10 Questions with the artist Lawrence Nyemba
A brief background
I was born on 20 August, 1991 in Marondera town. The 5th child in a family of six, i attended R.G Mugabe before being transferred to Godfrey Huggins primary school through the influence of people who noticed my artistic talent earlier on. I went through the same motions in high school, but there were never opportunities to explore my talent. My family was not supportive so I left to go to Kenya in 2008 and became a fitness coach largely because of the pressure from my Guardians who were big sports enthusiasts
I failed to finish my studies for reasons beyond my control as I was too young at 16. In 2008, I returned home briefly to do a poultry project before the artistic bug bit and I ended up in Cape Town in October at 17 years old.
Life was tough and I did odd jobs to survive. One day at one of these gigs cleaning cars in Strand Cape Town, a client asked throw away some junk from their car which included a bag full of artist oil paints. I kept these to experiment with at home and from then on taught myself painting between 2009 and 2011. My workmates gave me orders and this improved my confidence and graduated to drawing and painting automobiles.
However, when my finances didn’t improve and a baby on the way, I soon relocated back to Zimbabwe to take up French lessons in Harare to be a French guide in Victoria Falls where I moved to in 2014. I later realised that arts and crafts were the real big ticket there and immediately took up art again in 2015. My first big break came when my work started attracting interest from tourists and my work was showcased in a local art gallery.
What is your fascination with portraiture and what does your work aim to say?
The major reason why I wanted to do art is that I wanted to prove myself to my family. During my stint in Cape Town, my work wasn't accepted in some galleries because of the quality. I got the inspiration to pursue portraiture from a gallery called the African portrait which specializes in portraits. I prefer portraits the most because they tell our story as a people and I love how well it captures the emotions of my subjects. Most of my focus is on women because of their beauty and symbolism of the world we live in.
What are your thoughts about the state of the arts sector in Zimbabwe and as a Profession?
I don't know much about how the Zimbabwe Arts Council operates, but my general impression is that there is more focus on the big cities including the music sector.
If you were appointed as Minister of Arts and Culture today, what would be your immediate priorities?
It’s a tough job because everyone’s focus is on you and it can’t be easy to please everyone. However, I would try to stand up for my people to help them market their work and develop the sector into a globally reputable brand and ensure artists have enough spaces to showcase their work by building galleries.
How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
Creating shows and exhibitions all over the country to expose my work to a larger audience to evoke emotions and sympathy in certain subjects. I did a painting of President Mnangagwa and like I said I capture emotions in a painting. That portrait is a statement against corruption and supports a better future for everyone. The facial expression on ED’s face is trying to bring that out as does a number of my other projects.
Who are your biggest influences?
There's quite a handful of inspirational artists doing amazing stuff out there. But, from just walking through several galleries, the ones that really pushed my mind were works exhibited at the African Portrait Gallery. There are also a lot of creatives on line whose work is featured on YouTube from all over the world.
How have you developed your career?
I’m a self-taught artist who has had to suffer a lot of discouragement and criticism whilst trying to make a living from my craft. I’ve sold quite a number of pieces all over the world to tourists and even tour companies and locals are starting to take note of my work.
How do you seek out opportunities? How do you cultivate a collector base? How do you navigate the art world?
I have a Facebook page - The artist Lawrence Nyemba and other social networking sites which I use to market my work. I haven't exhibited before, but this year I will be at the Wild Geese art festival for the first time and hope this is the start of bigger things.
Walk us through your thought process when you create a work of art from scratch, what is going through your mind?
When painting, I get unusually emotional and extremely happy. Either way, the mood that I’m in determines the outcome of my work. However, I don't particularly have favourite paintings; I leave that choice to my audiences.
Tell us about your family. Do they approve/ support your career choice?
I've gone through a lot to be where I am now but the best thing of them all is that I can now look after my wife and kids and manage to send some money back home to my parents.
My parents have seen the progress I have made in life which reassured them I was on the right path. Sometimes they ask if I have enough materials to work with (He chuckles…). But all is well.