At the Gallery
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe is for the fourth time set to participate in the Venice Biennale next year. Zimbabwe’s first appearance was in 2011 and then it participated in 2013 and 2015. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe has a mandate to curate exhibitions locally and internationally, and the Venice Biennale is a vibrant platform which enables the gallery to do so.This coming edition will be yet another exceptional moment in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s endeavour to promote Zimbabwean art and culture on the international art scene. The 57th Biennale, themed “Viva Art Viva”, entails an expression of passion for art and for the state of the artist. It has been designed with the artist, by the artist and for the artist. It also deals with the forms they propose; the questions they postulate, the practices they develop and the forms of life they choose.
“The forthcoming Biennale entails a celebration of art. ‘Viva Art Viva’ is an opportunity to celebrate the creativity and the creatives themselves, to give them an opportunity to just amaze the world and go crazy with no limits.
“As I always, say it is important to acknowledge the artists themselves because there is no exhibition without an artist, without artists Museums and Galleries would be shut down. Otherwise there would not be a Venice Biennale,” said the chief Curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Raphael Chikukwa.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe is renowned for presenting ground-breaking contemporary art exhibitions in and outside Zimbabwe and has always served as a creative laboratory where artists are free to experiment.
“We go to Venice because we want to take the Zimbabwean artistes to international platform. The visibility of African countries at the Venice Biennale has always been very questionable. There was a need for us to make a statement; there was an urge for us to go to Venice and that drove us towards our first participation.
The opportunity to be at the Venice Biennale also markets the country as it gives a platform to Zimbabwean artists whom may never be able to have such. Additionally, we are used to things being done for us but this is us taking the Zimbabwe to Venice, which is the Olympics of the Art World, and as such which we must compete.”
Over the years, the Venice Biennale has demystified the political and economic stereotypes surrounding Zimbabwe in the International community. Zimbabwe is now perceived as having adept, creative and genuine artists.
It has marketed Zimbabwean artistes around the globe as evidenced by the number of big International galleries and collectors interests in signing with and collecting works from Zimbabwean artists. Moreover, the Venice Biennale publicises Brand Zimbabwe through strong art and artists bringing the world new and fresh ideas, and new perspectives.
“I have seen huge changes ever since our debut at the Venice Biennale because most of these artists have never been represented by international galleries but today most of the previous participants of the Zimbabwe Pavilion are contracted to International Galleries such as Michael Stevenson Gallery, Goodman Gallery, SMAC (Stellenbosch Museum of Art and Culture), Tiwani Contemporary Art
Gallery, What If The World and many others.
“These are the changes to the artist’s lives which, in a big way, are now moving the artists from one airport to another to showcase their work and having galleries represent them is a categorical boost,” said Chikukwa.
This change not only provides benefits to the participants at the Zimbabwe Pavilion; the Art Sector has over the previous three editions, been invigorated from a slump in consumption for Zimbabwean Art that had taken place in the decade circa 2000 to 2010; The turning point to this new wave of global appreciation for Zimbabwean art was the first Zimbabwe Pavilion in 2011, entitled “Seeing Ourselves: Questioning our Geographical Landscape and the Space We Occupy from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.
For the 57th edition Chikukwa said he looked forward to having more African countries participating and promoting African art in the Biennale.
He highlighted how important it is for African countries to take exhibitions to the international community rather than receiving exhibitions all the time thus decentralising the flow of exhibitions.
“I am hoping to see many African countries participating in the Venice Biennale because there is a need for African countries to take charge and tell their stories from their perspectives. “It is very important and platforms like Venice are platforms that nations would gain visibility. I look forward to our African artistes shining again at this international platform,” said Chikukwa.
He added: “This will be my fourth Biennale. When one looks back to when we started strategising this project it was back in 2001, so arriving at the Venice Biennale in 2011 means a lot to me as well as the Zimbabwean artists.
“For the upcoming Biennale, I am looking forward to surprising the Zimbabwean Pavilion visitors with a new crop of artists whose work speaks volume, whose work will really give something to the audience to take and the artist as well will take something from it.”
The 56th International Art Exhibition — la Biennale di Venezia — saw Chikonzero Chazunguza, Masimba Hwati and Gareth Nyandoro as representatives for the Zimbabwe Pavilion. The three created new artworks and multimedia installations that transformed the entirety of Santa Maria della Pieta into an authentic Zimbabwean environment. Themed “Pixels of Ubuntu/Unhu — Exploring the Social and Cultural Identities of the 21st Century”.
The exhibition made a strong statement concerning the future of Ubuntu/ Unhu the cornerstone of our identity and interrogated its survival in the face of globalisation.
It interrogated themes that are close to our hearts, the discourse and practise of Unhu or humanity. The Afrocentric philosophy of Ubuntu/ Unhu is the basis of our humanity and asserts that we are part of a collective whole.