Top Zim artist reaps rewards from defiance

© BELGIUM-BASED Zimbabwean visual artist and art gallery owner, Molly Phiri Winckelmans, is reaping rewards of a bold decision she made decades ago to defy her mother.

Winckelmans’ love and talent for art, which emerged at a very tender age, saw her spending most of her childhood years drawing and crafting designs from anything she touched, something that did not sit well with her mother. 
Her mother strongly believed that art was a ticket to poverty.
Winckelmans, who was born in Zimbabwe but raised in Zambia and Botswana, however, decided to turn a deaf ear to her mother’s pleas to abandon her deep-rooted passion for art.

“I spent much of my adolescent years in Botswana where we were based with my family. When my high school teachers in Botswana noticed that I was gifted in art they encouraged me to return back home and pursue art studies as Zimbabwe was well known as an arts haven in the Sadc region.

“When the time came for me to go to college for tertiary education, I decided to come back to Zimbabwe and pursue Fine Art with Harare Polytechnic, but my mother had other plans for me, she wanted me to study secretarial studies,” Winckelmans told the Daily News on Sunday.

The clash between mother and daughter intensified. 
She went on to deny financial support to her daughter and it was clear that the funding would only be restored if Winckelmans pursued secretarial studies instead of her beloved art.
Her mother’s reaction did not come as a surprise to Winckelmans.

“I recall a point in time as a child when my mother took me to a doctor saying there was something really wrong with me because l would craft anything given to me into some kind of sculpture and mould food into funny pieces of art.

“When the doctor told my mother that l was completely fine and my behaviour was just a sign of how talented l was, l remember her saying to the doctor ‘I will beat that talent out of her then.’ True to her threats, I used to get a hard beating from my mother for moulding food into something and she would tear up all my art work whenever she came across one but l never stopped drawing,” Winkelmans laughed.

Winkelmans went on to enrol for Fine Art Diploma at Harare Polytechnic despite the fact that her mother had withdrawn financial support.

“I enrolled for Fine Art at Harare Polytechnic but didn’t stay longer there due to financial constraints. Fortunately, l later got a British American Tobacco (BAT) scholarship to enrol at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe. I was so relieved and very grateful because l still had a chance to live my dream,” she said.

At the National Art Gallery, she dived into the studies like a fish takes to water. She recalls how some of the ladies she enrolled with quit because they did not like the strictness of the lecturers.
“Maybe for them it was just a hobby that is why they quit but for me it was everything. Art was and is my life because l got a chance to express myself.

“I completed my studies at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe and went on to exhibit my work there and won a number of awards under the Excellent in the visual Arts Mobile Zimbabwe Heritage Awards category. My paintings got sold even abroad as far as Finland and attracted a lot of people at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe,” she said.

It was through her captivating artworks that drew the attention of a Belgian young man who was fascinated by both the paintings and the painter. 

After three weeks at National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe, the Belgian man proposed to Molly and they later married.
“My friends were surprised when l told them that he had proposed. l was taken aback by his gesture but well the rest is history,” she said.

Winkelmans left Zimbabwe in 1998 for Belgium, her husband’s home country.

During her early years in the country which is home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, she took a break from painting to enable her to focus more on raising her young daughter.

“My daughter was born with albinism and l just felt she needed more special care and my full attention, but when l felt that she was grown up l resuscitated the passion and started painting again.

To kick-start her art career in earnest in Belgium, Winkelmans set up an art gallery.

“When l first opened my gallery, it was set up in my living room as l wanted to test the waters. The response l got was very overwhelming and encouraging. People loved my paintings and were even more moved by the African touch in my work,” she said.

She later built her gallery Bornem, Belgium and officially opened it in 2010, naming it Molly’s Art Move Gallery.
Through the art gallery, the Zimbabwe-born artist has made great strides in portraying and showcasing her paintings and Zimbabwean art in general.

Using Belgium as a launch pad, Winkelmans’ award-winning artworks have found their way into art galleries in countries which include Zimbabwe, Botswana, England, the United States of America, Germany and Finland.

Winkelmans’ work is contemporary and is inspired by an enduring art tradition popularised by pioneering Zimbabwean sculptors such as Colleen Madamombe, Tapfuma Gutsa, Bernard Takawira and Nicholas Mukomberanwa. She translates this tradition to the canvas with a style that is adapted to a modern European living or working environment.

“I specialise in canvas paintings, but l am also familiar with printing, lino-printing, photography and even decorating.
“I regard myself as much more than a painter; l am a visual artist with a personal style wherein l mix the well- known elements of Zimbabwe sculpting with my paintings,” said Winkelmans.
The mother of two also uses her art to celebrate the achievements of African women whose success stories are usually overlooked.

“My work pays homage to African women for the courage with which they face life. I paint African memories and realities. My work revolves around family, mothers, daughters, sisters and women,” she said.

Even though she is now based in Belgium, Winkelmans frequents Zimbabwe to source for additional artwork to showcase in her gallery even though most of the paintings in her gallery are self-made.

    Comments (1)

    At home I am surrounded by beauty because of Molly. Not only is she an intelligent , beautiful and extremely creative wife, she also gave me 2 amazing children. I would like to state that her art as well as Zimbabwean culture has played such an important part in our lives and that we don't let any moment pass to emphasize what a fantastic country it is , blessed with a very important and exciting cultural heritage. I learned so much when we were living in Harare. Although I am a Belgian I truly feel that Zimbabwean culture has become a big part of our life and affected our way of thinking in a very positive way. We love Belgium and appreciate the chances we got this side but I sincerely hope that one day we will be able to return to a place we call home.

    Rik Winckelmans - 24 June 2019

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