Summarizing the events in Harare

exhibitions, writing, Zimbabwe


solar The airport  being the obvious place where airplanes land and take off, is also an important physical location where some serious thinking is done. It marks a moment when I project my self into the future, and on a returning journey I spend time reliving and summarizing the events during my travels. This time after my exhibition in Harare with rotating objects and drawings I tried to question myself with 6 key evaluation questions such as:
”What art processes were planned and what was actually put in place for the project?….”, but found the answers something short sighted and for the economist. So I page through notes and recall conversations.
The most remarkable moment of the exhibition would have to be that the audience  interacted with the artwork by means of a torch, light, solar panels and an electrical motor turning the objects. During the opening for example, people took their time to go from object to object and examine the reaction that the light had on the artworks. In fact what they were doing was examining the effects that the light had on the surface of the object, and this is precisely how I question and observe the small art works.  How does the light reflect, what texture does it reveal, what shadows does it cast, what tonal difference in the shadows tell me that the object is three dimensional and finally if I turn the beam of light to an other angle what happens to the image and why? This information I use as an artist to make painting or more sketches. But to come back to the opening, I felt that the audience was captivated, they talked about the objects, the mechanism, the show.

‘So what comes first, the object or the drawing, or the painting?’, guests would ask.
None, I would answer. The exhibition shows the precise evolving process of an artist. The origins of the idea is so far and faint in the past that they no longer have any influence to the present physical form, be it the drawings, paintings or objects. By observing, unfolding and questioning these three forms,  I answer with new artworks, that in turn will be observed and questioned again forming a continuous evolving spiral. [action reaction]

‘What are they? What does it symbolize?’ Each person will see what it is, what it symbolizes and how much power it has. Option, a sculptor tells me how ”the bull” triggered his youth memories. One of the objects, a small bull (approximately 2cm high)  made of dark brown earthenware clay, glued on the inclination of a triangular piece of wood, spins in the light. ‘When I was living in the rural area,’ Option tells me with excitement, ‘with my parents and grandparents on a small farm, we had a big black bull. It was a kind of crazy bull and on some occasions the bull would escape from its pen.  We would always find the beast on top of a hill, feet locked like a mountain goat on the steep rocks and head pointing proudly up, nostrils flared and grunting at the far horizon.’  Later Option wrote in my guest book ”I like that BULL!!”

The airplane took me from Harare to Lusaka and in the early hours of the morning we landed in Dubai international airport where I would catch my connecting flight to Amsterdam. Having some time on my hands, a twenty dollar bill and a wish for a cup of coffee I set off to find one of the coffee chains. When the lady at the counter saw the dollar bill, she immediately said  she could not take it, ”It’s too old”.
‘Yeah but’, I protested, ‘I’ve been using dollar bills like this for weeks, dollars can’t get old; it’s money.’
The next place told me my money was too dirty, and they would also not accept it. This encounter put a whole new spin on money laundering. However this left me without a coffee, a worthless 20 dollar bill and I felt like a sitting duck, a target for unscrupulous bank CEOs. It made me link the arts and money, how some art was worth money and other art works as worthless as my dirty money. And yet for the artist, each art piece that is expressed in physical form is a step in the artist’s personal development and so his culture. At the next coffee place I ordered an expensive cappuccino from Harkaman hiding my old and dirty money until Florence proceeded to whizz the machines. Ha! My money was no longer old nor soiled, because Harkaman saw the agreement between himself, the cappuccino and me. [Back in the game].

Bringing art works to Zimbabwe for an exhibition  is an exceptional process. Not so much the logistics which consists of making the art works look worthless in a messy suitcase, and thus avoid having to pay import taxes. But an exceptional reversal process as art flows out of the country not in. I have had three solo exhibitions in Harare starting in 1994, 2012 and now 2014 and each time I bring something, it surprises to the brink of ungraspable. Not because the work is indecipherable, rather there are hardly any international exhibitions let alone African art exchanges. In fact there is not much of an contemporary art interest or market amongst the local population, the players are few and the road to any form of success (economical or spiritual) is to Europe or North America. This causes a general unease in the arts, besides the education system is not strong enough to educate about contemporary African art. As the local artists tell me all the ‘important’ art has been sold over eagerly to collectors outside of Africa and what cultural documentation remains is hardly contemporary and is written by former colonists three decades ago. Needless to say there is great awareness amongst artists to educate their fellow man, they know, road is long.

