating wounds using my wood burner and in my compositions came about when we discussed Anatsui. Memory can revive a wound. War creates many types of wounds. Loosing memory can be a wound.  I will explore this idea as I wrap up my work and begin the video.

And on the subject of video work, Amy brought about the idea of creating an atmosphere in which a video can be viewed. Through this, I am thinking of creating a space in which people are forced to squat or kneel like a prisoner so that they can hear the narrative. Everything depends on the type of projectors or screens that we have. I do not want to create extra work for myself by trying to construct something huge in the next couple of weeks. I am will think about this some more.

What I am focusing on this week:

  • Starting last alabaster stone
  • Clay casts
  • Clean up paintings
  • Videos

Digital art…..

What does it mean to be a hero? Who are my personal heroes?

Looking at Scars / Tattoos.

These images were found here:

Here is an artist who uses the idea of inscribing on the body to make a statement: This work is by Ike Ude a Nigerian artist.

I this photograph, I really like how the torsos interact simple through their scars. They are not really using their limbs to communicate. Focus is on the scars.

I like the sculpture below, but in terms of what I want to do, I don’t like how they are interacting to make one form. However I like the idea of carving scars into sculptures of women.

The female figure is prominent in Luba art, an indication of women’s status as wives and mothers, priestesses, political advisors and spirit mediums. Elaborately carved headrests are high-prestige objects used as pillows to preserve intricate hairstyles and to foster important dreams. Their decorations reflect Luba conventions of feminine beauty that emphasize complex coiffures and scarification.

I found this image on the Smithsonian website. It is a sculpture that references womens tattoos.

Here is a great source for images of African body scarification.

Sandile Zulu

The wood burning tool finally arrived! I cannot wait to start using it. As a result, I have started looking at artists who use wood burning techniques in their work. One such artist is Sandile Zulu who is a South African artist. Just take a look at these.

This is what the October Gallery had to say about him:

Sandile Zulu was born in 1962, in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and now lives and works in Johannesburg. Since graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand in the early 1990Õs he has exhibited extensively, locally as well as in the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Scotland and the Seychelles. He has received many international awards and is represented in public, corporate and private collections around the world, including the South African National Gallery. Sandile Zulu: Planetary Cycle is presented in association with Michael Stevenson, Cape Town.

Here is how Zulu describes his work with the South African Contemporary Art blog :

‘To me the framework of addressing issues is metaphorical rather than direct or obvious,’ says Zulu, ‘so you see in my work details which have reference to histories of religion, to revolutionary politics, art making, psychological relationships. There are many forces within myself as an individual and as an artist in South Africa,’ he says; ‘external forces around me and international forces. I am aware that the question of self-identity is very much determined by one’s cultural heritage.’

Commenting on the old art-market pressures on South African artists to reflect their society, Zulu says, ‘This robs the artist of his intention and conception of art,’ adding that his own work is wholly inner-directed.
Shibui is a Japanese term which refers to the greater beauty an object acquires

through age and marks of use. It is a concept which comes to mind when considering the work of Zulu. Two pieces of the old hide-top of a drum – so old that the middle has worn through and only the stiffened edges remain with their slashes where the top was pegged onto the sides – have been thonged together and hung on the wall under a netting of thin card. The piece is untitled, non-specific, but powerfully evocative, eliciting images of a barely veiled, exposed human rib-cage.
‘I do my work to enjoy what I’m doing,’ says Zulu, ‘and to make beautiful work even if it doesn’t talk about beauty.’ Zulu’s aim, then, is not to soften the struggle, but to give it his own interpretation. Fire is his paint.

More information can be found here:

Working on Finishing my work, casting torsos and thinking ahead.

I am still not sure which part of the Brush Gallery I will be showing in, but all I know is that I need a lot of space. I have more work than anticipated and in my opinion, that is a good thing.  In the next couple of weeks, I will be focusing on turning the pieces into quality work and revisiting some of my original ideas. I am so comfortable switching from flat paints to sculpture it’s crazy. Maybe this is why I have started chiseling away at my paintings.

So this past weekend, Amy and I managed to create 3 casts. This procedure lasted all day and by the time we were done, I was exhausted. Today, we will be pressing in the white clay into the casts. I am going to try to clean up my messy studio before this. Casting is so messy, every time I walk into the downstairs studio, I just feel overwhelmed.

The torsos will have no heads, no arms and no legs- or at least they will not be attached. When people look at them I want them to say,  “hey look at the interesting marks on these human like forms!” And not, “hey look, she made something that looks like a real woman’s body.”

The torsos, which I will now refer to as women, should interact with each other. They should show a sense of coming together and sharing each other’s narratives, pain and tears.   They should be a celebration of all of the strong women in my life, my aunts who have stood strong despite life challenges.  I am thinking of a semi circle. This is also a reference to women dancing in a dance specifically made for women outside a shrine in Shona tradition.

Since the women will be in white clay, and I am working on white alabaster, I decided to paint some of my paintings a simple black. Black and white references race in Zimbabwe and the walls, connotations, awkwardness, and unity that I have experienced in my life in Zimbabwe.

I should also start thinking about video work. How do I want to honor my dad’s three friends and let them tell my dad’s story? The video quality is so poor! I should have used a tape when I was in Zim, instead I recorded onto a disk. May I an use this bad quality in  way that sort of makes a statement…..

We shall see, for now its work work work work work work!!!

Some artists I am looking to for inspiration:

Kiki Smith