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SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Mostaff Muchawaya’s first solo exhibition in South Africa entitled Memory / Ndangariro. The show comprises of a selection of portraits, each a combination of memories, a dream-like flash of faces combined to form an impression of a half remembered experience.
Muchawaya references a deep connection to his experiences, which are inseparable from ‘his people’ and his surroundings. The artist grew up in the province of Manicaland located in the mountainous East area of Zimbabwe.He continuously refers back to his rural upbringing- his family part of the work force on a white-owned farm. Muchawaya’s interest in the arts started at a young age, from making his own clay toys to making sketches of the farmers’ dogs. He progressed through school while continuing to live on the farm, where he later married his childhood sweetheart. Muchawaya has an unbreakable bond with his community and while the paintings presented in Memory / Ndangariro are new in their material form, to Muchawaya they are old, remembered renderings.
These paintings are self-portraits of Muchawaya’s memories. Clearly evidenced in Memory / Ndangariro with the use of found, ornate gilt frames is Muchawaya’s shrewd reference to traditional Western portraiture. However, unlike the commissioned portraits of wealthy nobles that litter the history of portrait painting, Muchawaya maintains a strongly personal, and sentimental connection to each of his portraits.
Despite each work’s seemingly undefined figure, the depiction of highly specific features and accessories allows for viewers to feel a sense of familiarity toward the portraits. This response is achieved through Muchawaya’s ability to expressively paint a memory, the portraits become visual memories of memories. Recreating a remembered face or scene is, more often that not, a most difficult and frustrating experience; most children go through the frustration of discovering that the hand cannot reproduce what is so clearly seen in the mind. However, this is a skill that can be learned through practice. What is almost impossible to teach is the ability to illustrate a character, a life and memory.
Muchawaya creates portraits of characteristics – picked from various people present in both his up-bringing and current life. The combination of these characteristics results in a layered and multi-faceted portrait, which simultaneously looks familiar and completely unrecognisable.
Mostaff Muchawaya’s process is indicative of his subject matter. Each painting is started with a generous application of paint forming many features from numerous individuals, this multi-layered surface is then scraped and shaved by hand to remove uneven dried paint. Thereafter Muchawaya uses typical household cleaning substances such as bleach and thinners, to chemically erode the surface further. Once this process has been completed, he starts to paint in specific areas and features – often inserting light into the surface through the application of tints. The work is then put through the abrading process again, this cycle of application and eradication continues until the artist feels that the portrait is both accurate and vague enough to be a clear memory.
As with memories, the works encompass all embellishments and subjectivities layered on top of one another, Muchawaya’s method of eroding the surface, mirrors the natural process of forgetting, the cycle thereafter evidences the universally endured task of trying to remember a half-forgotten face.
Memory / Ndangariro will open on Saturday, 8 July at 11h00 in Cape Town and will run until 19 August 2017.