Internationally-acclaimed visual artist Owen Maseko was on Thursday night honoured with a Human Rights and Democracy Award in Harare for his daring exhibition on the harsh reality of the Gukurahundi massacres.
In a combination of graffiti, 3D installations and his painting, Maseko unmasked the truth, coloured by a whimsical element of humour, but the exhibition did not go down well with the authorities as it excavated a past they would rather remain covered.
The exhibition opened on March 25 at the Bulawayo National Art Gallery and was subsequently closed down by the police, followed by the arrest of Maseko and gallery director Voti Thebe.
Maseko was charged with violating Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, for undermining the authority of the president, causing offence to people of a particular race/tribe/etc. and promoting public violence.
In August, the Ministry of Home Affairs banned his work, under the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act.
On paper, Zimbabwe’s constitution protects freedom of expression but in practice, the police ignored the provision when they arrested Maseko.
“Gukurahundi is a sensitive and live issue. I have given it a face and a voice… I am prepared to take the first bullet for it,” Maseko was quoted as saying during the award ceremony.
The award, sponsored by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, honours individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions in fighting for human rights and democracy and raising awareness in these areas.
Other winners on the night were Chief Mutekedza for his role in the restoration of human rights and being an advocate for a democratic and free society.
He was also instrumental in protecting people under his chieftaincy from the 2008 election violence.
The other winner was Zimrights, a well known human rights campaigner seeking to foster among individuals and organisations the respect for human dignity.
They have been prominent in calling for the promotion of equality, national healing, cohesion and unity among citizens of Zimbabwe.