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Mugabe, Mujuru at Harare Gallery

by A.A.V. Amasi
28 Jan 2015 at 05:07hrs | Views
Having taken one year's sabbatical from the art world to nurse a terrible writers block, with litres of cheap bourbon. I dried up and self prescribed this affliction with a therapeutic visit to my favourite cultural space in Harare. On first re-entering Njelele Art Station - Andy Warhol and George Seurat references as well as Charles Blanc's "Colour Star" put me in a stupor like a Cassius Clay jab.  I found myself in a daze asking the question "Who is this Artist " someone whispered "Kombo Chapfika". His artwork pulls you from wall to wall, with lures of textures and beautiful colours.

Chapfika is a multi-layered artist who uses several techniques to express himself. His work has been exhibited at multiple American galleries and most recently at the prestigious National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Chapfika's first African solo exhibition "A Supposedly Fun Thing I ‘ll Never Do Again" is at Njelele Art station, the in place for Harare's hipster set and culture vultures who love its eclectic modern approach to art. It seems a perfect marriage between Chapfika's innovative artistry and Njelele's founding principles of giving a platform to emerging voices.  Without these sorts of spaces, Artist of Chapfika's calibre would find it difficult to get their full body of work seen by true appreciators of art. Chapfika's collection is a remix of local cultural subject matter fused with elements of pop art and digital pointillism. The work has been produced against the bedlam of a landscape that is not always conducive for outside the box artwork.

Imagine a Warholesque, pop art style portrait of Robert Mugabe (Bob vs. Warhol) emanating electoral coolness. I recall in 2008, a friend of mine upon seeing a picture of Robert Mugabe in the Guardian asked me the pertinent question "Why have they made him so black?" What I understood at that point was that the Guardian was perpetuating the visual notion of a "Monster". Chapfika uses colour manipulation and photo-based techniques to turn Mugabe from the Guardian's "Monster" to the hip granddaddy of cool. This piece evoked a meditative mind frame, with the hypnotic guitar riff of Songhoy Blues' "Soubour" on loop. For a brief instant my mind evolved into Snoop Lion and I visualized this portrait on my feature wall with a t-shirt to match.

I hope that in some misguided idiotic quarters, where political correctness is over exaggerated "Bob vs. Warhol" is not seen as defacing the revolutionary currency of the subject but an artwork that actually revives the cultural omnipotence of the subject? Maybe this could provoke healthy discourse between different sides of the political fence. Chapfika's influence Warhol had an obsession with fame and celebrity. In Zimbabwe, the biggest celebrities are politicians and none of them have greater brand equity than Mugabe.

With many unreasonable zealots littering Zimbabwe's political landscape, Could Chapfika be playing with fire by including the harmless piece "General" (Solomon Mujuru)? In this piece the Artist has injected some afro futurism and given the General haunting piercing eyes. The portrait has a pleiadian quality about it, channelled through Chapfika's artistry, it's as if the General is coming back from the future with Bowie's Space Oddity lyrics changed to "General Mujuru to Ground Control "I am amazed by the painstaking techniques Chapfika uses to create this piece, he must have clocked hundreds of hours of hard graft to bring the General back into our chaotic dimension. The most interesting thing about this collection is the many underlining messages told through different pieces.

I have always been fascinated by the poetic challenges of been an artistic creative, in a culture strewn with political correctness that often shuns self expression and frowns on artistic voices. In essence, Chapfika's art transcends the boundaries of politics. What is endearing about Chapfika's artwork is his assimilation of indigenous slang words, which have become national phrases, such as the overused "zvirikufaya" Chapfika has the innate ability to give a balanced artistic representation to popular culture with modern undertones.  This is expressed more in "Hail to Chief  11" a map outline of Zimbabwe littered with colourful colloquialisms. For any body of art to have a major cultural impact the volksgeist has to be in tandem with the zeitgeist. I feel Chapfika's art conceptualises this and masterfully taps into popular culture by colourfully looking at cultural icons, past, present and remixing them with modern art techniques.

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Source - A.A.V. Amasi