HomeLife & StyleRemembering arts icon, Sisi Helen

Remembering arts icon, Sisi Helen

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BY NYADZOMBE NYAMPENZA

THE late co-founder of Gallery Delta Helen Lieros, affectionately known in the arts sector as Sisi Helen who died last week, was a giant in the local arts industry.

A visual artist par excellence, Sisi Helen has been described as an art practitioner, teacher, mentor, and administrator who had an illustrious arts career that spanned across six decades.

Born in 1940 in Gweru, Sisi Helen, together with her husband Derrick Huggins, established Gallery Delta, which has been instrumental in nurturing young visual artists by giving them space to showcase their talents.

From her co-founding of the Circle Arts Group in reaction to Frank McEwen’s monolithic curation at the National Gallery of Rhodesia, Sisi Helen was active in taking arts across cultures and making it accessible to the general public.

Her poignant murals appear in the Greek Orthodox Cathedrals in Harare and Maputo (Mozambique), the Social Security Centre and Hurudza House in Harare and many centres all over the world.

The internationally-renowned Sisi Helen’s work is also included in permanent collections in Zimbabwe, Geneva, Spain, Cuba, Paris and Athens.

She was recently awarded the National Arts Merit Awards Legend.

Her practice, which goes back nearly six decades, manifested through diverse media and various approaches.

In 1975, she co-founded Gallery Delta with her husband. Through the institution she mentored and nurtured the careers of many successful artists.

One of Sisi Helen’s artworks in the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare is titled Wheat, the second most important food crop in the country.

It was recently shown at an exhibition tilted Zimbabwe @41. Wheat is a medium-size piece in a brown and gold palette. Because of the artist’s improvised use of materials, it is described as mixed media on canvas.

Produced in 2005, the canvas of the painting is cut at the lower third portion. There is a rectangular imprint in the middle.

A coarse rectangular object is attached like a scab in the middle of the upper section. Geometric lines and forms transfix the viewer’s attention on a seemingly barren landscape.

The one-word title can be read as a suggestion, or a mental picture. Interesting markings capture the viewer’s attention long enough to inspire the imagination.

The audience starts to notice what was not obvious at first sight. Underlying dark hues are overlain with different shades of brown, creating depth.

Sisi Helen’s painting invokes memories of a field that is ripe for harvest. Her technique and materials arouse a sense of the physical environment.

Wheat is the second most important food crop in Zimbabwe. It is a symbol of abundance. The plant represents a long and fruitful life.

In Christianity, it stands for immortality and resurrection through the body of Christ.

Sisi Helen’s spirit lives on in her works.

May her soul rest in peace.

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