moon northern hemisphere

moon southern hemisphere

In Zimbabwe the moon is upside down. After a few days in Harare you change your point of view, and some time later you see it like all people living in Zimbabwe, bright and surrounded by dozens of nebulae and other star clusters. The way I observed the art and the maker also changes with time. I have noticed that art is made in a different way. One way that European artists may start making their art work is from the art supplies and tools at hand (canvas, paint and brushes). In Zimbabwe I found that the artists starts from a different point. There is hardly any art material to work with.  Creative survivalist know the challenge ”How to open a can without a can opener”. Creative kids know what to do when there is no TV and they have gnawed through their boredom. So the starting point of the artist is from nothing, and that makes the work so very challenging. It is almost like a training, a school of thought, a style like minimalism, but then the ”starting from nothing” style. The Zimbabwean artist starts painting with nothing, then finds household paint, continues to paints mixing colours with offset printers ink, or starts with yellow and finding other colours in the form of plastic bottle tops, sweet wrappers or broken shoes. Or consider this simplification; an artist drawing a silhouette of a rabbit, in Africa they may draw the abstract forms from the space around the rabbit (from nothing), and not from the ears or eyes or fur. When I look at their work the opposite happens, I first see the bottle tops, the electronic print plates, the bicycle pedal and then as if by magic, I see the creation.

analyzing the inside shapes, or look at the outside shapes

analyzing the inside shapes, or look at the outside shapes

During last  three days in Harare I freed myself up from the exhibition to spend some time in the botanical gardens and to explore the clouds using a video camera. The clouds form low and rapid in the skies after eleven o’clock in the morning. By leaving the camera on the ground and pointing up towards the sky I recording five minutes at the time. Playing the video fast forward made me realize that the rolling motion of the clouds was similar to the the rotating objects. It is something I want to work with.

But what impact did your art work have?
In 1999 I left the USA after doing a collection of paintings on shadows of basket ballplayers and hotel paintings in Mexico. I thought they had little impact on any one but my self, but I was wrong, Kelsay Myers wrote in 2013:
“But this one looks like spirits,” I said, and it did. What I didn’t say was that the spirits made me want to write. Their shapes and colors haunted me. The sky captured my imagination.”

A N    E M P H A S I S   O N   R E A L I T Y


next: 3rd Ruhr Biennial – Townshipwise different 2015


Returning home

writing, Zimbabwe
wooden object

wooden object

A satisfied feeling came over me when I returned home after the exhibition. And so I had to analyze my feelings, and question what was special about this particular presentation. I believe I made people ask questions about their own value, and I too asked this to myself.
It is my 3rd solo exhibition in Harare. The first one in 199r, then 2012 and now in 2014. I, the audience and the artworks have changed.
My first exhibition with more than 50 diverse works produced in less that a year while I stayed in Southern Africa, had prints and paintings commenting on life in southern Africa. Narrative images like ‘Jack leaves with thoughts of revenge’, paintings inspired by social unrest and comic books.
During last three days in Harare I have freed myself up to explore the clouds using a video camera. The clouds form low balloons in the skies after eleven o’clock. Out on the grass, I would point the camera up towards the sky and record five minutes at the time. Replaying the video in FForward mode made me see the familiar rolling motion patterns of the clouds and the rotating objects that was part of the exhibition. This is something that I take with me and needs to be further addressed in the studio.
solarThe rotating objects that I took with me to show are driven by solar motors. When the sunlight fills the exhibition space the solar cells convert the energy and power the tiny motors, making the object turn. It is magical and peaceful. But the opening was during the dark evening and Marcus came with an innovative solution; the torch. So during the opening the audience armed with torches could activate the mechanism and examine the rotating objects with a beam of light and play with the shadows on the backdrop.
During the opening people were absorbed by the objects, studying each one with childlike curiosity, walking from object to object. And then the questions are. What are they? What does it symbolize? And how does it reflect to the observer?

