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FAB INTERVIEW: GQ South Africa’s Q&A with Zimbabwean Artist, Kudzanai Chiurai



I appreciate good art. Especially African art.

It was so refreshing to read this GQ South Africa April interview with one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated & truly avant-garde artists, Kudzanai Chiurai. I dream about owning some of his work.

I really do & here’s why….

GQ South Africa described him perfectly in their interview with him:

he has become persona non grata in his country of birth and has grown into one of Southern Africa’s most thoughtful and important voices.

The price of greatness *sigh*.

Check out his work from “State of the Nation”:

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I cry every time I see this clip…

Check out the GQ South Africa interview with Kudzanai as he speaks about activism, integration and how crap he is at relationships.

GQ: Did you grow up in an environment conducive to practising your art?

My parents were divorced, so a lot of time was spent trying to deal with the divorce. Having to move house, to different parts of the country. My older sister was with my mom and I was with my dad. I didn’t have time to create an environment conducive to art. I think time was spent just getting by and avoiding divorce arguments. It was out of my own interest that I kept art going.

 

When did the shift happen from drawing whatever it was that was around you, to being the artist as activist?

That happened during my second year at university. I spent some time as an observer trying to find my own space, trying to fit in; observing what was going on on campus, in the student union, in the SRC. I ended up having an interesting conversation with one of my lecturers, looking at what she had taught us about visual culture, and she encouraged me to apply what I had learnt while I was still there instead of waiting. It created double the workload because I would work on normal university assignments during the day and the other work at night, doing research on visual culture and activism.

 

When and how did that feed into what you started expressing about Zimbabwe?

I had just come back from Zim (in 2002) and things were getting really ugly then. I remember I had an argument with my mom. I almost got involved in a couple of things while I was there and my mom said, ‘Don’t do it get involved in politics,’ and that it was a bad idea. I thought, if I can’t do it [in Zimbabwe], let me do it in South Africa. I met [academic and activist] Elinor Sisulu and she made documents available – interviews they had conducted with people who had been tortured – to get a better understanding of what was going on. A couple of times I was invited to dinners and there’d be economists there, and they would explain the situation very bluntly. I would sit there and listen as much as possible and go away to try to visualise it as best I could.

 

How did you feel about the media attention after your first show while you were still at varsity? At some point I got the impression that you were being used to serve certain agendas.

It was a bit scary; I hadn’t even finished university and there was this big show and a lot of local and international interest. There were a lot of leading questions; they wanted to direct the conversation to a place that had nothing to do with the art at all. Was it about Robert Mugabe? And I’d be like ‘No, he’s part of a much bigger problem.’ They were essentially trying to make me say ‘Mugabe is evil’. It was disappointing because there was much more to the work.

 

Having worked and lived in South Africa for a long time and having been exposed to a lot of clever people, what excites you – and what disappoints you – about creative intellectual discourse?

What excites me about the creatives who are freelancers is the amazing work they are doing. When they are self-employed, it gives them a space to do things in tune with their interests, as opposed to doing work because of a job. I have a friend who is a copywriter but compiles online archives of traditional games that have been forgotten, or something on film, the actors, and so on. The disappointing thing is that it’s within a circle that knows what’s going on, not in a bigger circle.

 

Why isn’t it breaking through, especially when you have so much predominant polarising hysteria in the public space?

I think the problem is a lack of attention span. Our lives are so fast and so instant that the online conversation you had three hours ago becomes completely redundant and we are on to another one. These conversations happen so fast and instantly and are archived along with the millions of other conversations that have disappeared. I mean, when was the last time you sat down and listened to a folk story and discussed what it means in contemporary society – what the characters mean, what the metaphors mean?

 

Has it got to do with social media being the end in and of itself, rather than a tool or a means to an end?

I don’t think we will get there anytime soon. I mean, with the whole ‘Cape Town is racist’ thing, social media could have been the perfect tool but the way the whole conversation was handled, it just fell on its face. I think that was the start of an exciting conversation. You have Lindiwe Suttle, Simphiwe Dana and Helen Zille, an amazing starting point. But then there’s hysteria, then it dissipates and then we are all back to square one.

 

If you were to chart a path for Africa in 2020, what kind of future would you construct?

You would like to think that our generation would have its own June 16 moment. There is always a defining moment for each generation, where things change forever. There was the Marcus Garvey generation, the Patrice Lumumba generation, the Martin Luther King Jr generation. The kind of message that a new June 16 generation would send is one of honesty. We cannot continue to lie to each other or keep pretending; we are not honest.

 

What kind of lies do we tell each other?

How content we are with our jobs, or how integrated we are, while you can go to a gig and be the only black person there. I went to Oppikoppi once and I was staying on a campsite and it was hilarious when I bumped into another black guy from another campsite and we were the only black people there. We are not integrated at all. We are only integrated because of work, to a certain extent; it’s not really integration at all. It’s a pretend integration, it’s not reality.

 

In the bigger scheme of things, it’s all politics. Does it all get tiresome at times?

I think sometimes people feel [that a problem] is bigger than them when in reality it is not bigger than them – they are part of it. When you make one small change, it causes a shift around you and it feeds into others. We are not outside the system, we are part of it. Any change you make has a knock-on effect; you can’t look at it in isolation.

 

Your last exhibition, ‘State of the Nation’, was a multimedia experience and it was interesting that you used vocalist Zaki Ibrahim as the president of your imagined nation. What was the message there?

It goes back to the question of what our generation will contribute. In my imagined world, a young, successful black woman no older than 35 being a head of state was interesting. And she was writing a speech as a woman, but dressed within the conventions of male power, in a male suit. It was interesting to see how people would react to it.

 

What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done with a paintbrush?

I started painting.

 

Do you remember your first heartbreak?

That was pretty rough. I kind of started going out with girls quite late. I think I was paranoid; it always felt like a formulated structure, with a certain language, so I couldn’t be bothered. So when I got into it, I didn’t know what I was doing…maybe what she expected from me is not what she got.

 

Have you gotten better at it?

No, I have probably become worse! Sometimes people create an image of what love is – the soap opera kind of love, Brangelina love – and I think it’s much more. We spend too much time performing love, performing the relationship. We were born out of love, so we are love. There is no need for a performance.

For the rest of the interview, get the April issue of GQ South Africa on sale at newsstands in South Africa.

farai – who has written posts on Farai Today.


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