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Revolutionary in exile
Anthea 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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