When a thirst for excellence conquers the heart of a virtuous woman, it drives her to leap over obstacles, break barriers, surpass expectations and be a pinnacle of inspiration to many.
For decades, renowned artist, author, curator and prolific arts administrator Doreen Sibanda has persistently demonstrated a passion for progress, with her diligence cumulatively vindicating the essence of her artistic calling as a virtuous woman.
In an interview with The Herald this week, Sibanda took an exploratory journey down memory lane, unveiling a definitive youthful background that essentially moulded her artistic career.
“I was interested in art from school. I did art at O-Level and at A-Level. I was more interested in design but I had parents who were not comfortable with that, so the compromise I did is I said I want to be an art teacher. So I went to college to learn to be an art teacher and I was an art teacher for three years,” said Sibanda.
Sibanda, who was born and raised in the United Kingdom, said she faced challenges growing up in a predominantly white society, as she felt the vicious sting of race related societal prejudices, which characterised most of Europe at that time.
“When I went to school I was the only black girl there for the first three years so it was difficult. But by the time I was doing History at O-Level, I became very interested because they started talking about the Slave Trade and that really picked my interest and led me to do a parallel in Black History and Slavery,” Sibanda said.
Buoyed by her increasing urge to understand circumstances defining the Black Experience both on the continent and in the diaspora, Sibanda found herself engaging in themes and exploring topics that had been shaped largely by that background during her studies while in Europe.
“Of course that was the seventies and it was a long time ago, it was highly emotive in the sense that in Europe there was a lot of entrenched racism.
“It was also a time when African countries were fighting for liberation, that is how I met people that were from the different political groupings like SWAPO, FRELIMO and ZANU — all those people were caught up in this realisation of oppression and trying to do something about it. So that was the thing that drove my passion for the arts, because I could see the content and the inspiration for content which was very clear and very meaningful,” she said.
When she came to Zimbabwe, Sibanda joined the National Gallery of Zimbabwe where she was employed as the institution’s first Education Officer from 1981 to 1988.
Sibanda, who later also ventured into entrepreneurship and opened a private art gallery, subsequently taught art at the Harare Polytechnic for a year.
“I ran an art gallery from 1996 until 2001. It was fairly successful. It was a leap of faith. I worked very hard to get the capital, because I was renting a premise, it was quite a tough experience, but very enjoyable.
“It was at a time when there was a lot of emphasis on being an entrepreneur and so this was my attempt at being an entrepreneur.
“I learnt more about the business of having to sell to stay afloat; so it was meaningful,” Sibanda said.
In 2004, Sibanda was appointed Executive Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, a position she currently holds to date; which has seen her bring a tremendous transformation to the overall administration of the State-owned institution.
Sibanda, who has been a commissioner for the Zimbabwean Pavilion in Bernice for over a period of eight years, has also participated in curating shows exhibited in Zimbabwe, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Moscow and South Africa.
An avid author who once featured as a columnist in The Southern Times, Sibanda, has written many publications to her name, which include ‘Stone Sculpture – A Retrospective’ and ‘Mawonero’, a publication on which she collaborated with other authors.
Sibanda has also written for numerous publications coming from Netherlands and South Africa.
“I feel very privileged to have work published. Its humbling because somebody somewhere recognises that you know something,” said Sibanda.
Sibanda alluded that while the National Gallery has faced tremendous challenges, the hard work, dedication and commitment exhibited by the Gallery workforce always keeps it afloat.
“I have got a good team of people here that I guard jealously because they are passionate about what they do. Basically what we are doing here is promoting a product which is intrinsically honest and intrinsically authentic, we intend to overcome our challenges in terms of being able to raise more funds and being able to make greater partnerships.,” she asserted.
Sibanda encouraged young people that have the passion for art to go for it and excel in it, adding that she was fortunate to have supportive parents who were pivotal in shaping her career.
“I think that it is not just blindly going for it. They have got to be able to test themselves to see if they are up to it in terms of hard work and in terms of being focused and if they believe in themselves in terms of where their strengths and weaknesses are,” said Sibanda.
The veteran artist, who is also a talented painter and professional dancer, encouraged young girls who are interested in the arts to pursue it, saying it is good that the art curriculum, which is a very valid and multifaceted area of knowledge, has been officially adopted at national level.
“Remember art is just a reflection of life and if you know how life is complex, sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down — it’s just the same and its reflected through art, so you have got to have your finger on the pulse of life to be able to work in the arts,” Sibanda added.
By Boniface Chimedza The Herald Arts Correspondent