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Mutema challenges traditional presentation of art


THIN barriers and empty spaces welcome the visitor to Anne Zanele Mutemas’ current exhibition at First Floor Gallery Harare, which is titled Ranezuro Rangu Ngariziye.

Unlike strictly observational works such as sculpture and painting Mutema’s latest conceptual work invites the audience to step inside and experience it for themselves.

Instructions posted at the entrance to the gallery give visitors specific directions to follow before entering the space.

There are two sections titled Black Room, and White Room. The Yin and Yang colour-coding the two sections invoke contrary experiences.

In the White Room curtains of soft white lace fabric open to envelope the visitor into several pods designed to activate in seven different ways.

Inside these cocoons the visitor is induced into sensory experiences that engage with scent, touch, sight, warmth, absence, elevation and constriction.

An engagement within the White Room does not induce profound emotional reaction, but unveils an instant acute sense of self-awareness.

It may seem like a cheap reward, but being able to feel something cannot be taken for granted in the age of self-abuse and exploitation that numbs the senses and takes away vitality leading to mental and physical deterioration.

Described as “motion activated sensory meditational baths”, instructions to the Black Room read: “Wait a couple of seconds for eyes to adjust to the dark. Once your eyes adjust proceed around the room using the sense of touch to feel where a cubicle is. Once you identify the opening and open the curtain a light automatically switches on. Get inside the cubicle, step into the water while shoe bags are still covering feet/worn. Put headphones on, relax and connect.”

In this part of the installation the audience is ushered into a dark space where they have to grope their way around in order to find a cubicle and engage with the work within it.

In the cubicle a dimmed purple light turns on and the headphones emit the prolonged buzzing sound of delta wave music playing on a loop.

The sound induces a relaxed meditative state. While the tingle of cold water on the feet distracts the conscious mind, the sound elevates the subject from physical self-awareness into cosmic consciousness.

Disentangled from the concept of self, Ranezuro or the past in the title ceases to be historical.

People, who visit the gallery, usually expect an experience derived from a detached point of view. The audience is discouraged from touching or getting too close to the work of art.

Conceptual installation artist Mutema invites the audience to breach the contact barrier. Her work pushes the boundary on perception and understanding of contemporary art, on Harare’s arts scene.

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