Dedicated to the presentation, promotion and conservation of Zimbabwe’s Contemporary Art and visual heritage, The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) is set to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2017. As one of the oldest institutions in Zimbabwe, established in 1957, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe has witnessed the dramatic transition from the colonial era to independence and has played a tremendous role to the rise of Zimbabwean artists in both the local art market and International art market through platforms like the Venice biennale and the Joburg and Cape Town art fair.
“2017 is the year which the NGZ turns 60 having been in existence since 1957, it’s a milestone. It is an opportunity for us to stop and reflect on our roles and journeys in bringing the arts to our own community. 2017 is a year of celebrating looking and looking forward. We are celebrating that this institution has been able to transition itself from a colonial institution into a post colonial African learning and creative hub. It has increased relevance to the majority of the population and has also been on the fore front in terms of visual art success and visual art heritage, said Mrs. Doreen Sibanda the Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.”
In the 50s when the Gallery opened it was essentially a white domain and the idea of creating an art gallery was based on the idea to uphold and showcase the European arts which had come out of the European civilization . However Frank McEwen who had been hired by the Rhodesian authorities to introduce European high art into the National Gallery of Rhodesia, had a subversive force from the very beginning, since he was determined from his arrival to develop and then popularize the art of the Zimbabwe’s local black people. He wanted to ensure that the Rhodesian public including black people were exposed to and were able to participate in the creation of some of the best internationally acclaimed artworks.
“Frank McEwen was of a different view coming from a Paris were the arts were looking outside of European civilization for inspiration. With that back ground McEwen came here with the view that that there must be something explicit about this place and therein was importance to reawaken Zimbabwean art and to promote it. By the 60s 70s there was a huge renaissance of Zimbabwean artistic creativity and along that a great deal of International success. This new art was largely using the medium of stone, a medium which was already familiar to our ancestors here in Zimbabwe and it led to the internationally acclaimed stone sculpture movement. However the stone occupation didn’t mean that there were no other skills inherent in this . if you look at rock art all amazing those paintings which are internationally acclaimed show that we had paintings her before. So after independence the strategic move was to promote painting and other forms of visual arts rock paintings, said Mrs. Sibanda.
Zimbabwean art has since diversified and moved on to the contemporary art scene and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe has nurtured many artists who are raising the country’s flag high in both the local and international art scene. This has been seen through the staging of the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale which has managed to excite people both local and international with many wanting to be associated with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe brand and many other shows that have been taking place at the gallery for many years.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe always emphasizes on encouraging artists to produce their best work which in turn saw artists showcasing creative and original work. It is a platform for Zimbabweans artists to show their work. It strives to select the finest possible works of visual art which spring from the fertile culture of the region and showcase them regionally and internationally. In this respect art played the role of not just cataloging the history of the country but to take on an ambassadorial role.
The year 2017 has a variant of interesting and engaging shows lined up for the celebration of the 60th anniversary. There will be shows of Zimbabwean contemporary and African Art, tributes to late artists and greater artist engagement through concerts and engagements. The Gallery will also have its fourth edition of the Venice Biennale
which will be yet another exceptional moment in the National Gallery’s Endeavour to promote Zimbabwean art and culture in the international art scene.
More over the National Gallery is set to host its second International Conference on African Art and Culture in September. The first Congress of African Art and Culture was held in 1962 and it established the gallery in the eyes of the International Community as a centre of the advancement of African studies, and the promotion of African art. It was the first forum ever in which the arts of Africa were discussed by Africans in Africa. Many of the delegates were, of course, academics from the USA and the UK, but there was a significant number of delegates from West and Central Africa, where the philosophies of Negritude and Pan-Africanism were popularly debated and supported.
“In all great countries of the world art galleries and art museums have their place in the cultural life of the community”, as stated by Sir Stephen Courtauld, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe is no exception, it has the held a firm place within the past, present, and will continue to do so in the future of the Zimbabwean community and arts sector.
The National Gallery focuses not only on presentation, conservation and research, but also on artistic education. At the National Gallery School of Visual Arts, talented young artists are trained in various fields of artistic practice, while a primary objective of outreach programmes, workshops, film series and presentations in the National Gallery Visual Arts Studios (NGVAS) is to create an awareness of the fine arts among a younger audience.