a bull on the hill

Bull on the hill

C tells me how the bull triggered memories of his youth. When living in the rural areas they had a bull. On some occasions the bull would escape from the pen. And they would always find the beast on top of a steep inclining hill looking out over the horizon like a mountain goat.
This (the reflections) is what I take back home with me.

opening evening photos

exhibitions, Zimbabwe

opening First Floor Galley:
Pictures by Kumbulani Zamuchiya

opening first floor gallery

discussing how the light interacts with the surface of the object

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

Interacting with the object using the solar panels to power the rotation of the object.

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

relating to the art works.

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

Observing the objects turn with the power of solar energy

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

K_Van, Valerie Kabov, Marcus Gora and guests

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

During the day the object turn gently, powered by solar enegry

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

Babies, family and friends join the exhibition.

photo: Kumbulani Zamuchiya

Discussion, how the objects might work in Scandinavian. They would turn, then stop in a random position for the winter.

prototype feb 2013

HIFA 2014 day 5

writing, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has great clouds. Low flying puffs of vapour twisting in the sky. They reach high over the tree tops but are close enough for you to be in contact with them, like messengers from heaven. It is my belief that artists are influenced by their land. Fly over the Spanish landscape and you see the rugged canvas of the Spanish painter. The Dutch painter has the ordered lines. Of course I am generalizing, but a sky filled with endless blobs of beautiful clouds must have some impact on the people.clouds in Zimbabwe

HIFA 2014 day 5

In the HIFA green pavilion, reserved for the artists (as in musician artist?) we sat and compared football management with the arts market. All the Zimbabwean contemporary artists know someone personally that has exhibited at the Venice Art Biennale. Meaning that there are many Zimbabwean contemporary artists who have exhibited in Venice, or there are few contemporary Zimbabwean  artists that everyone knows. Being so close to the grand art market unsettles the  artists, as would happen if a hand full of kids would be sent to Rio to play in the world cup football. My position is detached from the art market, although I must confess, when living in Brussels, we were neighbours with Angel Vergara the artist who represented the French Community of Belgium at the 54th Venice Biennale. But when we spoke, it was never about art nor football.


HIFA 2014 day 4

writing, Zimbabwe

Has any one written a good book about Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation (10,000,000%) from 1998-2009. Today when I speak to people they are still in shock. Pensions disappeared, savings lost, mortgages exploded and property reclaimed. Shop shelves empty. People drove for hours to neighbouring countries to buy food for family and friends. Those that did not have cars camped in front of shops and ATMs hoping for good news. If you had $10 US you could fly with Air Zimbabwe to China and back using the local exchange rate? A book like this would go down as fiction, it is beyond the logic of mankind.

At this time it is good to mention AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers link
Ivor Hartmann, editor says ”it enables African writers to envision a future from our African perspective.” And I would like to add it enables writers to tell their stories of unimaginable truths.




HIFA 2014 day 4
At the national galley, Calvin Dondo presents his book with
“Hodhii Zimbabwe. This book is a knock on the door of a stone house, a calling to open up and discover its inner mirror, an urge to show itself to the world and find more authentic rhetoric”

[personal note: is African art about problem solving using restriction methods?]


HIFA 2014 day 3

Utsi Mutsi, writing, Zimbabwe

A month ago while preparing for a solo show in Harare, I was finishing off one of the sculptures. My chisel slipped off the wood and dug deep into my little finger. In the ER they told me I cut my tendon. The hospital staff on hearing I was an artist arranged the best hand and wrist surgeon in Holland to sew the two strands of tendon back together. The recovery will be long.

injured, cintiq digital drawing tabletMy 3d work clearly stopped, but with one hand I could still draw the Utsi Mutsies (that is what my son Mickey and I call these imaginary creations). I used a Cintiq digital drawing tablet drawing directly on the screen and so creating the prints for the show.

