Back to Index
Gukurahundi artist Owen Maseko on Behind The Headlines
Guma, SW Radio Africa
September 02, 2010
artist Owen Maseko was arrested in March and spent 4 days in police
custody after an exhibition of his paintings opened depicting the
Gukurahundi era and decades of oppression under Mugabe's regime.
The Home Affairs Ministry and the Censorship Board banned his artwork
describing it as a ‘tribal based event'. Maseko was
also charged with insulting Mugabe. He joins SW Radio Africa journalist
Lance Guma to talk about the entire saga.
Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to another edition of
Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is an artist from Bulawayo
whose latest work was banned because it depicts government troops
killing villagers in the Matabeleland province. His name is Owen
Maseko and he's due to face criminal charges next month.
Now Owen Maseko's
exhibition was banned by the Board of Censors this week after the
Home Affairs ministry announced that the effigies, words and paintings
on the walls portraying the Gukurahundi era were tribally biased
or rather a tribally-biased event. Mr Maseko thank you for joining
us on the programme.
Maseko: You are welcome.
Yah this definition by the Home Affairs ministry, let's start
off with that. They are saying your paintings depicting the Gukurahundi
era are a tribally biased event - let's start off with
your reaction to that.
Well the issue is, the reality of the situation is that the government
actually has to accept the fact that what they did to Ndebele people
was really wrong and even if it happened to Kalanga people, happen
to Tonga people, any other tribe, it still was going to be wrong.
Unfortunately this has to be a tribal thing because obviously it
happened in Matabeleland by a particular tribe that did all that.
Guma: Now let's
start with your motivation for doing these paintings. Some will
say you are opening up old wounds, what would you say to them?
Maseko: Well you know
the most important thing that we need to understand, as an artist
I'm actually inspired by what happens around me, by my experiences,
other people's experiences. So in this case it's the
Zimbabwean history that inspired my exhibition which was the Gukurahundi
I mean as an artist I've
always felt that one needs to be relevant in the society that you
live in, so Gukurahundi atrocities are part of Zimbabwean history.
Unfortunately it's the kind of history that's really
painful for others and other people who wouldn't want that
particular history to be spoken about which is why it makes it a
very highly sensitive event.
Guma: Now obviously this
is a radio programme and our listeners will not be able to have
sight of these paintings but I'm sure if they visit our web
site they will see the paintings but I'm sure you can describe
some of these paintings - there's one that I'm
looking at right now it's under the caption "They made
us sing". Talk us through that, what were you depicting?
Maseko: Which particular
painting is that?
Guma: The one that's
written "They made us sing".
Maseko: OK, that particular
one is actually a testimony or a confession by one of the victims
who actually witnessed all these things happening when, I know most
people actually were made to sing as this victim said that they
were made to sing when they killed and tortured our brothers and
sisters and if you look at that particular painting and these atrocities
actually happened a lot in the rural areas.
If you look at those
characters in that painting they actually depict people from rural
areas in terms of their looking, in terms of their lifestyle and
so on. And on your left hand side of that particular painting there
are people with caps and glasses, you know who can be moving a little
bit into the urban areas where also people were affected as well.
So it kind of captures both societies, mainly the rural and then
the city people during that time.
Guma: And the other one
talks about "Nkomo signs Accord", what were you depicting
Maseko: Well the signing
of the Unity Accord as far as I am concerned as an artist or any
other Ndebele people are concerned is that if you read through the
Unity Accord Agreement it's actually I think there are about
11 if not 13 points which were not in favour of the concept of union
in the true sense. So it was a way to me as a desperate situation
probably in 1987 just to kind of stop these atrocities to a certain
extent. That was the whole concept and the idea behind the art work.
Guma: And another interesting
one - "Ndebele votes flushed", talk us through
Maseko: Well that one
is actually called an ‘installation art' because the
exhibition is about painting acrylics on canvas as well as installation
art meaning that I brought figures and kind of gave them life and
meaning, meaning that I just depicted the voting system since 1980
up to today, as a Ndebele people, or my people of Matabeleland,
it was a way of showing that our vote really has never as minority
people, has never really made any much difference or has never been
considered in the voting system or in the way the votes are being
run in this country.
Guma: Now you've
tried to have these paintings exhibited and government has made
sure this does not happen and you were arrested. For some of our
listeners who have maybe forgotten what has happened, can you recount
what has been happening this year so far, from the time you got
arrested, just describe that for us, what happened?
