AN eye-opening exhibition at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) in Harare titled Walls of Perception spotlights the urgent issue of drug, substance, and alcohol abuse.
The first of its kind, the show features various artists exploring the impact and effects of drugs in the communities.
In Zimbabwe, the issue of drug and substance abuse has become a serious public health concern in recent years.
In 2021, President Emmerson Mnangagwa set up an inter-ministerial committee, which came up with the Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan.
The plan seeks to address issues related to drug abuse through supply reduction, demand reduction, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration into community.
Drug use among schoolchildren and young adults has increased to alarming levels and parents, schoolteachers and medical practitioners are calling for urgent measures to be taken to manage the situation.
Maintaining a spotlight on the issue, the National Youth Day celebrations in Lupane this year were held under the theme Drug and Substance Abuse: A Threat to Vision 2030, Every Community Has a Responsibility.
Drug and alcohol abuse has negatively affected individuals, communities and the nation at large.
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People have become less secure in person and for their property as many fall victim to robbery and break-ins committed by addicts desperate to sustain their habits.
Parents are worried that their children are exposed to drugs and they cannot do enough to protect them from falling into the trap.
Government is also concerned about drug and substance abuse because it affects productivity, resulting in a negative impact on the economy, and it destroys young people’s lives.
As part of activities surrounding the exhibition Harare Conversation hosted a discussion at the NGZ under the topic If These Walls Could Talk.
The panel was made up of artists Alessandro Christophides and Kilson Kabhachi.
One of the sentiments shared by the panellists and attendees was that law enforcement agents were colluding with drug traffickers.
There was also a consensus that those who abuse drugs and commit crimes are not brought to book because of poor policing.
The group agreed that abuse of drugs has increased due to idleness, peer pressure, and anxiety caused by economic factors and dysfunctional families.
Information technology was cited as contributing to the increased abuse of drugs as young people discover new ways of getting intoxicated such as extraction of the absorbent in sanitary pads and diapers.
The discussion also touched on the glamourisation of alcohol and drug use in popular culture.
The consensus was that drug abuse represented a moral crisis, public health concern, as well as being a matter for criminal justice.
Proposed solutions included educating children about the harmful effects of drugs at an early age, teaching young people about mental health issues, and robust policing.
Commonly abused drugs are crystal meth, cannabis and cough syrups.
Adding to the confusion in managing the crisis is the evolution of terms used in describing drugs and other illicit substances.
Most parents of juveniles may be hoodwinked when a drug such as crystal meth is called by other names such as hwevo, guka, dombo, mushenen’ene or mutoriro.
Concentrated ethanol prepared in backyard distilleries and packaged into various brand names is collectively called tumbwa, but has also been known as musombodia, kranko and red berretta.
When the names attract stigma, those who sell and consume drugs and illicit substances change their language to avoid detection and being shamed, or arrested.
One of the artworks on exhibition, Lin Barrie’s Takkies Take Flight suggests a hallucinatory experience that might make an intoxicated person see shoes hanging from a powerline as if they were flying.
The idea is derived from a common sight in many countries of shoes being thrown over to hang from powerlines.
Many people see the act as indicating where drugs are sold, but this has not found much support from law enforcement agents and researchers.
Barrie’s appropriation of the implied symbolism anchors the exhibition on its theme of drug abuse, while ribbing on the impaired perception of an intoxicated person.
Other works on exhibition include Institutionalised, a tormented mixed media piece by Christophides.
With many sharp objects such as nails, hooks, and screws Christophides conveys the feelings of an addict in rehab.
Overcoming drug addiction is seen as a harrowing experience by the artist who confesses to having been in rehab and describes it as a “prison”.
A couple of nooses in the piece grimly signifies suicidal thoughts.
This revealing work encourages support and empathy for those going through the process of detoxification, and rehabilitation.
Christophides’s other work is titled Bipolar and speaks to vulnerability.
Bipolar disorder makes people more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse.
Aside from lifestyle some people are at risk of developing addictive behaviour due to genetic predisposition.
Without diagnosis of conditions such as bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder, some people will be doomed to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol and never get proper treatment.
The artwork highlights how the underlying causes for many people who abuse drugs and alcohol are related to mental health issues.
Drug addiction is compared to sexual desire in Onward Mtami’s painting.
In his piece titled Deceiver, addiction is personified as a naked woman whose eyes are covered by one hand while another unseen hand takes away a piece of the puzzle.
Mtami alludes to the side effects that come with drug abuse, which some may not be aware of until it’s too late and sometimes irreversible.
Kabhachi’s Young Smoker is a graphic picture with an urgent warning tone.
The painting shows a skull that is cracked to reveal symbols of drug paraphernalia embedded in the brain.
The skull grimly bites on a smoking blunt.
The image speaks to long-term drug and alcohol misuse, which may lead to health issues such as nervous system damage, anxiety, depression, antisocial personality disorder as well as liver and cardiovascular diseases.
Hugs and Kisses is a monochrome diptych by Isheanesu Dondo, which has a surprisingly caring tone.
The title is far removed from condemnation and shaming, which are typical responses from many.
Drug addiction and alcoholism, however, are diseases that can be treated.
The work shows two faces on separate panels, one is inscribed with “xoxo”, a phrase that stands for hugs and kisses, and the other which has tears falling from its eye has tiny icons with sad faces beside it.
Without love and care as implied by Dondo, there would be no rehabilitation and reintegration.
Consumption of drugs and alcohol may suppress anxiety and induce an experience of tranquility, relaxation, and confidence.
In Kudakashwe Chakwanda’s piece titled Pause Yacho, excessive intake gives way to intoxication that surpasses pleasant feelings leading to impaired judgement and co-ordination.
The word “pause” which is also embedded on the canvas as a symbol has been applied with a clever double meaning as it is also meant to sound as pose.
Combining pause and pose the artist describes the catatonic, immobile and unresponsive stupor that an addict may fall into.
The painting shows such a subject who is lying on the street looking out of sorts.
Chakwanda’s other piece titled Mupanjere Kutsika Madziro depicts a subject who is in a ridiculous upended position that might be suggestive of an addict’s withdrawal symptoms, which may include convulsions, tremors, severe anxiety and hallucinations.
Joe Chinomona’s Repercussions portrays a male vagrant who is holding a peeled banana while standing next to a trash can.
The unkempt look, torn clothing and bare feet reek of extreme neglect and ruin.
It can be pointed out that sometimes it is promising students and successful young adults that have been reduced to this state due to addiction.
From the curatorial aspect, Mandangu explains that: “This exhibition takes the form of a means of community awareness, in order to bring a preventive approach to the curbing of drug abuse.”
Walls of Perception brings many points of view to the subject of drug and substance abuse.