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Decolonize art galleries, and exhibitions to empower artist

Tafadzwa Mutsika   

Pursuing a career as a visual artist in Zimbabwe is not viewed as a wise choice if one wants to earn a sustainable livelihood there.

The political decisions made in the past have had a significant impact on the development of the sector.

From colonial times to post-independence, creative and cultural practice has been controlled and carefully managed with the aim of subduing and censoring any form of creative expression that might upset the status quo

African artists are denied access to the economic networks that impact their livelihoods because gallerists (gallery owners) are reluctant to share their contacts and government uses censorship tactics to control the artistic content produced.

Art exhibition are designed in controlled spaces by gallery owners and curators who have the power to bestow value on artistic product.

Accordingly, exhibition design becomes a mystical process which marginalizes the artists as they are silenced.

This has tip journalist to take an investigation on, post-colonial space to examine the inherent power and relational structures informing these established event design processes.

 Exhibition developed in the art sector to address social problems has little evidence about achieved a sustainable change.

Samson kurehwatira renowned artist of yester year explains how colonizers set up as ‘manichean’ worldview (a world divided in two) where social structures and physical spaces were classified as a means of control.

“This manichean world establishes implicit power hierarchies that divide and ultimately weaken the colonized community, making it easier to control.

 “Colonial structures were established that enabled one group to take a higher position and monitor and manage the lower group.” He said

“It is important to understand how communities engage with different spaces; even in the post-colonial era some spaces are still considered inaccessible by the local communities.” He added

Another artists Karen Gomo from Guruve the home of stone sculpture in Zimbabwe said some elite in the sector have monopolizes the space  

“The cultural elite who rely on colonial systems that manage and control these spaces are usually given more access to these spaces, so they end up monopolizing the spaces as they have more power over them.

“This automatically snubs the local communities who cannot relate to these spaces and thus do not engage.” He said  

“These two worlds are always presented as opposites – one is mystical, desirable, plentiful and appears to be indestructible while the other is unattractive, cramped, and appears to be excessively lacking in resources.” He added

Gomo express his feelings about exhibition design process which he said is a set up a labelled a business jab.

“When exhibition designers are commissioned to design a special exhibition with a social mission, the design process adopts an established business format guided by objectives focused on designing an experience that meets the desired outcomes set by the funding organisation or commissioning agency.” He said

In a commercial environment established approaches to exhibition design are appropriate but in the third Sector a change in approach is required

“Exhibition design takes place in remote office locations that are not always accessible to the communities of interest.

“Thus, the process of event design can appear to be mystical and intimidating for communities of interest who then believe they have nothing of value to contribute to the process of transforming their societal structure.” Gomo added  

“The community of interest has nothing to establish or validate their identity in the event process and has no space or responsibilities in the event space which is not really theirs.

“Thus, they are not represented and cannot ensure the correct stories are being told on their behalf at the event.” He lamented  

If communities of interest feel the space is not really theirs then they begin to question why they should engage or feel committed to the transformation intervention and apathy sets in.

There is no motivation to see through the change required. This leads to what artist calls ‘a culture of silence’.

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