HIFA Day 3

In the morning I go to the first floor gallery,  known for its innovative programming, to hang up 2 rotating objects and 2 drawings. Yutaka Hirose and Yuki Kamiya come to visit the galley and Yutaka takes my photograph using a very large format camera for his 100s Zimbabwe project.

At 17:00 the show opens with a good crowd of people

detail of Terrence Musekiwa’s sculpture ‘fruit tree’

one-piece cold formed body featuring a black oxide finish

K_Van: one-piece cold formed body featuring a black oxide finish

HIFA 2014 day 2

writing, Zimbabwe

HIFA 2014 is the 15th festival since its start in 1999. The arts festival is now the largest cultural event in Zimbabwe and is seen as a key contributor to the development of performing arts in southern Africa. The national gallery of Zimbabwe hosted two discussions in the morning. I would attend the ‘wind of change’ with Doron (AMBA), but mistakenly landed up in the other. The selected panel took turns to stand up and talk about their artistic projects and experiences. Bands using social media, a man using jet-set connections to promote his song in creative-industry style. The people attending were mainly performing artists or involved with organizing events and festivals (including team members of HIFA), so when the discussion opened up some great insight was given to the cultural climate of Zimbabwe.  For example unclear sponsorship deals, lack of quality, unjust expectations,  but foremost the lack of access to give cultural education.

While the discussion group went to have breakfast, Doron and I found the ‘wind of change’. A formal panel discussion,  with seats for Mr Chikukwa, Dr Bere, Mr Kangai, Mr Hwati, Mrs Sibanda, Mr Klinghofer, Dr Samwanda. Separating the panel group with a long table and a three meter gap sat we the audience, a few artists, press and collectors.
A point from the discussion: is contemporary Africa art ready for the art market as China was ‘discovered’ less than half a decade ago?
This year you will see the fashion industry inspired by Africa tribal objects and patterns. But this is not the same as the Chinese contemporary art. China has brought art to the world markets in order to boost the local value of their contemporary arts for speculators and investors in China. So there was no real incentive to sell art to the west, in contrary to African contemporary art that does not have much of a local market.  Further more, in Africa, as some of the panel members pointed out, there is little local awareness of contemporary African art  and the main priority should be to attend to nurture the local awareness  of African culture in Africa.

The discussion was ended with 2 pots of strong tea, and biscuits.

In the evening I attended the CABS opera Gala

Traditionally sponsored by CABS, a local banking group, and with it the traditional opera night. Best described as opera light for novices, a lot of small but well known pieces are sung.

HIFA 2014 day 1

writing, Zimbabwe

HIFA is a 6-day  festival of popular culture in Harare. The first floor gallery of Harare recommended I should come to see the festival and participate in the group exhibition: Harare No Limits!

Harare’s contemporary artists create their vision of the city and its people.

HIFA week

The festival was kicked off in the national gardens behind the National gallery on Tuesday night by an opening event with dance and music, followed up by drinks and finger-food at the ABC Bank director’s tent. But before the drinks were served, the elite guests and special stake holders were assured that their bank accounts would soon be accessible after a technical hitch. Yet rumour has it that selected managers have had access to large loans that they are failing to repay resulting in the freezing of all banks transactions. This is Africa.



The next morning I returned to the National Gallery to unofficially attend the panel discussion the ‘wind of change: the new interest in contemporary art’. The panel would discuss how the global art market would focus its attention on Africa the way it had zoomed in on Chinese art less than a decade ago.
However I was ushered into the wrong room, and participated in a new exciting discussion….



The Zimbabwe open National Dancesport Championships

writing, Zimbabwe

While my fellow artists went to the IIFF 2012  awards ceremony at the Book Cafe, Samora Machel for free food and drinks, I cleaned up the space, closed shop and went back to Angie’s place to put on a clean shirt. Then it was off to the Dance-sport championships at Hartmann house St Georges college (the private school for Boys in Zimbabwe).

