Unpacking the Vision: From Rembrandt to Mubayi

I maintain that all genuinely modern art is influenced by African Art. African influence is first apparent in 1904 when the German expressionists were bowled over by the power of expression of African Art.
                 Frank McEwen

Unpacking the Vision: From Rembrandt to Mubayi is an exhibition that taps into the Gallery’s Permanent Collection from the past to the present as part of our 60th Anniversary celebrations. The Gallery has a vision to collect, preserve and promote the country’s visual culture and it holds a diverse collection that includes traditional artefacts from around the African continent, old European Masters’ and contemporary Art of Zimbabwe and Africa. This unique collection shows how universal the National Gallery of Zimbabwe is and it will remain with this status.

This show is an attempt to recollect the first show that was ever staged in the newly inaugurated Gallery in 1957 and add a new chapter that brings us into the current century. That first show provided a stroll through the annals of Western European Art History and was exalted as the first time anything of this nature had occurred  wherein some of the most precious and significant Western art gems were gathered and transported to Africa!. This story reveals a great deal about the original conception and purpose that was ascribed to the new building.
However, this was not to remain the sole raison d”etre as very soon a new reason to exist was to emerge. For most of the life of the National Gallery in this country, efforts have been directed towards the reawaking and nurturing of the artistic sensibilities of the local artists and creatives. In fact, the reasons for this were actually two fold, one being the unavoidable realization of authentic local talent while the other was the increasing realization in the canons of Western Art that other worlds existed and that their contribution and rationale equaled and some cases surpassed that of Europe. It became evident at the turn of the 19th Century that improved understanding of these worlds could reignite the arts of Europe and rescue them from stagnation.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe has been the main custodian of all the works that found themselves deposited here from as far back as 60 years as well as many other imported works that came across the threshold even since. The Old Masters have been joined by other masterpieces representing other histories and aesthetics and thus our collection of over 6000 works hovers between the old and the show-stopping, game-changing New. Taken alongside the parallel story of a short half century of local art reawakening, manifestation and development trajectory; one has a brave new world in which South meets North, Old Masters meet New Masters, Black meets White and elitist canons meet accessible, even recycled materials for the crafting of Art.
The Gallery is proud to present this exhibition as it marks our 60 years of existence. In this way, from Rembrandt to Mubayi, extracts artworks from the Permanent Collection that are presented around the subjects of people and portraits, landscapes and architecture and issues around Devotion. The layout consists of works before the 18th century being showcased downstairs, in the Courtald Gallery. The East Gallery hosts nineteenth century works while the North Gallery hosts work representing the current twenty first century and is essentially an example of the contemporary art of Zimbabwe. International historic works are presented alongside ‘other’ works that present an interesting convergence or conversation or relationship based on content, form and allusion.
Old Masters include Durer, Rembrandt, Goya, Gore, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Vernet, Rodin and Pisarro amongst others, while the works of modern and Contemporary African artists are represented by the works of Nigerian Twin Seven Seven, Ghanaian painter Ablade Glover, Malangatana of Mozambique, Zambian Henry Tayali as well as Zimbabweans Thomas Mukarobgwa and Kingsley Sambo amongst others. The crescendo of the show is realized by the work of Sylvester Mubayi , a veteran Zimbabwean  artist who has outlived most of his counterparts to emerge as one sculptor that has worked with almost every sculptural group since the sixties, all the time constant yet experimenting with different contents and contexts. Time has led to increased refinement of his forms and complete mastery of the medium. He has been able to chisel beautiful form and poignant content with a wonderful culmination in pieces that were recently shown at the Venice Biennale Exhibition. This was the first inclusion of stone sculpture at the Pavilion as a personal tribute to the man and an acknowledgement of the work that sculpture and sculptors have contributed to the foundation of Zimbabwean Art Heritage.    
Contemporary Artists make a significant statement in the show. The works on display include those from Tapfuma Gutsa, Masimba Hwati, Gareth Nyandoro, Terrence Musekiwa, Virginia Chihota, Chiko Chazungura to mention but a few. From Rembrandt to Mubayi is a one-day exhibition to celebrate and share this unique collection that has been built over the past 60years. The show is also here to remind both the Zimbabwean and international community of this collection that links us together. As the only contemporary art museum in the country, we continue to carry the vision that was mooted long ago. International exhibitions started during the days of Frank McEwen and will be continued for they promote not only artists but the country at large.  Collaborations with other international organisations were started with the founding Director who was well networked internationally and the present Directorate continue this legacy with the significant highlight being the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 2011.

Tonight our selection of works is presented simply for your enjoyment, and reveals diverse images, multiplicity of media and highly considered practice. The show presents these diverse facets in a collage of difference and convergence but always in conversation. The true language of art has an opportunity to speak its loudest. It is our sincere hope that you, the audience will be able to hear!
Allow us to

“Unpack the Vision” that was actuated on the 17th of July 1957.

Curatorial
Conservations & Collections Departments

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