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First Floor Gallery
Stephen Garananga, African Colours
December 21, 2010

Some of the most vibrant art spaces in the world have been built upon the will of the struggling artists to enforce a break-through in the art world, be heard, allow what is in to rise to the surface, what is felt to be revealed. White elephants, dilapidated buildings, cheap down-town apartments and unoccupied spaces have largely been the beneficiaries of these artists' creativity, attracting art lovers, collectors, gallerists, dealers and conscious everybody from various pockets of the earth.

The notion of the surrounding space as part of the art work - the ‘creation' of a space to contain the art work - has not become part of the Zimbabwean artists' overall concerns when they produce a sculpture, a painting or a wall construction. It is only in installations that artists take charge of the space their work is seen in, determine that space for themselves, use it as they wish, in any, sometimes outlandish, sometimes dark and secretive.

Hopefully the availability of outrageous art spaces will sculpt some sense of utilization into the minds of the current crop of young artists.

City centre Harare in George Silundika Avenue, there is an ancient multi storey colonial building which on the exterior is quite a façade but the interior resembles an abandoned fifth century pit-latrine. Yet the enclosure is a hyper of activity with endless volumes of human traffic, hundreds of tenants of tailors, embroiders knitters who induce unbearable interminable discoed sounds with their machinery, polluting the entirety of the inside air inflicting excruciating pain to eardrums.

The inside walls have never tasted even a 19th century coat of paint. A zinc white fungi-like foam seem to be the walls' annual rain season coat as the earth's carbon gasses infested skies empty their moisture contents mercilessly on everything underneath and the walls sip a considerable amount that gives life to the foam. The inferior plastic floor tiles of unknown century have pilled off leaving worn out multi coloured patches that are stuck on the exposed concrete.

The hazardous narrow stairs with flexing metal and rubber strips are more reliable for your upward and downward movements than the electronic lift that can leave you suspended in-between walls, or it forgets to stop on the floor that you want to come off, or the doors do open, that is when it's functioning. Corrugated water pipes still allow treated water to flow and the toilets continue to function, but you have to be brave to step inside. This is the habitat where a new critical art space in form of 'First Floor Gallery' has established.

Founded by young and upcoming artists assisted by a female Australian artist and educationist Valerie Kabov who is based in France, 'First Floor Gallery' is housed just above the worn out, crying for help ground floor of the unfortunate building where it is shared with other noise making sawing tenants to minimize the rental costs.

They have negotiated ways to co-exist, like the noise makers have to stash their machinery into other miserable looking rooms to clear off space for official openings of art exhibitions. However this negotiated settlement is set to become a thing of the past as the 'First Floor Gallery' intends to be the lone occupiers of the entirety of floor so that they can completely renovate and bring sanity to this segment of the ancient structure. Currently they have only maintained the space they are hosting their art exhibitions.

Having secured funding from various sources including the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust, the gallery has plans to convert the various rooms of the floor into more exhibiting spaces, artists' studios for both national and international artists' in-residence-programmes where they will be able to provide artists with relevant art materials. They intend to become a vibrant art resource center and their mission is to assist visual artists in acquiring a variety of skills and techniques in various media.

They want artists to realise their creative abilities without encountering too many technical challenges and limitations, and to be able to cross over to the making of applied [functional] objects. 'First Floor Gallery's' vision is to become a leading show casing centre of contemporary African-Zimbabwean art and to be a formidable force in the production of high level art and applied crafts.

This will include prototype inventions to be patented, ready for industrial mass-production and marketing, and to be a major catalyst for connecting people and ideas through art.

To date 'First Floor Gallery' has hosted numerous art exhibitions with surprising huge attendances graced with handsome sales which other established galleries have not been fortunate to have for a while. The location of the gallery is highly strategic, targeting the shear volumes of human traffic in the building. It exposes art to numerous people including those who are totally ignorant about the subject. This assist in eliminating the notion that native African people do not appreciate contemporary fine art.

'First Floor Gallery' intends to facilitate stimulating and informative workshops and talks, delivered by invited specialists. Selected crucial topics such as gender awareness and images, advocacy and lobbying for artists, environmental awareness and art, and public relations for artists will be put to the fore.

Other workshops at the 'First Floor Gallery' will be designed to expose fine artists to high-craft industrial techniques. Workshops will be two to three weeks long each and will be facilitated by selected artists or professionals from the technical world [local or visiting] who have excelled in a particular technique.

'First Floor Gallery' will provide basic materials, lodging and food for all workshops, but participants will be expected to pay a stipulated participation fee and they will also be expected to take care of their travel expenses. Participants will be urged to submit proposals of projects they intend to carry out during the respective workshop.

As most of our artists are informally trained and therefore lack in the technical side of the media they use for expressing themselves. 'First Floor Gallery' maintains that it is not bad welding that makes metal sculpture good or "Afrikan", nor is it bad application of paint that makes paintings good. Neither should it be fear of machinery that impels an artist to use hammers and chisels where they could be using grinders. The visual arts, inventions and gadgets in Zimbabwe are not closely linked to the modern-day.

The past few years, however, have seen Zimbabweans being much innovative than ever before. We have seen people making the liquid packers, sadza makers, peanut butter grinders, oil squeezing apparatus, brick moulding casts and even some much more sophisticated gadgets. These functional objects are, however, crudely made and not so appealing to look at. Hence they are not marketable beyond the small communities in which they are made.

'First Floor Gallery' strongly feel that artists, with their passion for visual form, their understanding of other visual principles, once introduced to various types of working media, can become an asset to this invention. In this way artists can become more technically competent and versatile. Artists need to be able to be creative without encountering too many technical challenges, and to be able to cross over to the making of applied [utilitarian] objects.

With such a programme they foresee the production of higher fine art pieces and applied crafts which do not just narrate reality, but point out new directions and new solutions in the visual arts and the production industry. 'First Floor Gallery' envisages the development of prototype inventions, ready for industrial production and marketing.

They envisage the production of monumental artworks created from skills borrowed from architecture and engineering. 'First Floor Gallery' wishes to become a growing force in the contemporary art world of Zimbabwe, and are grateful for all the support received to date from the Zimbabwean arts and culture sector.

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