Intuitively textured, thick and layered with personal experiences on large canvases- that is how I would describe the work of Misheck Masamvu. His work consists of rich vibrant colours and identifiable figures or parts of figures in abnormal contexts and interesting positions. It is strikingly poignant and conveys philosophies that ebb between the incomprehensible subconscious and simple harsh realities. Masamvu is one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated artists whose work has been exhibited all around the world. At age 31 when many artists his age were just trying to establish their careers, or grappling what it really meant to be a full time Zimbabwean artist, Masamvu was already representing the country at the 54th Venice Biennale 2011. This Biennale is one of the biggest, most prestigious, and oldest contemporary art events in the world. Thus most participants only receive opportunities like these after at least three decades of practice. In order to ensure that Zimbabwe was well represented there, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe identified Masamvu as one of four artists that could hold the flag high.
Masamvu’s powerful skill can be attributed to many things. Master artist and owner of Gallery Delta, Helen Lerios guided his creative energy during his early days as he sat under her tutelage. In addition, the two years he spent later exploring art academically in Munich, Germany were a key factor in shaping his talent. With this said, Masamvu mentioned that to artists, “The academic world can become a prison, from which you try to spend the next few years trying to break free.” He also stated that, “art does not have to thrive in nonsense…and art does not have to be mysterious.” Though something may be abstract in its composition and meaning, it does not always have to be so far removed from general understanding. It can be simple yet relevant to all humanity. To him, anyone at any level can understand all sorts of art if they have a curious mind.
Some of the themes Masamvu has recently worked on include Forts and Walls, Wailing Walls, Epitaphs and Friendly Fire. Using these themes the artist rigorously examines powers that dominate and how humanity consistently attempts to define points of success. He looks at how societies have attempted to protect their identity physically and emotionally by building walls. Ironically, to him walls can eventually become prisons if they are built too high. In addition, Masamvu looks at how human beings leave testimonies of themselves after they depart from the earth. In various ways, they are reincarnated by how the people remember them after they are gone.
Masamvu’s next exhibition will be at the end of this year in Cape Town, South Africa at an art space called Blank Projects. Asked what makes successful artists, Masamvu mentioned that if work can stand the true test of time and stand its ground for the next generation then it is successful. Being vulnerable can be very helpful as this can help someone to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone. This is no wonder he does not want his work to have an easily recognizable trademark. Once that occurs, then he possibly risks being irrelevant as an artist.
“If you are meant to be a flower, then be the best flower that you can be so that you can produce seeds and make a difference.” Masamvu.
The source of Masamvu’s creative process comes from a strong sense of God given purpose and destiny. As an artist he believes that when one uses his talent for a positive cause and refuses to falter, then another light is added in to the world, and there is hope for the next generation. A gift should be taken very seriously. To him, a gift like painting should not be limited to Zimbabwe, but must serve a universal purpose. It is no wonder that when asked who he looks up to, Masamvu answered, “I look up to my son.”