Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During the Winter break of 2010/11 I returned to the Sunshine City of Harare, Zimbabwe to examine how Personal, Political, and Artistic Heritages Teach Contemporary Artists about Creative Methodologies such as Storytelling, Time and Place, and the Phenomenology of Belief. I knew that what I would find during my trip would propel my honors project in Art and Art History, while enabling me to find significant ways of expressing myself.
I sought out the material heritage of Zimbabwe and in doing so, I gained understanding of what it meant for my parents generation to bridge the gap between uninterrupted Shona lifestyle and Western influenced Zimbabwe. I learned about the legends behind the Ndoro (divination shells). I realized how musical instruments such as the mbira (thumb instrument), ngoma (drum), marimba, hosho (rattles) and chigufe (Horn) were elements that create total art during traditional ceremonies.
Through interviews and library visits, I unearthed Shona religious cultures that my family no longer practices. For instance, I learned about the spiritual horizontal hierarchy in Shona belief. In doing so, I discovered the vital roles that individuals had played when a relative passed away or when spirits had to be appeased. Through this experience I gained a better understanding of the social norms and values that are upheld in Zimbabwe today, yet go unquestioned.
My research allowed me to interact with many prominent people in the Southern African art community. Some of these people include Raphael Chikukwa, the new curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, as well as Eddious Nyagweta and Arthur Fata who are both internationally acclaimed young sculptors. I met many other great artists, but I was particularly honored to meet Slyvestor Mubayi who is one of the pioneers of contemporary sculpture in Zimbabwe. However, my favorite part of my research was spending time with the Mukomberanwa family, a family of established sculptors. They invited me to their farm and taught me how to sculpt and polish serpentine stone. Today, I consider them dear friends.
A significant part of my research included collecting personal family stories; in particular collecting stories about my father whose life before Zimbabwe's Independence had remained a big mystery. Prior to returning to Harare, all I knew was that he had trained as a freedom fighter in Vietnam and Korea, and had spent 15 years in Detention under the Ian Smith Regime. I interviewed my dad's three main confidants who are like uncles to me. Through these interviews my perception of my father being a hero was reinforced by the amazing anecdotes about true courage and perseverance I heard.
Thanks to this research grant, I will be using all of the documentation, skills and ideas that I received in Zimbabwe to complete my honors project. My senior project will consist of paintings, sculpture and documentary work among other things. However, the information I received will affect me as an artist for the rest of my life.
For more information about my stories, videos, and other findings please visit my blog: http://blogs.stlawu.edu/artzimbabwe