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Buys, Mail & Guardian (SA)
August 31, 2007
Kudzanai Chiurai is the
reigning "it" boy of Southern African political art. Although
this may have something to do with the fact that relatively few
local artists are currently concerned with matters overtly political,
the importance of Chiurai's work should not be underestimated. It
certainly hasn't been by international buyers and a vigilant press,
both of whom seem, as Michael Obert observes, to be more interested
in Chiurai himself than in his work.
Chiurai, based in South
Africa since he began his studies in fine art in 2001, has been
denied re-entry into Zimbabwe, his home country, since producing
a series of caricatures of Robert Mugabe - the most famous of which
has our favourite despot's head in flames. His position is, at a
very superficial level, bizarrely enviable.
Graceland is Chiurai's
third solo exhibition and promises, like the previous two, The Revolution
Will Be Televised (2004) and Y Propaganda (2005), to be a huge commercial
success. Although the cash crowd and the serious art crowd seldom
frequent the same openings, Chiurai's exhibitions have a record
of upsetting this divide and reaching an astoundingly diverse audience.
The works on show in
this exhibition continue to develop Chiurai's aesthetic language
of large-scale collage, stenciling, bold figuration and text lifted
from political slogans and popular culture. The infamous caricatures
have kept coming - a few have even found their way onto t-shirts
- but certainly do not mark the pinnacle of Chiurai's artistic scope,
and this is perhaps where his publicity has faltered.
In Graceland his commentary
on Zimbabwe's political stew is extended to broader considerations
of displacement and geographical and cultural dislocation in Africa.
He traces Mugabe's trail of disruption to the streets of Johannesburg,
where he addresses the problem of xenophobia and places this within
the context of inner-city renewal.
Dodging any easy conscription
into a reductive propagandist discourse, Chiurai's work accommodates
a nuanced appraisal of a very knotty issue.
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