Reimagining our national identities and imagery

Art & Design | By Masimba Hwati, Fine Artist | 25 May 2014
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

Every society is shaped by visual history and culture. The self perception and esteem of African societies has been shaped by Colonial historical and contemporary images that are constantly being portrayed and projected at them either by design or by default. It has been argued that Africa has a deficiency of heroes .There is a dearth of knowledge of heroic and Iconic figures in pan African cultures and if this knowledge exists at all, it is shaped and narrated by outsiders.

“Until the Lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”
African proverb

How many pictures of our heroes did we make, project or imagine? Zimbabwean liberation struggle is punctuated by mug shots of our subjugated defeated and humiliated heroes.
How is it that we still publicize, celebrate and identify ourselves with these images? What is the psychological taxation of these images on the Zimbabwean psyche? How do these images shape our self perception and esteem? And how does this psychological phenomenon reflect on our economy and our Diplomatic relations with other cultures and races. Today we allow the Eastern nations to exploit our human and natural resources in such blatant ignorance. Is this lack of ownership and self value connected with the damaged perception of ourselves that has its roots in the way we present and project our heroes?

Images of heroes are the standard and cultural touchstone of every society. Let’s talk of The Duke of Wellington a hero of the battle of waterloo, Benjamin Franklin the American Founding  father, Joan of Arc ,Alexander the great of Greece, Saint George the dragon slayer .These heroes are Cultural assets whose purpose is to inspire courage  self value and success driven norms in any  society. Their images tell the same story.

The only Images of our own Zimbabwean heroes from the first Chimurenga and the period before that are Images that were propagated by our former colonizers of by enterprising explorers who sought to present an Eldorado creating curious prospection that aided in the Colonization of most parts of Africa. An Image has a lot to do with the intention of the artist or the photographer than it does with the subject matter presented.

How many Images of Our Heroes do we claim to have creative ownership over? We are struggling under the weight of colonially engineered images of our heroes and ourselves. Where is the Contemporary Zimbabwean artist? We can’t leave things to chance anymore .Our artist are too busy appeasing perverted appetites of rich elites who refuse to budge from their inherited image of the African. Where are cultural Institutions to commission and redress change? Andrew Langa , Thabeth Kanengoni  the ministers of arts sports and Culture? Stop  sleeping guys ZimAsset  depends on our Image which  apparently  is  informed by  our heroes images.  We need new Images of Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, and Chief Mapondera. We need to  counter the negative images of our heroes and Icons  who  are  still being  presented to us and the rest of the world in their defeated and subjugated state.. As a visual artist it’s embarrassing for me to continue to see those Images being presented in public without being  challenged.

Ephebesim is the celebration of African virility youth and conquest in art. I am challenging all Zimbabwean and African artists to take up this challenge to redress this, lets design the future.  History is as much as design as it is factual.