Zimbabwe’s resilient creative industry

It’s a cool and rainy afternoon, not unusual for this time of year. The roads aren’t as packed as during the week, ensuring that the drive to my destination is short and pleasant. I’m glad for the cooler weather. It creates the perfect ambiance for my first Hustlers Market, hosted at Moto Republik.

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Tara and her art

Her room is immaculate, save for the papers and notebooks on the desk.  The chime of a dream catcher on the wall is interrupted as Tara closes the window and sits down, cross-legged, on her bed.  Some of her drawings are up on the cupboard, with a gemstone chart stuck on her door.  Looking at it, I can identify some of the stones on her windowsill. A tinge of citrus lingers in the air, and Tara moves to tidy her bed, which she thinks is less than presentable.

“Art is the only thing I focused on.”

 

Tara the Artist

Tara paintingTara Dena Jack is an artist.  She always has been.  From her days in nursery school, to high school at Hellenic, and now studying towards her Bachelor of Fine Art.  That she was meant to be an artist, Tara never doubted that.  “It (art) has always been a strong point, since I’m not really academic.” Tara points to the paintings stacked on top of her bookcase as proof.  Even when she’s meant to be studying, her fingers itch for pen and paper and Tara draws instead.  “Art is an outlet for me.”

As happy as she is with her degree and career path, art wasn’t always her  first choice.  For a time, music held sway.  “I started music when I was 4 or 5, and I started playing the clarinet when I was 14, so in Form Two,” Tara says as she adjusts her legs to get more comfortable.  “I also taught myself basic piano, so I can play a few tunes.”  When it came down to choose between art and music, the decision boiled down to what gave Tara more creative license.  Art it was.

 

“I can express myself more with art. Art is more liberating.”

2016-06-03 (2)What of her art itself?  Tara scrolls through her Instagram and flips through her book of doodles as she talks about her style and what she’s created.  I notice a lot of pencil work and inking, but not much in the form of paintings.  A slight frown on her mouth as she readjusts her seating again and ties up her hair.  “With painting, I don’t have a style that I’ve developed.  With my pencil work, it’s more detailed.  I like stuff like pencil work and pen work, stuff that you can control.”  Her pencil work is stunning. Images of skulls and candles flit across her phone screen.   Tara’s proud of her pieces, but she admits that her work is dark. “In O Level, I did kitsch, still-life, like ‘pretty pretty girly stuff’.  But I find skulls more interesting. You think about a painting of a skull more than just a painting of a flower.”

 

“I always try incorporate a hidden meaning in my art.”

 

Tara fiddles with her hairbands as she talks about her plans for the future.  She wants to get her art out there for people to see – something she hasn’t been doing.  She thinks back to her art teachers in high school and how they’ve shaped her life so far, and continue to play a role in deciding her future.  “Most of my role models are my art teachers.  They see what I’m capable of, they’re more confident in my abilities than I am.”  It was Greg Shaw, her high school art teacher and artist in Harare, who pushed Tara to develop her skills as an artist.  It was her O Level art teacher who convinced Tara to study Fine Art at Rhodes University.  Their influence has motivated Tara to pay it forward and become an art teacher and artist.

 

Tara the Zimbabwean

Would she work in Zimbabwe?  Tara pauses, and takes a breath before responding. “I’m drawn to political stuff.” She tilts her head in inference.  “Political stuff that I wouldn’t be able to do that. And I can’t do kitsch stuff either.”  I ask her the question again.  She looks up, frowns and responds, “I don’t know.”

To see more of Tara’s work, check out her Instagram.

All the art pieces in this story are property of Tara Dena Jack. 

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A comics creator named Bill

We are living in the age of the comic book.  From tv adaptions such as Arrow and Jessica Jones, to box office smash hits such as the Avengers and the Batman movies, comic book properties have never enjoyed such immense popularity.   In Zimbabwe, Marvel and DC have many diehard fans and loyal readers.  Admittedly, I am one of them (Team DC all the way).  Despite my unwavering love for all things comics, I couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more African based comics – comics that would speak true to the realities and stories on the continent.  That’s why my interest was piqued when I heard about Bill Masuku and his work.

Bill The Illustrator

Bill Comics Work

Some of Bill’s rough sketches

Bill Masuku recently graduated from Rhodes University with a degree in Commerce, but he chose to pursue a career in comics full time.  His relationship with them began thanks to an overactive imagination as a child. “I was but a wee lad (when his fascination with comics started), although reading comics religiously came in Form One.”  He created his first full comic when he was in Grade 5.  His first reader base were his fellow classmates, and Bill’s creation was a hit amongst his friends. “It was about a group of kids with superpowers fighting tyrant teachers. Shamefully it was titled BillSaga.” From the moment he saw how people received his comic, it was the beginning of a life of combining illustrations with compelling storylines.

