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Gwetai’s culturally inspired works

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For Bulawayo-based visual artist Tafadwa Gwetai our culture, heritage and identity play a pivotal role in his creative works.

Gwetai’s last exhibition which he held last year at the Bulawayo gallery is a testament to that philosophy.

Entitled “An incredible discovery of Professor Tafadwa Gwetai — The remnants of a lost and unknown civilisation,” Gwetai seeks to trace the roots of black people in a concept where he takes himself back to the bygone era.

For the exhibition, he created works of art that would to a modern-day person look “primitive”.

“I wanted to explore the fact that African art has always not focused on aesthetics but (is) a depiction of the life that people lived then. Unlike European art, it does not pander to competition but remains simple,” said Gwetai in an interview with NewsDay.

He used materials that people in an ordinary village would use such as large wooden spoons to create human figures.

“The concept is based on an imaginary village in Ethiopia called Menka.

“Coincidentally, the word menka in Ethiopian refers to a spoon,” said the artist who painted the wooden spoons and even adorned them with earrings.

When executing paintings, another medium he specialises in, Gwetai focuses his attention on masks or what he terms “existentialism”.

“I am fascinated with portraits. I explore different faces and what each individual thinks about who they are. I try to give my masks identity,” he said.

True to his word, there are different kinds of faces painted on duplex boards in semi-abstract form.
He says he chose to use duplex boards because they are flexible and his clients — who are normally tourists — would be able to roll them up and export them.

“Way back, I used to paint on hard board but later realised that people who wanted to buy the works would complain that they would not be able to carry the paintings. I then changed,” he said.

His works are adapted from graffiti art and graphics.

He has exhibited locally as well as in Germany and England.

“Last year I was curating exhibitions at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo under the theme ‘Legalise Art’.

It was an exhibition that ran every two weeks and aimed at encouraging resident artists to showcase their work consistently,” said Gwetai who holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in Art and Design from Chinhoyi University of Technology.

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