Bridging the Gap

Photography | By Sekai Machache, Visual Artist | 31 October 2014
PHOTO: © Sekai Machache

In recent years I have had the opportunity to reconnect with Zimbabwe, my country of origin. After seventeen years away from home I was lucky enough to visit twice in the space of one year. The experience has been overwhelming. I decided to take the opportunity to meet with fellow artists in a bid to establish what the art scene in Harare is all about. For the first time I was able to truly experience the art community within Zimbabwe, the defining moments of which were my visits to Gallery Delta and First Floor Gallery. I found inspiration in their openness, support and willingness to share.

Growing up I was under the impression that there was very little space for art within Shona culture. My family have always been extremely career focused therefore my creative instincts as a child were always met with a certain dismissal. I would always be the only black person anywhere: grade school, high school and then again in art school. My artistic ability was always met with the same reactions. There was an over-indulgence of the words ‘raw’, ‘authentic’ and ‘rich’, the meanings of which were not immediately apparent. Throughout my undergraduate study I found myself constantly having to explain what my practice was about. I would always come up against the same questions. These questions not only related to my practice but were also personal, intimate and cultural. I felt a need to express something that I suspect was happening not only to me but also to so many artists in
the Diaspora.

It feels like there is a disconnection between what we are trying to express and its interpretation.

Therefore we find ourselves having to counter it by delving further into the discourse on identity and belonging. I say ‘we’ because I have found it almost impossible to find other diaspora artists whose practice does not deal with themes of belonging, identity and the divided self. This inherently traps us in a feedback loop where we lose sight of what we would otherwise be pursuing. For example, while my practice deals with the psychology of dreams, it is constantly mistaken for being purely related to racial identity issues. This can be attributed to my use of the black figure which is not as commonly utilised within the visual arts to convey the common human experience in western art.

Since the 1989 Magiciens de la Terre exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou & Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, contemporary art making in the ‘third world’ has become popular and is finally being recognised alongside its western counterparts. In recent years it has become clear that the international contemporary art world is once again looking to Afrika. Artists on the continent are exhibiting at the Biennales and other prominent art fairs. Notably for Zimbabwe, the Dudziro pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale and for Harare’s own First Floor Gallery at the 1:54 Contemporary Afrikan Art Fair.