“It was like self actualisation, like the precipice of my human potential.”

Bill the Storyteller

However, after this preliminary break, Bill took a break from comics.  Not only was schoolwork a major factor, but he still couldn’t wrap his head around the art of the good comic story. “My ideas for a good story were incomplete. Writing takes time and it’s a constant refining process.”  For example, his first was to create a story around a team of superheroes whose origins were in South Africa, with the plan of eventually expanding the team to include heroes from across the world.  Such a team made sense in Bill’s mind but translating it on paper proved harder than expected.  He decided to cut down the team and keep the focus on Africa.  This was the golden idea, and with this in mind, Bill started to flesh out the story, incorporating elements from his imagination and current African events to produce an interesting yet relatable story.  “There was that proposal from Gaddafi to initiate the United States of Africa.  Tearing down trade boarders, unifying the currencies and just being great.  In my current universe, the African Union, or the United States of Africa, is in effect by 2014.” In addition, Bill plans on reviving old forgotten folk tales, an audio series, as well as a separate title he calls ‘The Third Chimurenga’, whose premise is a cross between speculative literature, sci-fi, and historical fiction:

Blending fact and fantasy, the story starts in the Rhodesian Bush War, where scientists conducted experiments to create a human weapon. With the death of the lead scientist and the end of the war, the test subjects were put into suspended animation in a facility located a few kilometres outside of Harare.  An unfortunate stranger stumbles onto the site, unleashing these human weapons into modern Zimbabwe.

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Creating the stories behind the comics is a long process for Bill.  Not only does he do historical research, but he also has to test out the plausibility of the powers he gives to his characters. Bill explains his current concepts: “I’m currently struggling with human flight – somewhere between warping one’s own electromagnetic field against gravity and or adjusting the density of fluids in the body and treating the atmosphere as a liquid.”  Bill adds to the superpower factor by grounding his characters to ordinary, relatable people that Zimbabweans encounter on a regular basis:

“The secondary theme I’m following is what would an ordinary person  do with powers. Not a super buff millionaire or an alien.  A kombi conductor with the power to teleport. The circumstances of his life. And what choice would make him a hero or villain. Because in my universe, there is no evil.”

However, he’s hit a few speed bumps when it comes to fleshing out his stories.  Especially when it comes to writing female characters, Bill wants to present heroes that are complex but don’t fall into the stereotypes and tropes that have come to characterise representations of women in comic books.  “It’s harder to write believable female characters that weren’t raped, recovering from some trauma, or the converse depiction of them as a Mary Sue. A lot of thought has to be considered. It’s even more difficult for a black female character.”

Bill the Strategist

As invested as Bill is in his craft, he is not naive to the realities of the comics industry in Zimbabwe and Africa.   The industry is growing – with independent publishers in South Africa, and Nigerian comics gaining more prominence and publicity.  However, comics as a business is still not taken seriously – at least in Bill’s opinion.  “The obstacle,” he says, “is getting over the idea of ‘maPopeye’ and stagnant creators.”  MaPopeye in this case refers to the old style of animation, where people produced brief 10 minute clips of cartoon, such as Popeye. “It’s good for 10 minutes of laughs, but not really a career path or anything of value.”  For young artists and creators to have some kind of success, they have to continue in this old model without exploring their own artistic avenues, leading to a stagnant market.  Bill remains optimistic of the comics industry, and points to the Comics Conventions held in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Zambia.

“The number of dynamic creators has risen tremendously, but the perceptions mean that we can’t make a living off it and it becomes a sub-craft, coupled most commonly with graphic designers.”

SILVER DIAMOND issue 1 cover

With his recent graduation Bill moved back home, and whilst Zimbabwe’s economic situation isn’t the most ideal setting for a young illustrator like him, he’s learnt to appreciate the little things that are to his advantage.  “There are some pleasant conveniences, like EcoCash.  It’s the card that registered my patreon account.  I have more time free time to research and draw.”  To get some funding for his work, Bill set up a Patreon account, which works in the same way as Kickstarter or GoFundMe.  His mother and his friends have been supportive thus far, but he needs financial support to expand his work and produce more comics.  “I need to buy a scanner, so that as soon as I’m done with a piece I can edit and upload.  Then partner with a printing store so I can sell at conventions like AfriNerd Con and maybe even HIFA.  Later I’ll buy a tablet so I can do digital art.”

“Why walk when you can teleport?” 

