A visit to the National Gallery of Zimbabwe

The gallery in Harare
The gallery in Harare

Yesterday saw me visiting the national gallery of Zimbabwe a property on Park Lane in Harare. The gallery is a two story facility exhibiting some of the finest art that Zimbabwe has to offer.

I was charged one US dollar at the entrance by an extremely friendly gentleman who because I had greeted him with the standard Shona greeting of makadii has started chatting with me in the language. I had to explain that it wasn’t that I was not trying to show my imperialist tendencies by speaking the language of the queen but I was not from there. OK I am kidding, I just told him I was not from there and he switched to English.

There was no exhibition on the ground floor as they seemed to be preparing something to open one soon. Going up the stairs I found a little plaque commemorating the opening of the museum by none other a personality than her Excellency Queen Elizabeth in 1991. Interesting. I suppose in those days Zimbabwe was still the blue eyed, sorry brown eyed good boy of the commonwealth thus the queen had to attend some of these functions.

The first floor was hosting an exhibition called “Seeing Ourselves” featuring the works of four artists Tapfuma Gutsa, Calvin Dondo, Berry Bickle and Misheck Masamvu. The idea of the exhibition is for the artists to show how Zimbabwe was is and where it is heading to the future. How the artists see themselves. It was modern art on display here.

Gutsa is a sculptor who was has been in the game for decades with a resume that would probably be the equivalent in his field of the Jimnah Mbaru one in investment so you know that he has the pedigree. His section of the exhibition was images of him on the wall holding a large black horn. The piece of his on the floor showed a battle of headgear in a football pitch like environment with civilian hats and soldier hats facing one another. I took this to be the colonial takeover of the country.

Berry Bickle is a videographer and I have to say that her (or his) work was the most difficult for me to understand. What I saw was a video with young woman bathing using a plastic bucket and then dressing up. The artistic interpretation was probably a different matter and I may not have been the best person to give it.

Calvin Dondo is a photographer whose presentation looked to be of the mix heritage of the country. There were photos with people of mixed races together looking both very at ease and also a few with some folks looking pretty uncomfortable to me. This is what you would expect with people being photographed whether they were close or not.

Misheck Masamvu is the youngest of the artists and he is a painter of quite some skill.

Apart from the featured exhibition, there was another exhibition at the back of fabrics from the continent. It was one of those presentations with explanations on the wall as to the importance of fabrics in the Africa gone by and thus why this exhibition was important and had to be curated. “Fabrics were an important part of African society showing the social status of the family which meant that people had to have even more intricate works…” This was the kind of statement you met on the wall.

At the back there was a separate exhibition which showed reprints of some of the old art masters that included Guigan, Monet and the grand daddy of them all Pablo Picasso. It was an enjoyable just to see some of the more famous artists in art history. One day our Michael Sois and Misheck Masamvus will be seen in the same light and I look forward to those days. Although for those days to come I will have to die first so suddenly I am not so keen on that idea.

Away from the exhibitions there was a gift shop with stuff you can buy. After all what museum would it be if there was not gift shop eh? There were books, magazines and little trinkets one could buy to remind you of your visit to the gallery. The unique thing at that shop was there was a collection of exquisite sculptures in different media – stone and metal immediately come to mind – that one could buy. They were retailing anything from the hundreds of dollars to the thousands and if I could I would pick up one or two and chart it off to Nairobi.

At the gallery there was also a cyber cafe with Wi-Fi and a normal cafe where you can buy a cup of coffee and rest after your artistic exploits.

So there you have it folks. If you are even in Harare, Zimbabwe you want to give the National Gallery a visit. Good stuff.