WE NEED NEW NAMES

KUDZANAI CHIURAI

A film. A short story. A novel. If we think about Kudzanai Chiurai’s first solo exhibition in Zimbabwe as a crate of vinyl records, these are the tracks spinning round and round, collectively telling a story that traces the trajectory of Zimbabwe’s social and political changes.

Track one. “We had our own civilisation. We had our own literature. We had our legal terminology, our religion, our science and our teaching methods.” In the opening scene of Med Hondo’s 1967 film Soleil Ô, a group of young African immigrants stand before a Church alter and confess their sins: “Forgive me, Father, I spoke in Creole. Forgive me, Father, I spoke in Lingala. Forgive me, Father, I spoke in Swahili.” The priest, hearing their confessions, baptises each man and they receive their new, French, names: Jean, Auguste, Martin. The first step in the process of assimilating into the culture they have just arrived in. The first step in erasing the tales and myths each man carries in his heart and on his tongue.

Track two. What else can we do? Chiurai’s fictional character repeatedly asks as he listens to the soundtrack of a revolution that was meant to liberate him from the Sins of the Father, but instead has delivered a harvest that cannot be reached, that sits rotting and turning to dust.

Track three. “There are three homes inside Mother’s and Aunt Fostalina’s heads: home before independence, before I was born, when black people and white people were fighting over the country. Home after independence, when black people won the country. And then the home of things falling apart, which made Aunt Fostalina leave and come here. Home one, home two, and home three. There are four homes inside Mother of Bones’ head: home before the white people came to steal the country, and a king ruled; home when the white people came to steal the country and then there was war; home when black people got our stolen country back after independence; and then the home of now. Home one, home two, home three, home four. When somebody talks about home, you have to listen carefully so you know exactly which one the person is referring to.” – NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names).

In much of his artistic practice, Chiurai has been concerned with contradictory themes of domination and independence; war and liberation; post-colonialism and colonial futures. These ideas are still present, but through the act and reflection of exhibiting in his home country, he poses the question ‘what next?’ The title of the exhibition refers to NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel, which explores the intersection of traditional and Christian values; patriarchal structures and gender roles; memories of ‘home’; and the fractured identity that comes with assimilation into Western cultures.

The works in this exhibition reference different ideological influences that informed the Liberation Movement, from the seeds of Pan-Africanism, the American Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, Nationalism, and Communism. Some of the works are juxtaposed with historical artworks from the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s permanent collection, or with propaganda posters and archive material, to explore the visual language and tropes of myth and myth-making; history and history-making; power and power-making. Reflecting on this, Chiurai states: “I am trying to challenge our fundamental beliefs and the primary foundation of our thinking and imagination. They targeted our cosmologies, replacing them with Christian cosmology and colonial cosmology, restructuring our sense of time and purpose of our time. We need new names; basically, we need a new cosmology.”

Fela Kuti once famously said “In Africa, music cannot be for entertainment; it must be for revolution”. Internal conflict in Zimbabwe’s liberation camps and negotiations all found a voice in music and pirate radio stations that broadcast these audio recordings. It also expressed the changes that were taking place, introduced new names leading the struggle, and celebrated those who had lost their lives. Chiurai therefore highlights the importance of music in Zimbabwe’s independence struggle, as a crucial avenue for resistance and communication. Taking advantage of both the intimacy and unpredictability of the live radio studio space and the reach and scope of the internet, the Pan African Space Station (PASS) mobile studio seeks to forge new collaborations across time and space. PASS is programmed and curated by Chimurenga as an experiment in speaking, listening, collaborating and community; as a performance and exhibition space; and as a research platform and living archive. The PASS Harare sessions brings together a broad spectrum of local artists, performers, writers and musicians, to participate through conversations, performances and happenings that provoke us to interrogate and rethink about our shared histories and to speculate on our futures through artistic and cultural practice.

Curated by Candice Allison

The PASS mobile studio is supported by an ANT Funding Grant from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

© 2015 National Gallery of Zimbabwe . All Rights Reserved.