Maseko: Well when I actually
got arrested I was actually locked up for four nights, which is
five days and during that time I've been to court several
times. I think it's a bit of a tricky situation for the government
because they had eventually to decide whether I should be sent for
trial or not and now my trial date is on the 13th of September.
Because my exhibition is still at the National Art Gallery and it's
been banned, it doesn't necessarily mean that the, my criminal
charges have been dropped or can be dropped.
Guma: And you have been
trying to have this exhibition done across the country and they
have been blocking you at every move, Harare, Bulawayo.
Maseko: Yah because I
would have loved this exhibition to actually have been moved regionally
if not nationally or if not internationally as well but unfortunately
because the exhibition was closed 24 hours after its opening, which
was traditionally supposed to run for a month at the National Art
Gallery but I didn't get that chance so they closed it down,
locked the main gallery door to the exhibition and the windows were,
newspapers were put on the windows so that people cannot see from
So it meant that the
exhibition was cut out meaning that as far as the government is
concerned it was evidence. Because I applied sometime to the, I
signed an urgent application to the High Court to re-open the exhibition
which they denied and the reason was just it is being held as evidence.
Guma: Now you are meant
to appear in court I think on the 13th of September and facing charges
of putting an exhibition that insults the person of President Robert
Mugabe. How do you feel about such a charge? These insult laws have
been used in a sense to muzzle criticism of the president.
Maseko: Well I think
the most interesting thing although a sad thing for me as well,
is that when it comes to art, I always say at times this is the
simplest art appreciation lesson for the government and all people
concerned because I think people tend not to understand art. Art
can be interpreted in any way, so if it can be interpreted in any
way it means anyone can say whatever they want, I never said that.
Guma: In the past Mugabe
has come out saying the Gukurahundi era was a moment of madness
so if he himself admitted as such, why do you think his regime is
reacting in this way?
Maseko: I think, well
I wouldn't really know that much but the most interesting
scenario if it was a moment of madness, we always ask ourselves
who was mad? I wouldn't think the victims were actually really
mad but I think the current regime is just, there are so many issues
that need to be dealt with in Zimbabwe and one of the most important
ones is the issue of these atrocities bearing in mind that the organ
of national healing that has been put in place, so I think it puts
the government or the people concerned in a very tricky situation.
Guma: We are hearing
some suggestions from some in the censorship board that from now
on people who want to perform need to get entertainment licences
which are applicable to public places providing entertainment such
as cinema houses and these should be renewable every year, individual
artists are required to pay 25 US dollars a year. All these seem
to be attempts at muzzling free expression. What has been the reaction
of many artists in the country to some of this talk?
Maseko: Well I wouldn't
really know about the reaction of many other artists but as far
as I'm concerned, I think it's just a simple way for
the government to tighten up on the freedom of expression in the
country because it's so much easier for artists to actually
break through all these barriers that they are trying to create.
I think it's just
a way of discouraging artists not to participate in this and when
it comes to banning my exhibition and all the time they specifically
mentioned that anything principally to do with Gukurahundi is not
allowed, meaning that anything that happened during that era as
far as Ndebele people are concerned, you will just find that this
is not open for discussion.
Guma: We now have a coalition
government, what has been the level of support coming from the two
MDC formations inside the same government that is treating you in
this way? Have you been receiving any form of support from them?
Maseko: No, there have
not been any comments from them at all and it is really sad because
the government of national unity, this year of union is supposed
to be a situation where we are able to discuss about these particular
issues, so there's not been any response or any comment, nothing
at all. The only response that has been there from our community,
is the Ndebele people and the civic organisations and non-governmental
organisations which are dealing with human rights issues.
Guma: And issues around
your security? You have since become a high profile personality
and how are arrangements around your security? Do you fear for life?
How is it for you?
Maseko: Well when I actually
got arrested I had a terrible moment because it was my first experience
as well in prison and fortunately nothing happened that time but
because of the changes of the charges and the sensitivity of the
matter and more and more people are becoming aware of that, it's
really a big concern for me that anything can probably happen to
me but at the moment that is nothing really that has happened that
I would say . . . ..but it could probably happen because you know
our government is unpredictable.
Guma: Well that was Bulawayo-based
artist Owen Maseko joining us on Behind the Headlines. Mr Maseko
we wish you well for the future and thank you for your time and
joining us on the programme.
Maseko: Thank you so
be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe's
Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.