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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
Facebook Page: Chaka ne Mbira
Twitter: Chaka Zinyemba @Chakanembira