Home » Arts & Culture » Visual Arts Continue to Struggle [opinion]

The majority of established local fine art practitioners have gone for periods ranging from six to 10 years without having made any meaningful business transactions in the field.

This is immensely discouraging to aspiring young and upcoming artists who hope to earn a living out of their career of choice.

The insignificant art market influenced by foreigners leans heavily on the stone sculpture genre and is impacting negatively for many other artists.

Because of this desperate situation many artists are paid very little amounts of money for their art pieces and outrageously some are asked to reproduce artworks previously created by locally established artists. Containers of Zimbabwe’s stone sculptures are being shipped out for very little and some for machinery reproduction once they are beyond our borders.

Although there are current consultations by various stakeholders and policy makers for the review of the country’s art education curricula, the current state of the profession is pitiful. The quality of most of the available artworks has been immensely compromised. The innovative aspect of seeking the alternative means to create art pieces has served only a few artists who have continued to scrounge around to use what they can. Ignoring commercial pressures, local expectations of “art” materials and prejudice against “rubbish”, the artists sift through random, broken, discarded and displaced bits and pieces, combining them to make new and original holes which have their own logic and beauty. Successfully they have produced pieces of scale and scope of imagination seldom seen in the country before. But the quality of the materials and the assemblage has left a lot to be desired.

The lack of exhibiting spaces too has emerged as one of the major hindrances of success for local artists. Practitioners are severely deprived of platforms to showcase their creativity. The very few available art galleries rarely conduct open call group exhibitions and the little shows they conduct are so closed that more than 90 percent of the country’s visual artists are unaware of them. More than 60 percent of the local practitioners have never had even a single professional art exhibition in a gallery since they signed up for the profession for a decade or more. A national asset of creative talent is being lost as many are signing off the profession for other things sustainable.

Art galleries themselves have not been spared. The three National Galleries of Zimbabwe in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare have been hit the hardest as most of the foreign markets we have relied on continue to shun national institutions. Viable art business transactions have been elusive at the institutions that they lean heavily on government support and a little from elsewhere.

Privately owned art-spaces often have fairly bigger crowds attending their art exhibition openings than the national galleries. One of the country’s long serving galleries now called Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities, formerly “Gallery Delta”, strategically rebranded a few years ago that it could access various aid from various quarters. At one point the gallery was experiencing acute financial viability challenges that it had to call to artists for donations of artworks to sell for its continual existence. They had to call for a benefit show on June 19 2009 dubbed “34 Years Plus: The Gallery Delta Benefit Exhibition”. With more than 34 years of flourishing existence at the time, promoting artists and leading in sales of artworks, the gallery was now struggling to survive entirely from commissions taken from their sales. Fortunately artists loyal to the gallery overwhelmingly took heed to the call and saved the day.

Thereafter the gallery relied mostly on diplomatic missions’ sponsored art shows and competitions of which they still do and also continue seeking sponsorship from elsewhere for their other functionalities. Less than four years ago one of the long serving private Richard Rennie Gallery had to shut down because of financial stress. The big question now is are practitioners of this creative industry going to earn a living out of their creative talents and skills or they will have to rely on selling vegetables and fruits?

Source : The Herald