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First Floor Gallery
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
'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
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