Art Brussels | 2017

MASIMBA HWATI

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EXHIBITION TEXT

Brussels, Belgium

21.04.17 – 23.04.17

SMAC Gallery is exhibiting at Art Brussels from 21 – 23 April 2017.

We look forward to welcoming you at BOOTH D18 in the Discovery Section, featuring a solo booth by Masimba Hwati.
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In an artistic practice that spans over a decade, Masimba Hwati’s interest has always been in the use of objects to reveal multiple aspects of histories, cultures, politics and economies that are unique to his background. And ingrained in his works are the visible changes and transformationhappening to this culture.

In sync with his first solo exhibition “Instruments of Memory/Simbi dzeNdangariro” at Smac Gallery in South Africa, Hwati’s new works continue his interrogation of the exchange between African and Western cultures and simultaneously the resilience of African cultures under uncontrolled exposure to Western and now Asian cultures. By juxtaposing culturally significant items with found objects, characters from personal memories of growing up in post-colonial Zimbabwe and contemporary imagery, he examines the state of impermanence in his cultural background and Africa’s socio-cultural and political landscape. In the process, he identifies what is easily influenced and what is irrepressible.

The visual allegories of his works point at the convoluted task of decolonization as he shows the overlapped and continued interactions of Western cultures and values with local cultures and belief systems on the continent. Without looking too hard, one can see that remnant (more than one can call insignificant) of colonial pasts are still present in the sociopolitical and economic aspects of African lives. The style of governance, for one, remain a replication or slightly altered versions of colonial rules and law and the socio-cultural space is being controlled through the consumption of Western media. New African leaders have only become different versions of colonial oppressors and agents of foreign control. For the most part, the association of African and Western cultures and the dependency of Africans on the West was tactically implemented. And so, long after the independence of most colonies, it is evident that not so much will become indigenous again and complete freedom from the West may be an illusion.
Born in the 80s and a consumer of Western media, some objects in Hwati’s works allude to the impact of the broadcast media on him, particularly, television. For Africans of his age and those born during the rise of commercial TV and cable networks in post-colonial Africa, understanding and navigating their local space was shaped by encounters with multiple cultures. First, they were influenced by what they saw on television, and then, by the remaining presence of Euro-American lives on the continent. Recent windows of influence and exchange have been the by-products of digital media.

The television has encouraged a romanticized need for superhuman through cartoons and popular sports. So from a young age, it seemednormal to seek for a hero or desire to be one. Which according to Hwati only became a norm in Zimbabwe from the mid-eighties and a Western ideology that subdues the importance of the old traditional belief in community spirits and shared responsibilities. In Hwati’s own words, “It is a faulty concept of heroism and individualism. It disempowers the rest of the people and places ridiculous and unrealistic expectations on a few individuals.”

Certain sports elements have been the carrier of Hwati’s highly symbolic messages. Using both objects of contemporary and traditional sports he shows what they reveal about the different cultures represented. While the traditional sports in Africa was only a form of amusement in colonial times, Hwati shows it was how Africans proved their strength and resilience. Some elements of these sports - spears, horns, re-imagined headdress - are symbols of this resilience in his works. The spear has multiple usages. It represents the resilience of the indigenous cultures, and the unchanging aspects of its knowledge system. The spear is also traditionally a symbol of both attack and defense and used ceremonially by hunters and warriors along with shields and headdresses. A close look at the cricket headgear show drawings of African deers with interlocked horns forming resistance against attacks. The horns are also standalone symbols on his other installations. The use of leather on the gear as well as other works is Hwati’s representation of the toughness of his people and their survival of oppressive policies. Beyond the physical aspect, Hwati is also aware of the political nature of sport. How it is used “as a tool for mass diversion, a pacifier and false ‘unifier’ by neo-colonial governments”. He believes sports, as well as other entertainment inventions, are tools of control on the African continent. For a very long time, sports have been promoted as a tool for development and in one of Nelson Mandela’s speeches he declared “sport has the power to change the world.” But how much unity and development has this brought to Africa post-independence?

An oriental memorabilia on one of the new ensembles call attention to the strong economic and cultural ties of Zimbabwe with China and its perceived political influence. China’s presence in Zimbabwe dates back to supporting the Robert Mugabe led ZANU party during the Rhodesian Bush war and the fight for Zimbabwe’s independence, and has since extended to China supporting the country with development finance and investments post- independence. Despite Zimbabwe’s government claim of looking to the East in general for foreign relations, China remains the most engaged for infrastructure development and Zim’s biggest service provider. As China’s presence and influence in the country (and Africa in general) continue to grow and there are more claims of land for investment, Hwati wonders what the future holds for Zimbabweans (and other sub-Saharan regions) in the hand of China.

Text by Bukola Oyebode

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