Gukurahundi, tribalism inspires powerful protest art

The mural showed King Lobhengula Khumalo intimately holding spirit medium Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana.

The mural was accompanied by the inscription “Love is greater than Shona and Ndebele, Africans unite”.

On Monday afternoon Council staff removed the painting, but on Tuesday morning it was “replaced” with one that read: “Gukurahundi – We will never forget”.

Critical studies scholar Khanyile Mlotshwa told CITE in an interview that protest art is very much alive in Zimbabwe, especially in Bulawayo.

Mlotshwa said the artist has proven himself to be a critical thinker and has brought together what otherwise looks like disparate texts and stories to set a strong message whose underlying point is the need for peace.

“In many ways, protest art has always been alive in Zimbabwe and especially in Bulawayo. Cont Mhlanga’s work, in the early years of independence, was considered so critical that a minister felt it would be good for him to be performed in parliament for dignitaries to see and hear what people thought there,” he said.

“Protest poetry is also very much alive. In recent years, and particularly in the visual arts, Owen Maseko’s exhibition will be remembered which was closed resulting in the closure of a section of the Bulawayo Art Gallery for a few months. In a sense, part of the art gallery has been turned into a crime site, just as Matabeleland is a crime site insofar as the Gukurahundi issue remains unresolved. »

Mlotshwa noted that the mural was meant to convey the message that there is a need for the Ndebele and Shona people to make peace.

“Those of us who are committed to the call for African unity, how do we think this is possible if we as the Ndebele people cannot share a cup of tea with the Shona people? That was the simple message of this artwork; that there are bigger wars than the Ndebele/Shona issues. In a nutshell, the Ndebeles and the Shonas should make love and not war,” he said.

Another media scholar, Dr Mphathisi Ndlovu, explained that the role of art is to reflect the realities and lived experiences of people by highlighting their hopes, fears and aspirations and, in this case, the play highlighted the gap that existed between the Ndebele and the Shona people.

“Art is special in that it expresses people’s grievances, especially those they feel don’t get enough attention in the mainstream media. For people to appreciate such a work of art, we should be able to link it to the past socio-political and economic environment,” he said.

“As it stands, it’s safe to say that this message may have been preaching peace and harmony between the two ethnic groups, but then it was countered by another that said Gukurahundi, we will never forget. not. It is therefore important that people probe deeper into the root causes of these challenges. »

An analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity noted that the mural reminded people of what a sensitive community Bulawayo was, based on the reaction to the mural.

“Such messages may be received differently by people. Yes, it may be a call for unity, but how can you call for unity without peace? It may be a call for peace, how can you call for peace without acknowledging that there was war? noted the source.

“The response to the mural seemed to be a provocation. When you look at history, Lobengula was a king. Her status is well known, but the same cannot be said of Mbuya Nehanda, she has been described as a medium.

“If we want to be honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that we have to have a conversation about what happened in the past. We can’t talk about the present and the future without being honest about what’s happened. happened in the past.

The source pointed out that the council may be justified in removing the mural because municipal bylaws do not allow it, but noted that it is important to create spaces within communities that can be used to put graffiti. .

“It would be commendable for the council to set aside spaces where artists can express themselves in a unique way. For example, the recent incident showed that various messages can be interpreted differently. How they are packaged is very important because that is what triggers a response,” he said.

Mlotshwa also pointed out that it is important for Bulawayo as a cultural center to have various spaces for people to express themselves artistically.

“Not only does BCC need to have these spaces, but also people who have public spaces need to open them up for graffiti and other artwork. Bulawayo is considered the country’s art capital and it’s shocking that there isn’t such a dynamism when it comes to public art. The Bulawayo City Council, in its arts policy, needs to seriously think about how it can support public arts, like graffiti,” he said.

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