In award-winning artist Kudzanai Chiurai’s State of the Nation, the notion of “state” is explored as a utopia and an action, a state of mind as well as a status. This new exhibition will take place at two venues: a warehouse on Gwi Gwi Mrwebi Street in Newtown and Goodman Gallery Projects at Arts on Main. Between the two venues, the show features photographic prints, drawings, large oil paintings, video, sound installation and performance with a focus on youth culture. State of the Nationproposes fresh ways of looking at the socio-politics of Africa today. It explores the African condition by juxtaposing the past and the present of a continent in the grip of violent civil wars.
The title State of the Nationis intended to explore aspects of a constructed African state that has just been ravaged by conflict. “On a continent that has experienced more violent conflict than any other, this exhibition follows an individual’s narration of events that lead up to the inaugural speech by the first supposedly democratically elected prime minister. This leader styled along many of our existing African leaders, retells the history of a people from another time, but still Africa’s time…” says the artist.
With Melissa Mboweni as curator of the project and collaborations with photographer Jurie Potgieter and singers Thandiswa Mazwai and Zaki Ibrahim, Chiurai references child soldiers, African liberation movements, and civil wars. He tracks the similarities in the societal, political and ideological fabric of states in tumultuous times of transition. Notions of public and private are raised in performances taking place in the streets of Newtown and in basements with limited access. A sound installation scores the gallery experience. Representations of spectacle perpetuated by the media are brought to question. Scenes captured in photographs, drawings and paintings play into popular hip-hop imagery.
In a similar style to previous bodies of work (such as his Dying to be Men series of 2009), Chiurai’s constructed environments are enticing and seductive but explore very real casualties of African independence and democracy and the effects of globalisation on war. Chiurai’s nation asks, “If we could write our history and chart our futures as we please, who would we be?”
Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai is an internationally acclaimed young artist now living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was the first black student to graduate with a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. Regarded as part of the “born free” generation in Zimbabwe – born one year after the country’s independence from Rhodesia – Chiurai’s early work focused on the political, economic and social strife in his homeland. Seminal works such as Presidential Wallpaper depict Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a sell-out and led to Chiurai’s exile from his home country. Chiurai has held numerous solo exhibitions since 2003 and has participated in various local and international exhibitions, most recently Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photographyat the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Nowat the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which acquired Chiurai’s work for their collection.
Kudzanai Chiurai (b. 1981, Zimbabwe)
The vinyls turn, long contemplative drags of a cigarette, interchanged with sips of beer. Occasionally catching some of the crackling lyrics, repeating them, breathing them out, while the rest stumble in my throat as the beer ferments and intoxicates them.
What else can we do? I respond to the music. We celebrated at independence, we rejoiced when every man had a vote, but that was a long time ago. Now we sit as men without the springs of youth and energy. The shadows from our past make us unrecognisable; we occupy our homes as phantoms, masked by confusion.
What else can we do? The seed of independence has produced a harvest we barely recognise. Stored outside on a darasurrounded by walls that prevent us from consuming it, it rots from the rain and crumbles in the sun, turning to dust, falling back to the earth from whence it came.
What else can we do?
I am not alone, as the clouds gather in my thoughts, swirling into a storm, engulfing the sounds and words around me. I try to distract myself by glancing at the paintings hanging on the wall, barely visible in the shadow, hinted at only by the glint of their gilded frames. A canvas of rolling hills, a rich and fertile landscape, uninterrupted views, no factory or buildings or roads in sight, inhabited only by distant, blurred figures the painter thought to include. Next to them, Christ hangs from a cross, his sacrifice for our sins. These were the stories we learnt at the missionary schools. They stare back at me, as if to mark a period in my life, as a reminder of the saviour so significant when I was growing up. He already saved me before, when I queued with the other boys to receive with eyes wide, the oil and water that would absolve us of our sins, the sins of our parents, and their parents before them. How will he save me now?
What else can we do? It’s a paralysing question to ask while sitting in the room, as the shadows make themselves at home, the music and paintings resting in their depth. As the storm brews, the thought of them fills my thoughts.
While the harvest rots outside.
Chiurai has held numerous solo exhibitions since 2003 and has participated in various local and international exhibitions, such as Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography (2011) at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now (2011) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Other notable exhibitions include The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited curated by Simon Njami at Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt (2014) and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah USA (2015), as well as Art/Afrique, Le nouvel atelier (2017) at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, Regarding the Ease of Others (2017) at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Genesis [Je n’isi isi]- We Live in Silence at IFA in Stuttgart, Germany and Ubuntu, a Lucid Dream (2020) at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Chiurai’s Conflict Resolution series was exhibited at dOCUMENTA (13) (2012) in Kassel and the film Iyeza was one of the few African films to be included in the New Frontier shorts programme at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Chiurai has held numerous solo exhibitions with Goodman Gallery and has edited four publications with contributions by leading African creatives.
At present the artist lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe.