Raphael Chikukwa

Picture take from African Colors: The Power of Color

I met Raphael Chikukwa in Zimbabwe at the National Gallery. He is the new curator and is such a pleasure to speak to. I met him through my sister Lindiwe who was interning with him during her o’level break. I was very interested to hear what he had so say about African culture and how it is included in the visual arts.

Chikukwa grew up in a royal family at the Chiweshe Tribal Trust Lands in Zimbabwe. This was before his home community was completely destroyed  because of the Keep system. The Keep system was a (Rhodesian) government policy to control what was happening in the rural areas. They broke up entire villages and families, and brought them into fenced up areas. One would need special permission to leave the Keep to go and collect water a food. Everything was regulated by the Ian Smith soldiers.

Chikukwa talked about how the works of that pre independence regime completely destroyed indigenous hierarchy and way of life. As a young boy, he remembered eating sadza at the dare, where only important people ate. He remembers important ceremonies such as kurova guva or bira.

When I asked him about preserving tradition, Chikukwa talked about how traditions have been lost, but they don’t have to be. He gave an example of the Jewish culture and how it has been preserved for centuries.

When I asked him about the importance of oral history, Chikukwa spoke about how Zimbabwean’s do not really have a culture of recording, and this is something that can be changed. More scholars should focus on recording history and personal narratives.

One of the people he spoke of in regard to tradition, culture and contemporary art was Tapfuma Gutsa. In his opinion, Gutsa has managed to bring together traditional artifacts to express relevant ideas. Chikukwa also mentioned that some local artists choose to ignore Zimbabwe’s cultural heritage, but that is okay too.

Asked about why indigenous Zimbabweans did not have much of an artist appreciation, compared to other countries, Chikukwa spoke of the colonial school system. In the past art was only promoted in white schools for the white man. (Serima and Cyrene are the few exceptions) where as in non- white schools blacks were being taught practical skills and not art. In his opinion, educators were meant to divide people based on their skin color. The system was made to make blacks ignorant. He has very strong opinions!

Enjoyed this interview and learnt so much.

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