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The Role of Women in Zimbabwean Art

The servitude of African women in colonial times barred them from practising art in public spaces. The intellectual, social and cultural space of African women in formerly colonised nations had been restricted and socially reduced in importance to the backroom of contemporary art and thinking.

Against all odds women have stood the test of times through several exhibitions such as Women on Top (2014), Out of Darkness (2015) and Discoloured Margins (2017). They sought women emancipation. Women on top and Out of Darkness exhibitions availed platforms for female artistes to articulate and counter patriarchal hegemony through different mediums including new media, painting and sculptor. These two exhibitions stood out as a statement that there are a lot of (female) Zimbabwean artists who are able to tackle things that have been done mainly by men.

Moreso, the Women at the Top exhibition celebrates all forms of women’s success using creative exploration. It highlights the strengths and accomplishments that women have archived regardless of various forms of impediments and diverse experiences.

In 2017 the National Gallery of Zimbabwe staged the Discoloured Margins which presented works that offer alternative visual accounts of the politics of women’s’ bodies, race migration and displacement. Through these exhibitions female artist have been presented with an opportunity to tell their own story through different mediums. The exhibition tackles dilemmas connected with representing the black female in times of mass social media generated consumption of violence and suffering on society’s inclination to aestheticize callousness.

With the advent of art institutions such as the National Gallery of Zimbabwe platforms have been availed to women in the arts sector. In independent Zimbabwe today, women artists of indigenous ethnicities are responsible for great works of contemporary art.

It is on this premise that one looks at a selection of work from progressive indigenous Zimbabwean women artists; printmakers, photographers, sculptors and videographers, whose achievements have gone largely unnoticed despite their outstanding proficiency

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 rank of Post-Independent African women artists most of whom were active but unacknowledged. The women artists of today are made up of post-graduates, self-taught and intuitive artists.

Artists, Agnes Nyanhongo, the late Colleen Madamombe, Locardia Ndandarika, Letwin Mugavazi, Berry Bickle, Gillian Rosselli, Marjorie Wallace, Netsayi Mukomberanwa, Estelle Mbefura, Gemma Rodrigues, Zanele Anne Mutema, and Kressiah Mukwazhi are some of whom have achieved international recognition but remain comparatively unacknowledged.

Although economically, they may have gained a livelihood from their artistic activities, many had not gained social recognition until the twenty first century while others became visible in the new millennium. One such woman is Portia Zvavahera. She has had five solo exhibitions at Stevenson Cape Town and Johannesburg (2014-17), and one at Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles (2017). She held a solo exhibition, Under My Skin, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and has taken part in numerous group exhibitions.

Outstanding Zimbabwean conceptual artist such as Agnes Nyanhongo and Mavis Tauzeni present works that explore the female experience. To add on Kerry Bradford and Annie Mpalume have used the female image to explore the experiences of others. Tashinga Gondo in the women’s exhibition titled Women on Top interrogates the female perspective as seemingly challenging societal norms.

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