Painting in Zimbabwe

While sculpture from Zimbabwe is widely acclaimed it is less known that Zimbabwe has a number of good painters. As with sculpture one can trace the beginnings of this art form in Zimbabwe to one enthusiastic pioneer. Canon Paterson, an Anglican priest born in Scotland but raised in Johannesburg , established the Cyrene mission near Bulawayo in the 1940s, and let his pupils make its mural paintings. It was the first time that Africans in Zimbabwe were given training in painting, and Paterson was convinced that only the lack of access had prevented Africans from reaching the same heights as European artists. Paterson later moved to Salisbury ( Harare ), where he without success tried to establish an art school in the largest township, Highfield.

Although McEwen did try to promote painting at the side of the emphasis laid on sculpture, a major step forward for painting in Zimbabwe was taken only in the 1980s when the BAT studios were opened in the Mbare township (named after its sponsor, the British American Tobacco Company). BAT have since withdrawn their support, but continue as the National Gallery Visual Arts Studios, where artists like Charles Kamangwana teach and also paint.

An important institution in Zimbabwean arts development is the Delta Gallery in Harare , through which many a painter has received training, particularly through Helen Lieros, born in Gweru of Greek ancestry. Mischeck Masamvu and Lovemore Kambudzi are two of the artists associated with Delta Gallery. These two artists both put the pain and agony they see and live through on the canvas, while landscapes of Valentine Magutsa and the Dali-inspired inner landscapes of Victor Mavedzenge give us a notion of the breadth of Zimbabwean painting.

While stating that the crisis means a lot of hardships for the painters, art critic and editor Barbara Murray ventures the view that while life seldom is easy for an artist, living in a time of crisis can heighten sensibilities, and thus be good for the art if hard for the artist.

Interviews with:

Murray, Barbara

Mavedzenge, Victor

Magutsa, Valentine

Masamvu, Mischeck

Kambudzi, Lovemore & Sigauke, Nyasha

Kamangwana, Charles

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