WALLEN MAPONDERA

Samusha Weiri Dongo

01.02.18 – 24.02.18

Johannesburg

SMAC Gallery is proud to present Samusha Weiri Dongo, a solo presentation by Wallen Mapondera. The exhibition consists of a series of new sculptural collages, constructed from a variety of found materials, including discarded cardboard, plastic packaging, and cotton thread. This is the artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery and his first in Johannesburg.

On 21 November 2017, television screens and social-media feeds the world over were flooded with images of Zimbabwean nationals holding hands, hugging, and spilling into the streets; some laughing, some crying with joy, countless many wrapped in green, yellow, red, and black. Adorned with the Zimbabwe Bird – derived from soapstone sculptures found in the ruins of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe – the national flag undulated proudly throughout Zimbabwean communities that day, both within the country’s borders and across the diaspora.

This elation followed the news that the country’s long-embattled president, Robert Mugabe had finally bowed to military pressure and stood down, thus ending his 37-year rule. Having already won praise in the 1980s for championing effective education systems in post-independence Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s promised land-reclamation and re-distribution programme was implemented shortly after his rise to presidency. The highly-anticipated programme was a necessity in order to level land-ownership and the division of wealth amongst all Zimbabweans, as opposed to solely the decedents of colonial rule – a white minority. However, Mugabe’s leadership deteriorated as he became steadily more autocratic. The aging leader and independence icon began to lose favour as a seeming lack of control and loss of integrity in his policies ensued. Much of this incertitude was centred around the ruling party’s failure to provide for its people, despite increased governmental spending, as well as the escalating violent nature of the essential wealth and land re-distribution programme. The result was one of the world’s worst-ever cases of hyperinflation, effectively obliterating the Zimbabwean currency and instigating the mass-exodus of Zimbabwean citizens across all levels of society [1].

Samusha Weiri Dongo directly translates from Wallen Mapondera’s first language, Shona, as Household of a Forsaken Land. Contemplating issues of migration, deeply informed by Zimbabwe’s long-standing political and economic crisis, this body of work addresses the conditions in the country of the artist’s birth; seeking to investigate the people, systems, and events that have influenced current affairs. Mapondera also examines what actions are being taken by those in positions of power to alter and stem socio-economic and political instability.

A coalescence of art and matter, Mapondera’s sculptural collages transfigure mundane, commonplace materials into new and unfamiliar forms. Appearing almost blanket-like, these works evoke a sense of inter-connectedness and warmth. There are strong overtones of empathy in the artist’s resurrection of discarded plastic and card; his process re-igniting and restoring significance to his chosen materials.

In Abandoned Hive 2 and Abandoned Hive 3, Mapondera likens the migration of people to that of bees. “Bees abscond the hive because of overheating, shortage of provisions, and frequent commotion,” says the artist, “Zimbabwe hasn’t been the easiest country to stay in due to economic and political destitution. People were forced to move.”

By referencing the prismatic wax structures of a honeycomb, Mapondera emulates these intricate, interlocking structures using his medium of choice – cardboard – presenting a remarkable selection of distinctive, biotic wall-hangings and collages.

The artist threads his hopes and interrogations through each fragment of card – “Will new leadership in Zimbabwe fulfill the people’s needs by transforming and revitalising the country’s economy?” he asks, “Will those who moved, in search of greener pastures, come back home?” – echoing the underlying apprehension and uncertainty felt by many citizens over the country’s shift in power [2]. Akin to the found-object movement in Zimbabwe and across Southern Africa, Mapondera displays an exceptional aptitude for inventiveness, his practice acknowledging the urgency for sustainable and responsible production. Developing from the predictable pattern of ‘assemblage art’, Mapondera focuses on neo-anthropological inquiry, using discarded, otherwise obsolete components to create lasting, memetic totems of life as a Zimbabwean living in the current climate.


We
by Chenjerai Hove (2003)
we were not
the only ones left;
the fig-tree stood by us.

we were not
the only ones left
until the sky refused us
a visa.

sweet dreams, dear
as we wait
for another flower to bloom.

 

 

[1] Mugabe rose to prominence in the guerrilla struggle against white minority rule in the 1970s. At a peace conference in London in late 1979, Mugabe won the admiration of the Western world by walking back his Marxist ideology and agreeing to allow the whites to retain their property and political rights and to share power with all his rivals. Elections followed in the new year, and Mugabe swept to power. He was sworn in as the first prime minister of independent Zimbabwe in 1980. Since then he has survived repeated political challenges, economic disaster and international pressure. In early 2000, Mugabe gave the green light to an aggressive campaign to seize white-owned farms. Land was supposed to be distributed to veterans, but much eventually got snapped up by Mugabe's cronies. Agriculture was the backbone of the economy, but the upheavals crippled farm production. The economy collapsed; Mugabe’s administration responded by printing money; hyperinflation set in. Food shortages became endemic. Opposition to Mugabe surged, with the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, coming close to unseating Mugabe. International criticism also grew, with the UK leading a campaign of sanctions against Mugabe and his ruling clique.
[2] Welshman Ncube, a leader of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has described Muagbe’s demise as a “huge moment for the nation”. He elaborated by saying; “I suppose its relief and anxiety at the same time… Relief that the symbol, and face, of the ruin of our country is finally out of power, and anxiety that the people who are taking over, were supporters of [Mugabe’s] ruinous 37-year rule.”

View artist page: Wallen Mapondera