BY NYADZOMBE NYAMPENZA REVIVAL of Harares’ visual art scene picked up steam with a recent open studio exhibition by Tawanda Reza at First Floor Gallery Harare (FFG) in Harare.
The impressive exhibition dubbed ‘Where the streets have no name’ paints a gritty picture of misfits, junkies and hustlers from the neighborhoods of peri-urban Epworth.
Reza’s exhibition is a culmination of a four-month residency at the gallery, which in the past has hosted artists such as Pebofatso Mokoena (South Africa), Cristiano Mangovo (Angola), Mapopa Hussein Manda (Zambia) and Bouvy Enkobo (Democratic Republic of Congo), among others.
Through the exhibition, the Bindura born Reza went beyond the boundaries of his usual practice (painting) to incorporate street art aesthetics and mural style approach with spray and stencils.
The result was a cohesive body of work that clearly benefited from thorough critique and sincere feedback.
Reza, whose father was a sculptor, said his work was inspired by his stay in Epworth where he observed the alarming rise in drug abuse due to mainly a shift in lifestyle, rising unemployment and prevalent divorces.
“Drugs feature prominently and crystal meth is specifically referenced as one of the catalysts for the erosion of society’s moral and material fabric,” he said.
Through the exhibition, Reza shines a light into the dark side of life in Epworth to reveal unrecognisable and obscured faces in compromised circumstances.
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Characters straight from the dark side are seen loitering, lounging in drug-induced stupor, under attack and preying on the vulnerable.
Ultimately the body of a young man dressed in a suit is portrayed lying in a coffin. The body represents a friend of the artist who was prematurely deceased due to complications arising from drug abuse.
The youthful corpse represents unfulfilled potential. It stands as a grave reminder of the tragic demise of young people.
A metaphorical piece in the exhibition depicts a snake which might be taken to represent the old serpent from the Garden of Eden. From a traditional point of view, however, a snake is more likely to represent witchcraft. It is a common belief among the suffering that errant behaviour and misfortunes befalling their offspring is a curse from jealous neighbours and relatives.
Most of Reza’s characters are drawn in an alienating abstract way with obscured eyes. One exception is of a young woman with an appealing figure in a short, tight and thigh-baring skirt.
The woman appears to be anxiously standing in the dark suggesting that she might be a sex worker.
The awkward hand gestures over her lips could be a nervous tick on an uneventful night before the rent is due, or an act of imbibing something to keep her on her feet for the long night.
A gripping expression in her eyes draws the viewer into the terrible nightmare that is her life. If the streets have no name, the experiences are beyond simple description, explanation and resolution.
Reza takes the viewer on an apocalyptic guided tour of Epworth, unpacking scene-by-scene, desperation and despondence fermenting in its younger generation.
A literal centrepiece of the exhibition is the topography of Epworth painted on the floor. This work is a representation of the location with key landmarks such as Dombo raMwari.
The artist utilises this map to show the flow and movement of drugs in bright fire-orange squares. Stepping onto the piece transports the audience to Epworth in a manner that transcends space and time.
The FFG co-founder Valerie Kabov said Reza’s work complements government’s anti-drug abuse campaigns by providing a different way of looking at the vice.
Another FFG co-founder Marcus Gora said the residency provides a platform for artistes to experiment, challenge their ideas and improve practice.
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