Let's support local arts

HARARE - Award-winning artist Forbes Mushipe’s well-documented struggles to raise the necessary funds to jointly exhibit at the National Art Gallery, is a clear indication of how the country’s economic problems continue to undermine contemporary art.

Mushipe’s woes reflect wider problems afflicting Zimbabwe’s visual arts industry that reached crisis proportions a few years ago when the internationally acknowledged Chapungu Sculpture Park folded.

Until its closure, Chapungu, which was founded by Roy Guthrie in the 1970s, had not only built the most significant permanent collection of Zimbabwean stone sculpture but it had also nurtured internationally acclaimed sculptors like Sylvester Mubayi, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Henry Munyaradzi, Agnes Nyanhongo, Bernard Takawira and John Takawira.

In a bid to fill the void created by the closure of Chapungu, local sculptors who included award-winning artist Dominic Benhura, set-up Tambira Gallery three years ago to generate a platform to exhibit and sell art works from upcoming artists.

Sadly, Tambira closed this year due to failure to pay rentals. The closure of Chapungu, and lately Tambira, has worsened the economic situation of Zimbabwean sculptors who are losing the market on an alarming rate.

Europe used to provide a ready market for Zimbabwean sculptures but that has ceased to be the case ever since the economic recession hit that continent.

Benhura, recently conceded to this paper that the local sculpture industry was indeed battling serious challenges.

“If people in Europe were still buying art works, the dealers would still be coming to Zimbabwe to buy; but things are not moving that side. This impacts negatively on the Zimbabwean Sculpture industry because our market is shrinking,” he said.

Mushipe, a winner of three consecutive National Arts Merit Awards (Nama), has justifiably called on the government to come up with urgent measures to rescue the faltering fortunes of Zimbabwean sculptors.

“Award winning artists are leading lives that leave a lot to be desired. Contemporary artists cannot inspire upcoming and aspiring artists because of the poverty we are stuck in. The poor state of the economy has made the situation worse.”

Admittedly, government has other serious national priorities they are failing to meet but, be that as it may, the state still has an obligation to ensure that the country’s art industry is not allowed to collapse under their watch.

At its peak, the local sculpture industry was a source of critical foreign currency and jobs and for this reason, government must find ways of helping artists access alternative markets for their art works so as to do away with the over dependence on Europe.

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