Farewell to inspirational artists

The following article was originally published in The Herald

29 May 2015

Written by Stephen Garan’anga

The Zimbabwean visual art fraternity is still in great shock after learning the demises of multi-talented mid-career artists Charles Kamangwana and Waison Mupedza this May on the same day at Saint Anne’s clinic and Parirenyatwa group of hospitals respectively.

It came as a huge unpleasant surprise as both artists had recently been seen as healthy and jovial individuals as always at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare.

Charles Kamangwana was at the official opening of the current commissioned exhibition themed ‘Prominent Personalities: Portraits of Zimbabweans’ in which he participated and came back again a few days later with visitors to view the show.

I was with Waison Mupedza about the same period at the same venue discussing the good old times of artistic business at the Gallery, the impact of the recent national Intellectual Property (IP) and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) workshops for artisans, craft entrepreneurs and visual artists that this writer conducted and the new marketing strategies we need to adopt to survive in this unforgiving economic landscape.

With Charles we discussed about reviving the project he had initiated towards the summit of 2013 in which the two of us conducted drawing and painting lessons for inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Prison every Saturday.

We went a long way with both Mupedza and Kamangawana as we co-founded with others the AfricanColours Artists’ Associations (AAA), the organisation which I chair that created the Afican Colours Limited (AC) and a website that served many visual artists representing every country on the African continent from early 2000s.

We created web pages for visual artists under their country’s name for marketing purposes and regularly updated them with new work, current art news and articles.

Charles was the first AAA chairperson with Waison as the vice and the two together with Doris Kamupira and Gillian Rosselli travelled to The Netherlands on the AAA’s invitation by Dutch artists to participate in a fundraising workshop for our organisation and they did remarkably.

Under their leadership the AAA had kicked-off in 2002 with a group exhibition by its members which was held at the Internet Village in Harare with the theme Real Time Versus Inner Time.

It was the first of its kind in Zimbabwe and more than 15 artists participated in the show which was officially opened by Professor George Kahari who was the then director of the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe. In 2003 the AAA was a beneficiary of a Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust grant which saw the association purchasing its full office equipment.

In 2004 the AAA registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe as a visual arts organisation.

In the middle of the same year the association had its official launch with a group exhibition of its members at KwaMambo Gallery in Harare.

The exhibition was officiated by Elvas Mari, who was the deputy director of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe at the time.

Mupedza, Kamangwan and I first met in early 1990s as art students at the famous B.A.T. Visual Art Studios of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe now National Gallery of Zimbabwe School of Visual Art and Design.

Charles was an outstanding student of extraordinary talent who had been granted on merit an honorary third year of the two year course together with Tanyaradzwa Chiota when I began my first year.

Waison came a bit later but was already a full time practitioner and so left at the beginning of his first year to pursue his other artistic interests.

Regularly as beginners when we needed guidance on our work we would make the stress calls to the two third years and were very forthcoming.

Because of their outstanding artistic abilities they were both severally commissioned by publishing houses to design book cover jackets and various illustrations as students.

Whilst still a B.A.T. art student Charles was already participating in professional art shows including the all-time major annual and then biannual Zimbabwe Heritage exhibitions and being rewarded with awards for his outstanding work.

Some of the awards include in1993 a Highly Commended in Black & White Photograph and an Award of Merit in Graphics; 1995 Young Metal Sculptor of Promise, Award of Merit for Painting, and Young Artist of Promise in Graphics; 1996 a Highly Commended and an Award of Merit for Graphics;1997 Highly Commended in Weldart, Highly Commended for Painting, a Highly Commended and an Award of Merit for Graphics; 2002 Award of Distinction for Weld art and an Award of Merit for Graphics, and a Silver Jubilee Award in 2005.

These Zimbabwe Heritage exhibitions’ awards were being handed over to artists by His Excellence the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

We were very much inspired by Charles’ achievements and as a group of young artists who had become very close friends we wanted to emulate him as to rub shoulders and shake hands with such an icon as our President.

Occasionally during the submissions of the Zimbabwe Heritage works, we would laugh it off saying “Chale ava kuzivikanwa naBob”, meaning that Charles was now known by the President in his nickname ‘Bob’.

When some of us achieved the same feat back in the 90s, we were very happy to be in the same league as a group of friends. Kamangwana took part in numerous art exhibitions both as a solo artist and in group shows, artist-in-residence programs and art workshops in several countries including The Netherlands, England, Germany, South Africa, and Italy to mention a few since 1993 to his untimely passing away.

Most of his rewarded work and other documentation is available in catalogues at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe library in Harare.

One of his most recent art piece is in the current National Gallery exhibition themed ‘Prominent Personalities: Portraits of Zimbabweans’ of which he was one of the commissioned artists to create work for the show.

He painted a portrait of one of Zimbabwe’s prominent first generation stone sculptors, the late Bernard Matemera whose work amongst others helped put Zimbabwe’s visual art on the world map, with some of his works erected at important spaces overseas mainly in the Western World and has permanent collection work at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

The small sized painting is in the grey scale on canvas in quality luminous oils with undoubted resemblance and happy mood expression.

Those who acquainted with Matemera during his hey day will instantly evoke the lively interactions memories of the creative cultural practitioner who co spearheaded the so-called “spiritual Shona stone sculpture” era that attracted a significant following beyond our geographical borders.

Charles was born in December of 1972 in Mutoko and attended both his primary and secondary education in Zengeza before enrolling at the B.A.T. Visual Art Studios.

He became an education officer and art instructor at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe School of Visual Art and Design in 2002 to 2004 before going to teach at Eaglesvale High School till 2005 when he moved on to be an art teacher assistant at the Harare International School till he met his day of demise.

He died whilst living at his house in Zimre Park that he built through his artistic achievements.

On the other hand Waison Mupedza who was born in 1973 lived as an artist specialising in contemporary painting, calligraphy, designing, making greetings and postcards depicting African people’s daily way of life and their environment.

In 1994 he taught art to disabled children at Cheshire Home in Kambuzuma before furthering his art knowledge at Driefontein Art Workshop in Mvuma in 1995.

In 1996 he briefly attended the B.A.T. Visual Art Studios before taking on Calligraphy at Dauya Technical College.

He was commissioned by various companies to do calligraphy work and paintings. He exhibited extensively his paintings locally in both solo and group shows. Probably he was a local artist who had the most effective ways of marketing his work, serving as both a conceptual and commercial artist.

His work could be found almost everywhere in the country including bookshops, big corporate companies, galleries, private homes etc. He also exported widely beyond our geographical borders. Waison was a short stout man full of humour and a friend of everybody who had set up his studio in his rural Domboshava home purely because of the inspiration he derived from the environment.

The contributions by Charles Kamangwana and Waison Mupedza to the country’s visual arts will be cherished forever but they are irreplaceable.

We say rest in peace to our inspirational colleagues.