“As a black artist I find visual language very racist, explicitly aggressive and violent.” These are the words of Admire Kamudzengere, a talented fine artist from Zimbabwe exhibiting at this year’s Venice Biennale.  Admire does with words what he does with his brushes and pencils, he draws powerful images to boldly confront the realities of daily life. 

In 2012, Kamudzengerere became the second Zimbabwean artist to be awarded the two-year residency at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam. This ended in 2014 and this year, he is off to the Venice Biennale to represent Zimbabwe yet again with his poignant pieces. 

Read: Victor Ehikhamenor – Through Sweat, Tears and Pain(T) – Toni Kan

Honourable Abednigo Ncube, Minister of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage, described Kamudzengerere as, ‘a young outstanding expressive painter. His selection and use of colour compliments the subject matter that he seeks to put across to the viewer.’

Admire Kamudzengerere. Guruva Kumeso Kwangu, (Translated-Dust in my face). Photo: Supplied/National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe

The Biennale Foundation holds the prestigious ‘Art Biennale’ in odd-numbered years. This year’s exhibition will showcase the work of four Zimbabwean artists “ranging from the last surviving first generation sculptor, the gallerist, an avant-garde stylized painter, and a young firebrand,” according to The National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe press statement.

The three artists joining Kamudzengerere in Italy are Charles Bhebe, Sylvester Mubayi, and Dana Whabira. The “fantastic” four will combine s new pieces and multimedia installations that will transform the Santa Maria della Pieta into a bona fide Zimbabwean setting that Mbuya Nehanda (spirit medium that was the inspiration behind the 1896-97 First Chimurenga war of colonial resistance) herself could be proud of. 

Zimbabwe on the Global Stage

“The Venice Biennale is the ultimate showcase of contemporary art. Any artist who exhibits at this platform is exposed to art appreciators and collectors from all over the world.”, stated Honourable Ncube, during an opening ceremony on February 8, 2017.

Admire Kamudzengerere.Kushaya Pekutarisa. (Translated-Nowhere to look) Photo: Supplied/National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe

The theme at the Zimbabwean Pavilion will be Deconstructing Boundaries: Exploring Ideas of Belonging.  With the current turmoil regarding borders, xenophobia, denied visas and rising isolationism, the topic of boundaries is one which many Zimbabweans can relate to. 

According to the National Art Galley of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Pavilion Exhibition seeks to provoke thought on these issues.

Admire Kamudzengerere. Stained Walls. Photo: National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe

“The ideas of here and there, seeing and being seen, legal and illegal have remained subjects for debate and this exhibition seeks to provide some answers to these issues. Borders are an unavoidable part of life but people still continue to cross them legally and illegally.”

Transcultural protocol. Photo: Supplied/National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe

This year’s artists are adept at portraying the aforementioned realities in their respective styles. In the case of Kamudzengerere, his art is unapologetically dark and raw. His male portraits are famous for their emotive nature. He depicts personal struggle, relationships, masculinity, and Zimbabwean life bluntly and boldly through allegorical images.

The Zimbabwe Pavilion is curated by Raphael Chikukwa the Chief Curator of the National Gallery and commissioned by. Doreen Sibanda, the Gallery’s Executive Director. This festival is a major opportunity to promote Zimbabwean art and culture on the global stage. 

Read: Now is the Time for Nigeria’s Art

Zimbabwe’s artistic debut on the global stage, as represented by the artist is a monumental development, which will undoubtedly showcase the art talent abundant in the country.

Gallery bios of the three other artists exhibiting the Biennale

Sylvester Mubayi is a renowned master sculptor. He is an icon; one of the surviving first generation Zimbabwean stone sculptors and a recipient of the 1969 Oppenheimer Award for sculpture early on in his career. Mubayi creates sculptures of great beauty, often with a traditional meaning that explore beliefs and dispositions as ontological phenomenon as well as human relationships and harmony between humans and the animal kingdom. 

Charles Bhebe is completely captivated by people, absorbed by figurative works. He enjoys telling stories of urban people with references to everyday people living on the edges of society. He uses expressive strokes on black canvases as a way to bring out those characters to light. His preferred medium is acrylics on canvases. He likes the instant effect and the layering process that gives depth in each piece without a need for drying time. His paintings tell a story at a given time, more like a moment in time which is mostly a reflection of the times we live in.

Dana Whabira Whabira’s work is a snapshot of all media, including experimental assemblages, installation, spatial intervention, sculptural painting, and photography, which incorporate performance as process. Her work often takes a story or event as a point of departure, drawing on current affairs, literature, philosophy, and theatre for inspiration, and employs language as a metaphorical device.