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Monday, 17 October 2011

Art and Censorship

Published by the government of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Sithabile Uses Artistic Licence to Lie
Jonathan Mbiriyamveka

20 July 2009


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Algiers — An installation titled "Footsteps of Change" is threatening to stifle Zimbabwe's rebranding efforts by Government as it seeks to down play the several reforms achieved so far by the inclusive Government.
The controversial installation by Sithabile Mlotshwa which is on display at the Pavillion A SAFEX gallery as part of the ongoing second edition of the Pan African Festival of Algiers does not only sow seeds of hate, but also shows how much Sithabile is out of sync with reality.
She used her artistic licence to lie to the whole world about the situation at home at a time when Zimbabweans are re-engaging the international community to try and rebuild the economy.
For those who have been in touch with the real Zimbabwean situation they would be the first to question the relevancy of such an installation when it is clear that the piece has long passed its sell-by date.
The inclusive Government, the turnaround of the economy and the constitutional reforms are not reflected in the installation.
Unlike other outstanding pieces exhibited by Zimbabwean artists who include Sasa Masimba, that have attracted scores of art suitors for taking pride in the motherland, "Footsteps of Change" raises a lot of questions whether or not the artists come from the same country.
Sithabile deliberately chose to take us back to the colonial era according to her it was the period between 1950 and 1975 and in quotes she wrote Her Majesty.
Then for the period 1980 to 1995 she puts in quotes His Excellency. But the contrast on the installation is that for the period under her majesty the white footsteps were moving forward perhaps up on the ladder of progress and then for the period under his Excellency it was the black footsteps which were going up while the white footsteps were going down.
But below the footsteps is where you find the most controversial part. Zimbabwe is portrayed as an ailing pregnant woman.
Her eyes sunken, frail and is expecting to give birth. She is lying on the floor with her bulging belly all covered up by the colourful Zimbabwean flag while latex gloves are spread all over her face.
Her depleted face could be the result of her ill-health as she ponders about her future as well as that of her baby. It is almost obvious that she is not sure what the future holds but again she has to give birth when the time comes.
The impression that one gets is perhaps that Zimbabwe's inclusive government is on the brink of collapse as somewhere below the pregnant woman is an egg like mortar inscribed with the words 'Birth of baby fragile'.
But the worst about the installation is a mixed media painting showing a wounded white man's hand and a black man's wounded foot.
The white man's hand is bleeding and the drops of blood are going straight into the wound of the black foot.
On the canvas there is an inscription that says: 'Simunye kuzekubenini?'
Sithabile has been living in the Netherlands for the past five or so years. Her installation has been showing throughout Europe although back home little is known about her works.
Even the exhibition catalogue says little about her background and she claims to be a 'daughter of the soil'.
Yes, at the end of the day we all have to survive. But earning a living through lies is off the line.
Zimbabwean art and in particular, Shona sculpture is revered throughout the world for its depth, form and content but it is all the more startling to see artists like Sithabile feeding off lies.
The exhibition has since raised the ire of Lazarus Dokora, the Deputy Minister of Education, Sport, Art and Culture who is also the head of the Zimbabwean delegation.
Dokora said he sought a meeting with the Algerian Minister of Culture to find out just how the installation made it the festival with their consent.

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"'As far as we know the installation did not come through us. We are deeply concerned about the content of the installation in fact, we are worried how the installation found its way here,"' he said.
Efforts to get comments from Sithabile were fruitless as she had already left Algeria just before the official opening of the exhibition while the curator was said to be out of town.
The second Panaf is being under the theme 'African Cultural Renaissance' aimed at reinforcing the spirit of friendship and unity among African people as endorsed by the African Union.
Zimbabwe is among the 53 African countries taking part with a good representation in the various art disciplines such as visuals, theatre, dance, music and film.

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