The Healing Fortress Room

BY NYADZOMBE NYAMPENZA
BORROWED from a native proverb, Afamba Apota is Zacharaha Magasa’s first solo exhibition at the First Floor Gallery in Harare.

Born to immigrant parents from Malawi and Mozambique, the exhibition’s title Shona reflects Magasa’s measure of assimilation.

The theme of his work deals with a nomadic lifestyle that not only led to his parents meeting, marrying and raising a family in Zimbabwe, but also found him staying in South Africa for seven years.

The artworks on display are made from used tires that have been forced into an intricate, twisted sculptural form.

Close inspection shows that some of the markings on the soft side of the hides resemble welts, barbed wire spikes and footprints.

It’s hard not to imagine the work as a metaphor for persecution and torture, especially as it invokes the ‘necklace’ lynching of African immigrants in South Africa in the recent past.


Kupona Nepaburi Retsono play

“Bonding” involves putting a gasoline-filled tire around a victim’s neck and setting it on fire.

Magasa agreed to be a “kwerekwere(pejorative label for foreigners) when he was in South Africa.

Although he is aware of the terrible and tragic consequences of xenophobia targeting Africans, Magasa insists that his work does not address these tarnished episodes in the collective memory and history of southern Africa.

With the project Afamba ApotaMagasa’s work releases a whole range of emotions felt by an immigrant.

The work also shows the artist coming to terms with the inherited trauma of being the offspring of immigrants.

By refraining from directly linking his materials to xenophobia in South Africa, one could believe that the artist is afraid to face the pain that inhabits him.

Yet the tangled, twisted and knotted rubber feels like the very pain ripped from his heart.

The artist’s manipulation of the material as he cleans, polishes and paints becomes a method by which he is able to deal with his pain by being with it.

Magasa’s undying optimism comes not from avoidance, but from being aware enough of her pain to break away from identifying with it.

His studio becomes the fortress of healing where pain is transmuted into consciousness.

Floral, earthy and airy palettes transform and transcend the traumatic past embodied by worn tires.

The artist clearly has something in mind that he’s been mulling over for a while.

The repetitive titles show him struggling with the same ideals such as Kupona nepaburi retsonoloosely translated into a lucky escape which is revisited in parts two and three.

Healing Fortress/rega zvipore is also in three parts, and Mabvakure (Come a long way) comes to the fourth part.

Mabvakure is a pejorative term used in Zimbabwe to describe foreigners.

The term carries the tone and weight of ideas that weigh on the mind of the artist.

Boterekwa refers to a winding road, while Kupona nepaburi retsono could refer to the lucky escape of travelers after a mishap.

The less fortunate are encouraged to find comfort and healing through the title Rega Zvipore (let it heal).

Abstract sculptures evoke a variety of associations to different people.

The affable and unassuming artist does not like to say much about the work, preferring to let it speak for itself.

With the piece titled BoterekwaMagasa seems to let others speak for him.

Officially, Boterekwa refers to the Wolfshall pass in the town of Shurugwi, east of Gweru, which was built by Italian engineers in 1945.

The road winds around a mountain in a steep and hair-raising way.

The term was brought into the mainstream by the late musician Simon “Chopper” Chimbetu on his song Usandisiyehence the title of the album Boterekwa was derived.

The song was such a hit that his fans nicknamed him Mukoma Sam.

through the words of UsandisiyeChimbetu, who was born in Zimbabwe but was of Chewa descent, begs his brother ‘Mukoma Sam’ not to leave him on a journey which he fears will be difficult to travel alone, especially regarding the treacherous part of Boterekwa on
the path.

Besides the external dangers, a traveler crossing such a landmark risks being disoriented and turning back or falling from a steep rock face.

Magasa’s piece which shares the title with the music album is eye-catching through a pattern of concentric spirals and curves with a crimson underside.

The reluctant sculptor delivers his message with devastating understatement.

Afamba Apota is the testament of one who is ready to forgive the past and himself.

The Shona proverb suggests that no one can predict what a traveler will encounter once they turn a corner.

In her work, Magasa deals with the vicissitudes of life without having a chip on her shoulder.

While the public is still contemplating his work, it is easy to imagine the artist absorbed by his agricultural project in Domboshawa, without complex or regret.

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