Bill’s drawings and story arcs illustrate a growing artistic industry and space in Africa.  With non-African comic companies and creators possessing the lion’s share of the readers and collective imagination, it’s high time that young Zimbabweans like Bill get the opportunity to represent their narrative in comic form.  Who knows, perhaps in a few years, the continent could see its own crop of comic book adaptions.  And one of them just might be one of Bill’s creations.

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If you’d like to support Bill via Patreon, check out his account here for the details.

For more illustrations and comic creations, follow Bill on his Instagram at @billmasukuart

Chaka neMbira

Chaka Zinyemba’s family has long had connections with Canada.  His parents lived in the famously-cold North American country in the 80s, and his four sisters live, work, and study there.  So moving to Canada after his A Levels was almost a given for the young Zimbabwean.   Now an artist and musician currently living in Edminton,  Chaka draws on his Zimbabwean roots and family as, for inspiration for his work.

“IT WAS A NATURAL  PROGRESSION”

Life in Zimbabwe was good for Chaka.  The only boy in a family of five children, he was the Headboy at St.George’s College in 2007.  “I’m a Georgian through and through”, he says, having donned the red blazer since his primary school days at St. Michael’s.  It was at high school that Chaka first got interested in art.  He took it up as a subject at O Level, and although he didn’t take it further than this, his love for art continued, even after he left school.  As  grateful as he was for all that St. George’s, and Zimbabwe, had taught him, Chaka wanted a change of scenery.  “I was looking for something new, a new environment to start afresh.”  So it was off to the University of Alberta, where he graduated with a BA in Human Geography and Music.

 

 

“I SAW AN OPPORTUNITY, AND I GRABBED IT”

Chaka learnt how to play the mbira during the gap between the end of his A Levels, and the move to Canada.  However, it was only when he went to Canada that he started taking mbira seriously.  He has his new city to thank.  Thanks to an oil boom, Edmonton is becoming an economic and cultural hub, and Chaka wanted in on the action.   “If you have an idea, chances are you are the only one having that idea.”  With his art and his mbira skills, Chaka fit right into the Canadian city’s art life, but he does also work with Zimbabwean artists.  He’s just produced a CD with the help of two people: his cousin Free (“zvese zvese anobata!”), and  Peter Muparutsa (“he’s a mdara”).  Recorded at Shed Studios, the production was really a cross-Atlantic effort: Muparutsa worked together with a Canadian producer to produce the album.  Recorded in Zimbabwe, and sold in Edmonton, Chaka was able to successfully the two communities he knows and loves to create his own distinctive sound.

 

 

Even though he studied human geography and music at university, Chaka never forgot about his art.  Eight years after he dropped Art, he picked it up again, with his fiancée’s (now wife) encouragement.    “From the time I was born, I’ve been surrounded by women.”  This female presence extends to his artwork.  Dominated by strong, colourful portraits of different women, Chaka’s learnt to find his own style of painting, choosing not to get any formal training.  “As much as I respect institutions,” Chaka explains, “the fact that I’m not formally trained gives me more freedom.”  Having produced and sold several paintings, Chaka’s making a name for himself, and he hopes one day to come back home and show Zimbabwe how far he’s come.  “It’s always great to go back home and show ‘hey, this is what I’ve learnt and developed’.”

“I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT EVERYTHING I DO”

Hardworking and resolute, Chaka’s drive and creativity mirrors the efforts of many Zimbabweans living abroad.  “MaZimbo, takawanda!” He says, laughing at how even in Edmonton, there is a small but growing Zimbabwean community.  He’s glad that he can contribute to his country in any way he can, whether it be his with music, a paintbrush, or his geographic skills.  “We can tell our own story.  We have the tools and technology at our fingertips to create our own narrative.”  So Chaka sits, thinks, and he creates.

 

 

Contact Information:

http://mbirarenaissance.bandcamp.com/releases

Chaka nembira Studio

Instagram: @Zibeans

Facebook Page: Chaka ne Mbira

Twitter:   Chaka Zinyemba @Chakanembira

Pieces Of Home:Sculptures of Warren Park

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From tombstones and engravings, to the little sculptures and giant statues hewn from granite, the sculptures in Warren Park have it all.  Under the shadow of the National Sports Stadium, the sculpture spot is almost a blink-and-miss area, especially when whizzing by in a car or kombi.   However, the men and women, the artists who carve beauty from rock have created a mini haven.  Sculpting has always been an integral component of local art, and the sculpture gardens in Warren Park contribute in their own small way to Zimbabwean culture.

                                  THE SCULPTURES

Families

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                                                  Nzou- Elephant

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The Big Ones

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                                     TOMBSTONES

 

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