At the Gallery
Officially opened in July 1957 the National Gallery of Zimbabwe quickly became a force to be reckoned with as it was renowned for being the best Gallery building in the world. The opening was broadcast by the BBC and a total of 181 press reports on the Gallery appeared in local and international publications during its first year.
Some 30 000 visitors came to the Gallery to see the inaugural exhibition which was on show for six weeks.
According to The Herald of July 1959; the historical, artistic and cultural heritage edifice was extensively appraised as one of the best galleries in the world in terms of a modern style of architecture. The design was typical of architectural theory of the time.
It made use primarily of natural light, and was essentially a large open plan space, which could be divided and broken up into smaller areas through the use of temporary partitions. The purpose of this design was to provide ideal conditions for the display of all types of works of art in a sequence of inter-penetrating and free flowing spaces, with the idea that the appreciation and enjoyment of art was a community involvement.
The Gallery then became more than just a magnificent repository, it became a national institution, acting as the artistic representative not only for Southern Rhodesia, but also Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, governed from 1953 to 1963 as a united Federation.
In its first year citizens of the Federation saw the impressive range of works in the inaugural exhibition, which was an enormous undertaking, involving the loan of many art objects from around the world, with most of the work coming from some of the world’s most prestigious galleries and museums.
It also featured sculpture and drawings by Henry Moore, old masters loaned from the National Gallery, the Tate, Major Stephen Courtauld and Mr van den Burgh, American silk screen prints, modern French graphic work, drawings by Ginette Signac, Japanese screens relating to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, contemporary British paintings organized by the British Council, a large photographic exhibition The Family of Man on tour from the USA and a locally produced photographic exhibition.
With the socio-economic and political transitions that have taken place in the country over the years, the National Gallery has nonetheless managed to grow from strength to strength. Through dynamic leadership from the past directors Frank McEwen, Professor Brian Bradshaw, Christopher Till, Professor Cyril Rodgers, Professor George Kahari and the current Mrs Doreen Sibanda. The Gallery has had its doors open preserving, conserving, researching and publishing art books for the education of present and future generations of Zimbabwe. Each one of them brought their own unique vision and expertise to the enhancement of the Gallery’s vision.
The current director, Mrs Doreen Sibanda became the first female director in 2004. Through her leadership the National Gallery of Zimbabwe still stands as a centre for national culture, infusing various influences into the mainstreams of life and is constantly changing the way people appreciate art and culture in their various societies through stone, metal and wooden sculptures, paintings, drawings, photography, print works and, video and installations.
In 2006, the National Gallery managed to source funds to add photographic works into the Gallery’s Permanent Collection filling in one of the outstanding gaps.
The Nation’s Permanent Collection is a body of artworks that are very much representative of the nation’s artistic history, consisting of works which have been collected over a long period of time and tell a story of Zimbabwe at a particular time.
The “Friends of the Gallery” popularly known as FOG have also done contributed in raising funds purchase more works for the Permanent Collection.
This year through Mrs Sibanda’s leadership, the Gallery will host the second International Conference on African Art and Cultures in September 2017.
The conference will be a platform to reimagine the future of art, cultural institutions and heritage industries in the face of the current socio-economic and political challenges on the continent.
Like the first ICAC in 1962, this event will be important not only for the region, but for the whole continent. Its impact will map out the ways in which institutions, governments, academics and practitioners engaging with the continent will further the discourse on art and culture.
Through the continued support of the Ministry of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage and the Government of Zimbabwe, the National Gallery has been able to consistently facilitate artists to travel and participate in the Venice Biennale since 2011.
Described as the Olympics of the art world, the Venice Biennale in Italy has for over a century been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale has an attendance today of over 370 000 visitors at the Art Exhibition. Our first involvement in the Venice Biennale came at a time when the world thought Zimbabwe had been driven to decline.
Through this, the Gallery was able to announce that the world that Zimbabwe was once again ready for business. The repeated appearance and tenacity of Zimbabwe at this platform, coupled with the talent that has been presented, has led to great success for the artists. Zimbabwe is set to participate for the fourth time in the Venice Biennale this year.
The 60th anniversary is a time to celebrate and reflect on the tremendous role that the Gallery has played in our society in a span of six decades shaping the Visual Art landscape. The Gallery has been central to the growth of contemporary art in the country, and looks to the future with pride in its achievements and determination to maintain its high standards and continued growth.
This milestone would not have been achieved without the tremendous support we have received and continue to receive from our communities.
In this regard, the National Gallery would like to express our deepest gratitude to the artists, the Government of Zimbabwe, sponsors, partners, volunteers, Friends of the Gallery and the patrons that have come together for the last 60 years in shaping the Gallery’s past, present and future.
It is this support that has enabled the National Gallery of Zimbabwe together with the public, to remember Zimbabwe’s cultural history, promote local artists, and spotlight the contemporary relevance of art from Africa.