Home » Arts & Culture » Goodbye Waison Mupedza, the Fine Artist!

Each time I find myself in an office or hotel lobby where paintings or murals are displayed, I instinctively draw closer.

I am no art critic, less so a connoisseur in the field of art but the one thing that draws me closer to the artwork is the desire to look at the bottom right hand corner of the piece, where the signature of the maker of the piece is inscribed.

In the years that I have indulged this curious habit, it has been specifically to look for the signature of one man – Waison Mupedza.

He is the Domboshava-based painter who rose from the humility of Sasa village, some 40 kilometres north east of Harare, to see capitals of the world through the work of his diligent hand and rich imagination which all danced, and married on the canvass to the flow of various pigments.

Perhaps his first, and most celebrated work, was his illustration of Celia Winter Irving’s book “Soottie the Cat at Tengenenge”.

His other works, and they were many, carried the rustic theme of men and women and children and the landscape in general.

He was inspired by the surroundings of the scenic Domboshava, where he grew up.

I have stated above that I am no connoisseur of art – and I will let that stand.

But I knew Waison, Mukoma Waison, pretty well. Mukoma Waison, as he was fondly known, is no more.

He died at Parirenyatwa Hospital on Saturday May 9 after a short, mysterious illness, leaving behind a young family comprising of his wife Modester, and three kids.

Waison was a local legend and a symbol of hard work an example of how one could overcome personal circumstances and go on to lead a fulfilling, comfortable life.

The story begins with Waison being a stepson to a man that we all grew up knowing as Kuvhete – and many have never had the privilege of knowing his real name.

It is always difficult to be in such a circumstance – being a mubvandiripo or mwana wekumusana, the unwanted burden of your mother’s past marriage.

Kuvhete was never a rich man.

In fact, he was one of those village men that were known to follow village brews and never spare enough time for the development of his homestead or the growing of food for his family to eat.

But Waison survived in the circumstances and at the time of his death had, through his work and big heart, managed to overhaul their homestead and bring decency to the family.

He went to Makumbi Primary School – it was commonly referred to as St Lazarus those days – and proceeded to Makumbi High, which they want to call Visitation these days.

Makumbi Primary and Visitation High are part of the Roman Catholic Makumbi Mission establishment.

From the 1970’s until the turn of the millennium, the high school was generally exclusionary, catering mainly for people from Harare and other towns and places who came as boarders.

The few “day scholars” were from the children’s home (they called it orphanage), the teaching establishment, the hospital and a few other students from the surrounding villages.

Most students from the surrounds were simply unwanted there and had no choice but to walk up to 15 kilometres to the next school.

But it was not easy being a “day scholar”, with your old school uniforms, a bequest from previous generation (or scavenged from boarding dump pits) dusty shoes sweaty and smelly armpits and the g aroma of smoke from cooking meals in the hut before trudging to school.

The boarders, invariably from towns and fairly comfortable backgrounds, often did not associate with the “day scholars” who would lump themselves in class during school activities in this environment.

The “day scholars” would also talk or walk themselves about out of hunger and want during meal times when boarders would go to have their meals.

There is a g reason to suspect that successive authorities wanted it that way, and it only took the courage of one Sylvester Ndoro, who liberalised Makumbi when he took over in 1998.

Ndoro even introduced meals for the day scholars, for a small fee, although the noble idea fell through mainly because of the low uptake by the “day scholars” themselves who felt too inferior and too intimidated to eat on the same table with the boarders, using forks and knives at that.

Poor day scholars like Waison used to work for the school during school holidays to be allowed to learn for free in the next term.

That is the kind of situation that Waison went through, but he managed to finish his “O” Levels and proceeded to Harare Polytechnic for a course in Art and Graphics as well as receiving training at Driefontein Art Workshop, Mvuma, the BAT Art Workshop of the National Gallery Art Studio School, and the Dauya Technical College, Harare.

He exhibited locally and internationally.

He also received commissions from Zimbabwe, South Africa, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland, England, France, The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States to do art works for private collections.

Today, more than a couple of places in Harare immortalise his hand.

In the beginning of this piece I stated that I knew Waison well.

For us from his home area, he was a local legend and it was hard not to know Waison. For the journalist in me, there is a story to go along with it. Having enjoyed some successes in the business of art where he held exhibitions locally and internationally, Waison was a fairly regular feature in newspapers, which only amplified his local fame. Having met and seen him in the village, when I started my journalism school in Harare my interest in him grew.

I would visit his studio and he would show me his many works, big and small framed and loose.

Some were destined overseas for sale.

Some were made into postcard gifts.

He had a stall at Sam Levy’s Village in Borrowdale and he would fly out of the country to hold solo or private exhibitions.

His humble studio was where I learnt a few terms about his trade: how about acrylics, water paints, oil-on-canvas, water paint, mixed media, realism, semi-realism, abstract etc.

I particularly liked his presentation of rural life, which was part of us, with his unique tall, shapely figures and some animals. He even inspired me to do a couple of murals, which still hang in my old bedroom back in the village.

And it so happened that in studying his works and asking him questions, I was to write my first ever published story.

It came out on October 31, 2006 in the now defunct Sunday Mirror. He loved it.

He was to become one of my biggest fans and would in later years take time to tell me about the stories that he particularly liked that I would have written.

He bought newspapers whenever he came into town and would keep them.

He said he especially liked my writing style, always refraining that with “But mupfanha wangu unonyora!”

He also came to The Herald offices to check on me, and compliment me and I would ask how he was doing.

I have no doubt he was among my biggest fans, I feel eternally humbled by it.

I felt a special bond with him and his family where they called me babamudiki, even though we were not related by blood, and they would serve me what drinks were available as we talked about life.

One thing he told me was to be vigilant and careful at the workplace where he said, as I rose (which he hoped), I could be harmed by “jealous people”.

I am not very superstitious but it would seem that he is the first to go through the evil machinations of “jealous people” – and that was the story as he was laid to rest on Monday. My greatest fear is for his three children, who are now set to live a cruel, fatherless life for much of their lives and may even be chased away by evil relatives and be told to go where their father “came from”.

Mukoma Waison will be sadly missed.

Source : The Herald