Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inside Mudariki's Artistic World: Full interview with National Gallery of Zimbabwe

I recently conducted an interview with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe on the occasion of being awarded an award for the painting '8 o clock News' at the Zimbabwe Annual Exhibition 2014

1  National Gallery Of Zimbabwe (NGZ): You recently won 3rd Prize at the Zimbabwe Annual Exhibition. What do you think about the reintroduction of this exhibition?
Richard Mudariki (RM) As the creative industries become increasingly important in many economies, as well as in global trade, I feel that the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe Annual Heritage Exhibition after so many years is a welcome move. It was, and still is, seen as a means of developing, empowering and promoting Zimbabwean visual artists, and at the same time, showcasing emerging talent from the country, and contributing to the international dialogue around African contemporary art.

8 o Clock News, Oil on Canvas, 150x150cm 

NGZ: "8 O' Clock News" graphically analyses society; the media and their depiction of the truth, what drove you to expressively produce this painting?
RM: I was driven to paint this piece by the continued persecution, torture and public killing of black people around the world, which is regularly splashed all over the media – examples include police shootings in  the USA, the Marikana shootings in South Africa, and the issues highlighted by the controversial Exhibit B exhibition, etc. It is newsworthy for a few days or a month, and then it is forgotten until it happens again.

2   NGZ: Is "8 O' Clock News" in any way connected to the theme covered in "Interviewed outside Parliament"? (Live 'n' Direct 2010)
RM: No, the two artworks are unrelated, and comment on two different issues.

4    NGZ: A great number of your paintings are socially hinged, do you believe the artist must be a social commentator?
RM: Every day, all of us react to the society we live in, in different ways – mostly internally, but often externally. Artists express their reactions to social conditions externally through their art. But that does not make every artist a social commentator.

NGZ: Or should just create for art sake?
RM: I have always disagreed with the approach of looking at an artwork as an aesthetic object that only exists for its own sake, and the belief that any other application threatens to harm its integrity. It makes no sense that art should be seen in isolation with no purpose outside of itself. It is clearly evident that art has a philosophical, decorative, spiritual, economic and social purpose.

5   NGZ: Triangular forms such a paper planes and arrows are ever present in your work. Are these symbolic running in themes?
RM: Yes they are – a symbol stands for something that is difficult to show in a painting. These specific symbols represent a force, a movement. They show that the scene is not static; things are moving up and down, flying around.

6   NGZ: In your opinion, which environment is it easier for the artist to ply their trade; Zimbabwe or South Africa?
RM: Any good artist should be able to thrive in any environment. However, in this business, an artist’s success has much more to do with how he or she is able to interface with market forces: the galleries, curators, collectors, etc.  It has to do with the context of the art world. In South Africa that context is far more mature and robust when compared with Zimbabwe, or any other African country. However, this does not make it easier for any artist to ‘ply their trade’ in South Africa – the market is comparatively small, has a limited potential client base, and is, as a result, highly competitive.  I think Zimbabwe’s visual art market has suffered from the economic crisis, which has not made it easy for artists to operate in it. However, with its long standing creative tradition, and the ever-growing number of artists creating important work that is being showcased internationally, it is just a matter of time before the market gains stability.

Artworks at the Zimbabwe Annual Exhibition (image source: Raphael Chikukwa)

7    NGZ: Why is this pliability more conducive? (with regards to either response)
    RM: I think it makes sense for one to go to where there is a market for one’s products, and where the environment is most conducive to successful work. Throughout history, artists who would become great have moved to the centres of the art world of their time – be it Johannesburg, Paris, Italy, New York or London. Living in a populous city where the galleries are active and the arts are alive gives a good artist a chance to succeed. It makes it easier to socialize with curators, collectors and other artists, being able to befriend them, and invite them to studio visits and exhibitions. It is unfortunate that it has to be this way – I feel that artists should work and live where they are inspired. Maybe with the internet making the world smaller, things could change.

8   NGZ: You exhibited widely and have had a lay of the land with regards to the subsector (Art, arguably a sector in other countries). What, in your opinion, should Zimbabweans do in order to boost the art subsector?
RM: First of all, I think a study should be conducted that accurately presents a picture of the current position of the visual arts in Zimbabwe, and can be used to identify opportunities for growing the artistic, social and economic contributions of the subsector in the country. From there on, the key assets and strengths/weaknesses of the sector should be assessed and identified, such as the visual arts economy, infrastructure (art galleries, museums and art schools), workforce of art professionals, an audience for visual arts, etc. Overall, the driving force of a good visual arts sector is having quality artworks, quality artists and a healthy market for their work. I feel that the government and the corporate world must also be encouraged to have a direct role in the boosting of the sector through commissioning public art, hosting art competitions and art fairs, and supporting artist-run initiatives.

Audience enjoying the painting at Zimbabwe Annual exhibition on 19 Dec. 2014 

9    NGZ: Going forward what do you think is needed to develop the Visual Art subsector in Zimbabwe?
RM: I think the future of the growth of the visual arts in Zimbabwe lies in audience development. l have noticed that the level of public participation in, and support of, the visual arts is much lower in comparison to other art forms such as music or theatre. It can be argued that the reason for this is that the cost of owning an original piece of art, such as a painting, is much higher than just buying a CD or going to a theatrical performance. However, Zimbabweans can be encouraged to appreciate and value art, not only the context of consumption through purchase, but in the context of public art galleries, museums and collections. Thus, the investment in public assessable art galleries, museums and art collections can be seen as an investment in the cultivation of future potential buyers of the visual arts.

 First published in The Herald, 19 January 2015.

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