Armed with a brush and a strong desire for change, exiled Zimbabwean artist Kudzi has become something of a legend in the niche world of pan-African urban culture, writes Charles Nhamo Rupare.
Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai is an internationally acclaimed artist now living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was the first black student to graduate with a BA in Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. Highly regarded as a leading voice of his generation, Kudzi has made a name for himself as a thought provoking artist who uses his art to highlight the many fallacies of our continent with specific focus on African leaders and culture. Chiurai’s early work focused on the political, economic and social strife in his homeland and has since evolved to reflect a continental dialogue that puts the state and its people at the centre of progress or the lack thereof. Seminal works like ‘Presidential Wallpaper’ depicted Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a sell-out and this led to Chiurai’s exile from Zimbabwe.
Armed with a paint brush and a strong desire for change Kudzi has become somewhat of a legend in the niche world of pan-African urban culture. For someone who has achieved so much in a short space of time with bodies of artwork that speak loudly, his humility, sensitivity and introverted personality are humbling, making for an interesting harmonious contrast between the artist and his work.
His latest presentation titled ‘State of the Nation’ is intended to explore aspects of a constructed African state that bears scars of political and cultural discourses. On a continent that has experienced more violent conflicts than any other, this exhibition follows an individual’s narration of events that lead up to the inaugural speech by the first democratically elected president. The conflict that exists between cultural vistas and postmodern political narratives is evident in Chiurai’s work. Themes range from rituals, genocide memories of Rwanda and the all too familiar propaganda machine of the state to win hearts and minds of the nation. The vivid and curated portrayal of political scenes and the fear it imposes on the general populace is both profound and sad. The political truth of our continent is captured in every line and colour and together the state of all our nations is laid bare.
Melissa Mboweni curated the exhibition in partnership with the Goethe Institute and collaborations with photographer Jurie Potgieter, singers Thandiswa Mazwai and Zaki Ibrahim as well as clever use of technology brought this body of work to life. Chiurai references child and woman soldiers, African liberation movements and civil wars. He tracks the similarities between societal, political and ideological doctrines of nations in tumultuous times of transition with the often-ignored impact these cacophonous changes have on citizens.
The juxtaposing of public and private were highlighted in performances that took place in the streets of Newtown and in the exhibition space that fostered private conversations about the state of our own nation as well as the artist’s work. A sound and technology installation scores the gallery experience. The influence of hip-hop in Kudzi’s own life is evident in his installations.
In a style similar to previous bodies of work such as ‘Dying to be Men’ series and ‘Black President’, Chiurai’s constructed environments are enticing, seductive and explore real casualties of African independence and critically examine the role of state public servants in advancing democracy. This ‘State of the Nation’ exhibition is a timely theme that comes at a time when the continent is grappling with its democratic identity and the role of the state in bringing real freedom and justice to its people.
As an art lover and a follower of Kudzi’s work, I’m hoping his social themes will evolve to depict some of the goodness on our continent and the power of the individual in bringing about change in their own community regardless of the state. Kudzi has the ability, passion and drive to start painting imageries of Africa that shows progress and a people with an undying spirit for survival and entrepreneurship.
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* Charles Nhamo Rupare is of Shona origin and lives life through the creative eye and dreams of Afrika regaining her dignity and her sons and daughters developing the necessary mental freedom to love peace and communal co-existence. He is an award-winning Afrikan-centred brand specialist, percussionist, writer and a Pan-Afrikan thinker. He is chief editor of www.kush.co.za, a co-founder of Kush Kollective and a Partner of TEDx Soweto. He can be reached at [email protected]
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