St Georges

St Georges

Angie had arranged a table “Rock’n Roll”. On arrival the car park was full of large cars and SUVs, this was the other side of town. The scene was solid, a brand new assembly hall with full working podium, curtains and side wings, clean toilets and sannex paper towels for the hands. Tables neatly arranged at the side of the dancing floor, finger foods, 2 bottles of wine, water,  beautiful Christmas wreaths (that could be bought for $25 to support the event), red bows tied around each chair and a full coloured program catalogue for the evening.
The dancing competitiveness was fierce, each couple doing their best to out move and out perform one another. If I had placed my money on a couple it would have been 207 M. Jellicoe and S. Roche who moved across the floor effortlessly like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They did not win, but I wish them well and hope they have grand dreams to pursue greater dances yet.
After the dance I did go to the book cafe. A handful of people were left. The poets, writers, art critics/curators. It did not take me long to figure out why the art scene was not moving in Harare. The people that had the power through information and connections were like war lords, claiming artists like possessions. Art was reduced to a speculation in dollars. ‘Jack leaves with thoughts of revenge’
This was the underbelly of the art world, it looked bleak and dependent on personal gain.

Presentation Polygone Mesh in Harare

writing, Zimbabwe

At 17:10 we started the presentation. In true Zimbabwean style I was introduced by a poet that told the modest gathering about my life and achievement. Mbiza Chrasha had taken the highlights out of my blog and CV and made a compelling story, stressing to the audience that education never stops for the persevering artist. Then it was my turn which I will present in point form.

Number and figures

We should level. From the art works that I make, I can not make a living. I work 20 hours as a social welfare worker and teach to make ends meet.  My income is spend on payments for food, housing, and health, little is left at the end of the month.

The exhibition and observations

For me an exhibition is an event where I can share my visions with others and give them something to think about , but foremost it is an event where I can confirm my own existence. The reactions from the audience is a mirror to see where I stand. It is almost like a laboratory experiment, knowing the question and testing the answers. Conditions have to be right for the experiment and I made fairly good preparations.

In the week that my exhibition was open, I noticed that only 5 people took the time to look at the works. Otherwise the First floor gallery was buzzing with creative people doing other things. What was going on? Was it too much like an office, lounge,  wrong setting?

Conclusion: I met many artists in the last few weeks, and in a  setting of the survival of the fittest, my work seemed only accessible to those who had trained themselves to look.

Older works

…photographs of my older works projected with the beamer….

1994 Harare, Zimbabwe, oil on canvas K_Van

1994 Harare, Zimbabwe, oil on canvas K_Van

New ways of working together and showing work

In 2008 Sofia Kapnissi(read more) and myself  organised the Mama’s arts exhibition.
We had been working together for years, with many different artists and we felt we should do something with textile art from the point of view of the artist. Through an open call for artists on the internet we collected many proposals and chose those works showing visual arts. This resulted in an outstanding exhibition. We brought together works and artists that were ready to be challenged and inspired by each other.

mama’s arts catalogue e-version mama's arts opening

The exhibition was held in an old pharmacy and old butchery at the outskirts of The Hague.
The artists (from all over the world) provided the transportation of the art works. We made an e-catalogue that could be printed. We did not get funding, but spent $100 on promotional cards and $50 for food and drinks during the opening). It took us a year to set it up and follow through.

It is projects like these that set the right settings for an event where the artist can share visions with each other (others may follow).

My works 3D Polygone

for this part I refer you to my article straight-lines-and-curved-lines


what do the objects represent, why do you paint them?  The objects are physical, mass, weight, size and time. They are earthly and emotionless, they have nothing to say. This is different to my previous work like ”Jack leaves with thoughts of revenge”. But I enjoy the silence of the objects. It allows my mind to be quite and my emotions go into the way I apply the paints and the colours. Once they are finished I love to look at them, each time I walk past them the angle changes and the object changes. Even the morning or afternoon light makes the object seem to float more or  it seems to come out of the wall.

where can we get the software to make 3D drawings: Sketchup and Blender are open source packages

18:30, it was time for the presentation of the IIFF 2012 closing and awards ceremony at the Book Cafe, Samora Machel with free food and drinks. We closed shop and moved on.

I would like to thank all the people that attended the talk for their time and interest in my art and my thoughts. After the talk I received questions and compliments about the works. Especially Mama’s arts textile art triggered the people.

Saturday: the exhibition gets a new venue