Creative people are more resilient than organisations and institutions, but they are not easy to organize. – Ras Jah Trevor Hall
Zimbabwe’s arrival at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, 55th Venice Biennale 2013 and the current 56th Venice Biennale 2015 is a fulfilment of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s obligation to promote Zimbabwean contemporary art locally and abroad. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe through the Directorship of Mrs. Doreen Sibanda, sees art a way to position Zimbabwean art globally but this is not a lone battle for it requires collaboration from both government and from other partners and sponsors that see the value in the promotion of Zimbabwean contemporary art. At this point in time allow me to thank, the Embassy of Switzerland and Culture Fund for their continued support of the Zimbabwe Pavilion in Venice.
It is important to understand that our arrival at the Venice Biennale comes from those that came before us. Their vocalization about the African contemporary art representation in the western metropolis after 1989 Magicians de la Terre keeps reminding us to keep questioning this issue. Some of these voices include, Simon Njami, Sallah Hassan, Olu Oguibe, and Okwui Enwezor who curated the 56th La Biennale di Venezia this year. I would also want to thank the first Zimbabwe Pavilion artists at the 54th Venice Biennale who gave birth to this ground-breaking project. It would not be proper not to thank the partners who supported the inaugural Zimbabwe Pavilion. These include: British Council, Culture Fund, Goethe Institute (ZGS), Swiss Embassy, Nouveau Musee National de Monaco, EU, National Gallery of Zimbabwe team and its Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture.
Realizing these three editions, these exhibitions, has been through hard work; by the artists, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, our Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture and our partners as mentioned above. Zimbabwean artists are the ones that keep this initiative, the Zimbabwe Pavilion alive. The spirit of openness in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe our executive director Mrs. D Sibanda is a beacon to this project. To organize the Zimbabwe Pavilion in Venice is not easy but we continue to do it because we are aware that the global cake is there for us to claim our part.
The Pixels of Ubuntu exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale 2015 seeks to be lead not just as passengers but representing ourselves like any other national pavilion. Today we owe our success to these three editions, to the artists who responded so powerful to the call of Zimbabwe Pavilion. I am a firm believer that artists are an important part of any community and I am saying this after working with so many amazing artists in Zimbabwe for many years. The Zimbabwe Pavilion exhibition is easily accessible to our audience as we have remained at Church Santa Maria della Pieta, Venice Italy since the first pavilion. The Venice Biennale is an important platform where we can share and exchange as art professionals. This is where global concepts are viewed and interrogated.
The Zimbabwe Pavilion marks the resilience and forward thinking by Zimbabwean people at large. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe, its Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture, and art makers of Zimbabwe will continue to work for the promotion of contemporary Zimbabwean art expression. Exhibition making is not a lottery but a process that needs teamwork, hard work and collaboration. It gives me pleasure to say, Zimbabwe Pavilion would not have been possible without your support, our efforts are to keep the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale alive, I thank you all. To the Zimbabwean art community, your resilience, and hard work without which a project like Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and many other projects would not have been possible. You put more to your work and that inspires us to do more. There is no exhibition without artists and their work, otherwise curators and institutions like Museums and Galleries would close their doors. Our collective narrative makes us who we are.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe is pleased present this portrait exhibition and study of portraiture. The Prominent Personalities exhibition is a celebration of people who have made significant contributions to Zimbabwean history in the past and the present. These portraits are artistic representations of the people featured in this exhibition and the idea is to display the likeness, personality and the moods of these individuals. This exhibition, Prominent Personalities: Portraits of Zimbabwe brings together portraits from spirit mediums, linguist, writers, military icons, business personalities, sports personalities, religious figures, women entrepreneurs, visual artists, film makers, politicians, actors and heroes etc.
The exhibition also considers how artists respond to portraiture while we celebrate our own achievements regardless colour, gender and creed. We are very much aware that according to history, the oldest portrait in the world comes from Czech Republic and it is believed to be 26, 000 years old. Africa also has some of the earliest surviving painted portraits of people and these portraits are from Egypt. In the past, we have seen exhibitions of portraits of black Victorians, portraits African Americans all done by others but today it is time to celebrate our own history; achievements, sadness, heroines, and cultures.
This exhibition draws its inspiration from the 1976 yearbook Prominent African Personalities of Rhodesia by Dr P. T. Kazembe and M. M. Hove which gave a moving account of the outstanding achievements of Africans from all walks of life. Dr P. T. Kazembe said,
… (this) spells out that success in life is not limited to one kind of career. Realisation of this fact by our youngsters can help them in setting realistic goals. Individual differences can thus be catered for.
M. M. Hove went on to say that the delay in such a publication may have been caused by,
…the general reluctance of Africans here to write about themselves and their achievements.
Such is the nature of the inspiration for this exhibition; the engendering of harmony of the people of Zimbabwe and to open up a whole new area of opportunities for persons with qualifications to fit the occupations. The artists behind all these portraits were the ‘other’ in the past and it is a great thing when we celebrate who we are and what we have done to inspire generations to come.
This exhibition marks the beginning of a new journey for the gallery, portraiture artists and Zimbabwean audience for we will dedicate regular shows on exhibitions on portraits in our programming. It is the start of a project that will culminate in the realisation of the National Portrait Gallery.