By Kundai Marunya (Arts Correspondent)
The process of transferring one’s imagination into something visual and tangible is often challenging that only a few very creative individuals dare to take it on.
It takes years of practice, learning from the masters and formulating one’s own distinct style before they finally earn the right to showcase their creations and earn a living from them.
It’s not all who set out to be artists, be they sculptors, painters, actors, musicians or craftsmen who earn a living from it, but a special select few whose extraordinary touch with reality and abstraction can inspire debate, feelings and invoke thoughts.
Without supporting structures, many give up before even trying, while some give up along the way, giving in to their needs that demand them to generate an income to live on, which sometimes means taking on other career paths that have quick returns.
Arts centres and organisations are, however, doing a tremendous job in making sure artists stay the course, offering support, in their formative years by giving them a stable base to learn and perfect their craft.
Various facilities are offered and most of the time, free of charge, while material support is also awarded to those that show passion and dedication.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) trains hundreds of visual artists each year, giving them a stepping stone to launch their careers and exhibition space to showcase their talent to the world.
Established visual artist Option Nyahunzvi said it was a great honour to exhibit in NGZ.
“I came through the NGZ School of Visual Art and Design,” he said. “I got much support, from knowledge to even material and financial assistance through different grants sourced from partners.
“On graduation, you get to participate in a group exhibition, a great honour as it gives you a platform to showcase your talent to the world.”
Apart from the “Green Shoots” exhibition for graduating students, the gallery also offers exhibition opportunities through various calls for themed bodies of work that participating artists from across the country can enter.
The institution also selects the crème to participate in either solo or group exhibitions at their centres in Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo. There are various other centres that also take on artists after their graduation, among them the First Floor Gallery Harare (FFG).
This has been one of the most active arts institutions in the past decade, producing some of the finest visual artists to represent the country on various international platforms, regularly at Johannesburg and Cape Town Art Fairs.
They also host various exhibitions, art fairs, residencies and festivals that gives local artists a chance to interact with their international counterparts creating synergies.
Their exceptional touch is evident in their identifying and working with artists such as Moffat Takadiwa in his formative years.
This is one artist who has gone on to do wonders on the international scene, with his high point for non-visual art enthusiasts being having his work Tengwe Farms bought by American star rapper Jay-Z for display in the offices of Def Jam records.
In stone sculpture, there are centres like Roy Guthrie’s Chapungu Sculpture Gallery, Tengenenge Arts Centre in Guruve and Chitungwiza Arts Centre (CAC), who are leading in the nurturing and development of artists.
Synonymous with training and producing greats such as first generation sculptor Sylvester Mubayi and celebrated artist Brian Muteki, the Tengenenge continues to shape future generations of visual artists.
CAC boasts not only their vast numbers, thus a total of 180 active members, 80 probative members and 40 who are learning the trade as assistants to seasoned sculptors, but also support for female artists.
Stone sculpture is widely believed not to be attractive to female sculptors because of the physical demands of the craft.
At CAC, they are 17 ladies who go toll to toll with their male counterparts and produce many thought provoking pieces that not only take a dip in social issues but also advocate for reconstruction in gender roles to strike a societal balance. One of the ladies who operates from the centre Dorcas Mutemasango said CAC has been very supportive.
“Chitungwiza Arts Centre and the arts community at the centre are very supportive of women,” she said.
“They even offer support in marketing our products to a wide audience.”
Also enjoying great support are young people who are joining in the trade, the youngest of which being a 12-year-old boy.
“There is an increasing number of youth at the centre, a positive sign that the trade is in safe hands,” said Shingirirayi Madzongwe, an administrator at CAC. Madzongwe urged the Government to introduce sculpture in the school curriculum so that more and more young people can take it on as a possible future career. CAC works with various partners who come to the aid of artists catering for their various needs.
One of the most active and vibrant partners is Avac Arts, the country’s leading online gallery. The organisation recently donated raw stones to young people with a second phase targeting women coming soon. One of the beneficiaries Remembrance Matafi said the material support goes a long way in making sure they produce artwork.
“As in any business, starting out without key inputs is hard, if not impossible,” he said. “We couldn’t work because of lack of raw material, but now we have something to generate on”.
Matafi has worked with Avac Arts for four years, getting raw stone and in return selling his products through the gallery on commission.
“Avac Arts came at a time when I was struggling to buy raw stone and transport it to my work space, but they cater for all that and all I have to focus on is creating art work,” he said.
Sculptors normally have to travel to Guruve, Mutoko or Mount Darwin to get raw stone.
“Sometimes we get money for food and rentals,” said Matafi. “The fact that the organisation targets young people is a huge indicator of its development.
“They could have easily worked with established artists whose work is easy to sell but instead they came to us in the process helping us improve our trade.
“It’s also easier to sell our products through the gallery platform since they have built a solid reputation over the years.”
Art demands a lot from practitioners if they are to produce something that leaves a mark in the world. Art centres and institutions come in to lessen that burden creating room for more creatives to take on art as a career.
Pakare Paya Arts Centre is another flagship organisation doing wonders in shaping future stars. Founded by the late music superstar Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, the centre is credited for grooming many new voices in music among them Mbeu, Sarungano, Donal Kanyuchi, Munya Mataruse and Innocent Mapemba. The centre provides resources to aspiring artists, gives access to instrumentation, basic training and exposure to regular live performances, sometimes sharing stage with seasoned performers.
There is however a need for the establishment of more centres across the length and breadth of the country as most of them are currently located in urban centres.
A few arts centres have been springing up in the rural areas, among them the Murehwa Arts Centre, which gives artists in its catchment a launch pad to their careers.
Also thriving in a rural set up is Zenda Arts Centre. Established by visual artist Keith Zenda, the centre is located at Makepesi Business Centre in Lower Gweru.
Zenda said founding the youth centre is a dream come true.
“It was my dream to establish an Art Center to give back to the community and to my nation as well,” he said. “I grew up in the rural areas and realized my art talent in the rural areas but had no exposure and didn’t find any help to become a better artist.
“So it’s my vision to give all the rural upcoming artists an opportunity to show their talent to the world and prepare for their future as well to make a living with art. Zenda currently has 15 young artists under his wing.
“We also do workshops learning on how to make dishwashers, soap and other products as well to empower the artists so they will not just depend on art.”