Zimbabwe: Zanele Deserves Credit
IT has been ingrained in our mentality to associate the “African woman” artist with the minor arts – of domestic utility crafts, batiks, pottery, basketry and bead-work. This concept is as bigoted a notion as the idea of African women as being intellectually inferior. Following Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the indigenous artist needed new impulses for artistic self-expression and these were manifested in the art created by the new breed of post-independent African women artists.
Many contemporary female visual artists throughout Africa in the pre-colonial 1940s and 1950s have had to overcome the obstacles of a male-dominated visual art discipline to become recognised artists in their own right. In post-colonial Zimbabwe today, women artists of various indigenous ethnicities are responsible for great works of art in a variety of media, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, film and installation art.
Historically in both Western and African cultures women’s contribution to the arts have been omitted in many studies of traditional and contemporary art. It is on this premise that one looks at the work of a progressive woman artist, printmaker, photographer, sculptor and videographer, whose achievements in her career have gone largely unnoticed despite her outstanding proficiency.
Zanele-Ann Mutema, whose works have graced many galleries and symposiums around the world, is a Zimbabwean woman artist who deserves national recognition.
Zanele was born in Harare on November 2, 1988. She attended Queen Elizabeth Girls High School in Harare and applied and won scholarships to study at Visual Art School, National Gallery and Harare Polytechnic. She first exhibited her work in 2008, at Mona’s Gallery, Allied Arts Exhibitions, National Gallery and Gallery Delta, and has since taken part in many exhibitions.
Although she has barely been mentioned publicly her work speaks prominently in many group exhibitions. Her pieces celebrate contemporary female accomplishments and the power of the crafted object as a culturally valuable asset. She has several awards to her name. These are:
First Prize: Mixed Media National Gallery Zimbabwe 2010), Special Mention: Gallery Delta -Walls (2009), Most Promising Artist: National Gallery Zimbabwe (2009), Honorary Award: Allied Arts – National Gallery Zimbabwe (2008), and the Overall Award at Gallery Delta for the Enriching Women Exhibition in (2008).
By staking their claim within contemporary post-colonial traditions of Zimbabwean women artists such as Zanele-Ann perpetuate the important centrality of women’s roles in determining and redefining African culture.
The intricate detail and hidden meanings in her work is an excellent example of how the feminist voice previously muted, has been released as intellectually stimulating discussions of our African society. Its aesthetic value, historical importance and social significance will be greater in further studies of her work in the future.
The notions that African women artists are associated with the minor arts are bigoted notions of women’s capabilities in the art and should be seen as a forgone erroneous Western assumptions of the intellectual and aesthetic perspicacity of African women in the arts. It is thus important to celebrate the history and contribution of some of the unique and talented women in the visual arts of Zimbabwe such as Zanele-Ann.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration) in Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant.