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Pip Curling - The historical and current role of ... - AICA international

Pip Curling - The historical and current role of ... - AICA international

Pip Curling - The historical and current role of ... - AICA

STRUCTURING AFRICA(S) : CULTURAL POLICIES AND THEIR DIFFERENCIES AND SIMILARITIES, OR HOW TO DEAL WITH NEEDS AND DESIRES CAPE TOWN - NOVEMBER 2007 THE HISTORICAL AND CURRENT ROLE OF THE NATIONAL GALLERY AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS IN ZIMBABWE: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE EFFECTS OF VALIDATION AND MARKETING OF CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART. Pip Curling Zimbabwe has been a country of political turmoil, repression and upheaval – with islands of relative peace and prosperity – for most of its recent history. Political change has possibly been the single greatest factor to influence and impact on the art of the country in both positive and negative ways. The key institution, central to the evolution and growth of the various art forms and movements has been, and still is, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Other institutions have played lesser roles in the fields of art education, social empowerment through art, and the economics of the art business. Prior to the building of the National Gallery the individuals and institutions teaching and encouraging art among the black people of the country were Canon Paterson at Cyrene Anglican Mission outside Bulawayo and Father Gruber at the Catholic Serima Mission in the Midlands. It must be noted here that before Zimbabwean independence in 1980 there was a deliberate government policy to not offer art teaching in government schools falling under the then Ministry of African Education. The fact that Zimbabwe has a custom built National Gallery is in itself an accident of political history. The idea of a National Gallery was mooted by Sir James Macdonald (a friend of Cecil Rhodes) in 1943 when he bequeathed thirty thousand pounds for its building. It wasn’t until after the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 that this idea was to become reality. The Federation, which drew its wealth from the tobacco and gold of Southern Rhodesia and the copper of Northern Rhodesia, was able to indulge in an orgy of developmental building. Institutions such as the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the National Gallery were located in Salisbury (now Harare), the capital of the Federation. Thus Zimbabwe benefited materially at the expense of Zambia and Malawi. Frank McEwen, the first appointed director of the National Gallery arrived in April 1956 and the gallery was officially opened in July 1957. McEwen came to the National Gallery with an impressive string of influential contacts in the European, American and West African art worlds. He personally knew Picasso and Brancusi. McEwen was later to say that he came to the country fully aware that, In Rhodesia there existed no traditional art or valuable foreign collections to be relied upon to fill the gallery; … and that the only road open to the gallery would be to become an art institute and to promote art locally in a country where there was as yet no major sign whatsoever of artistic creations approaching international levels. Here, perhaps, was an unfortunate oversight. McEwen did not acknowledge the rich cultural and aesthetic heritage of the country’s functional artefacts; and it was not until 1963 that the National Gallery bought for its collection the first headrest. Even then it was purchased in Europe, not locally. The legacy of this oversight lingers on even today in the non-recognition of cultural artefacts as de facto artworks. Ask anyone who has a vague or working knowledge of the art of the country and most will say, “art in Zimbabwe began with the opening of the National Gallery in 1957”. Immediately after the opening of the gallery, McEwen launched into his single-minded campaign to generate a local, but internationally recognised, ‘School’ of artists. He conducted his campaign on two fronts. At home he gave unstinting material, financial and aesthetic 1

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