Category Archives: Education

Of Writing Histories

“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.”

Milan Kundera

The spirited gathering of the final assembly.

As each year passes and another group of pupils depart, I am painfully aware that they potentially leave our national boundaries for good. I suppose a good portion of that pain comes from the fact that in a few short years it will be my own children in that position and I will be faced with the crisis on a far more personal level. To this end, we continue to participate and do what we do, not only because we believe that this is an extraordinary country that we want to be part of, but also that we can one day, through our efforts, contribute to stemming this endless tide of departees from our land.

As the Upper VI Line Tutor, I am honoured each year, to say a few words to them at their final assembly. For one who is vaguely interested (some have asked for a copy), here is what I said to the leavers of 2107.

Spotted some “Vagrants” at the lock ceremony…

Usual shirt story…

and again…

Upper VI 2017

I would like to make a shout out to Vagrants, and to DJ Pardon, who may well have inspired this speech, and to note that 2017 is slightly different, because the eldest two children of the Zimbabwean Shaws, my nieces Lisa and Shekinah graduate today, which is a special milestone for the family!

You would be familiar with the song World, by Five for Fighting. In keeping with its genre, it’s somewhat one dimensional and rather sentimental, but recently, as I wallowed around in literary quagmire trying to think of what might be vaguely interesting for you to hear, the chorus caught my attention:

What kind of world do you want?

Think anything

Let’s start at the start

Build a masterpiece

Be careful what you wish for

History starts now

It’s a great idea; a clean slate; a new story. That you would walk out from here, pick a path and start mapping a story of success, of endeavour and the realisation of your aspirations. That you would build a masterpiece. That your history would start now.

Unfortunately, not only is it simplistic, it’s not true. History does not, and cannot start now. To think that it does would be to do a great injustice to that which has come before. It would imply an arrogance, and the idea that we are islands, independent of the myriad of factors that contributed to this point in time.  And I know that you don’t think that, despite the many critics of your generation, for I have seen you often exhibit a compassion and understanding for the world around you.

So I thought to consider a few strands of your paths that you have shared, and as I do so, I beg pardon from the historians and history scholars amidst you for my crass butchering of your beautiful subject and hope that through my blundering words you can appreciate the sentiment, no matter how crudely written.

Rather than being islands, we are part of an endless and infinitely wide stream. Where one part moves so must the others, to accommodate and reciprocate the constant motion and growth. As you have flowed through this path, so have your families. For each of you, this is an individual and unique tale, a complex, multi-layered pastiche. There is no doubt, however, that within these individual, shared histories there are some common elements such as joy and reward, honour, dishonour, anger and frustration. There are stories of support and stories of abandonment, each with their lifelong ramifications. There are inevitably aspects of love, trust and pride. For many, there is a story of sacrifice, and for some, great sacrifice. But in each, without doubt, there is a story of hope and faith.

Hope, that the decision to invest in you so fully, will bear fruit and rewards for each of you and for your families. I am optimistic that it will be.

Faith, that the investment in this institution will provide for you the absolute best that is on offer. I am hopeful that it has done so.

Faith, that even in this harsh climate, this could be accomplished and that the decision to be part of this country at this time would be the right one, as the shared history of you and your family has been written.

Faith that during this complex story you will have become everything that you can possibly be. I am optimistic that in this regard, you have, will continue to exceed their hopes and expectations, and I would ask you right now, to stand, and through applause, acknowledge the shared history between you and your family, and everything that it encompasses and everything that it means for the future.

And what then of your history in this beautiful, yet brutal country. How well have you understood that your moments of life in this extraordinary place are a relatively short, built on extraordinary achievements and successes as well as deep fault-lines and scars, and that each of these has conditioned your experiences till this point? Have you really apprehended that the history you have made in this privileged sphere can only be seen in relation to the space beyond this boundary, and that the two spheres are not even remotely similar? How well have you understood that at this point in time, your starting point is not even vaguely equal to the majority of your compatriots? That in fact, the extent of the disparity is quite staggering, and that the hand that you have been dealt would be eagerly grasped by many?

And what of the institution in which you have created much of this history? This Hellenic Academy which too, was built on great faith in difficult times. Which was built on a unique vision and stands as a monument to courage and perseverance. We invest ourselves so fully in you, because not only are you a product of this vision, but because you are the reason for its very existence, and because we know that through our shared history, we are also building a shared future, in which extraordinary things will be achieved.

We are proud of you and what you have accomplished.

You are gentle, and peaceful and empathetic in nature. Your year as the head of the student body has reflected these attributes and they have been passed through the school, and I applaud you for that. You have fostered a sense of pride and a sense of respect. You have added to our vision and you have added to our Academy.

And who are you? Who are the people that have experienced this history? As I wrote this, I read through your names, recalling each of you and your individual contributions. Starting with Basil, it was clear before I had reached the end of “C” that I could not mention them all, because there was simply too much to say. By that point, I noted expert violinists, a pianist, media experts and a Microsoft guru with a notable ‘fro! Athletes, academics and a high-flying triathlete, a courageous leader of extraordinary substance.  It continued throughout the class: The inspiration who is Chico. A viola player whose investment in the people of the academy has impacted my own family. A singer of transcendent power. A world-class triathlete, a world-class equestrian, a world-class super model and an artist who paints creatures with with mind-blowing humanity.

Gregory was no different. I noted a double bassist overflowing with empathy and an artist with such passion her stories eclipsed the school. A host of academics, mathematicians, scientists, and a polyglot. Darling, the cricket machine, Vlad, Sponge, Peaches and a Greek man who has stunned us, with his humbling courage and resolve.

Within John, I found a rock-musician-academic, a ballerina and an extremely caring, organisational queen. Experts in the knowledge of fauna and flora, a wildlife photographer, artists and writers. An orator, a debater of imposing force and a trumpeter. The man who is Taine. The man who is Bradley. The force of the Ocean and the impulsive, dancing persona, woman of extraordinary humility, academic, artist, and leader extraordinaire.

With respect to Five for Fighting, you cannot start history now. But you will be able to read it from this point forward and you should be aware that the steps that you take and the stories that you write from now will not only condition your future, but condition the way we read the past.

I would urge you then, to pay respect to the faith that your parents have placed in you and to pay respect to this Academy, and it’s ideals, with which you have shared your history. And to consider that perhaps one day, part of your continued story may be written in this country where your many abilities may contribute to the exceptional stories that will continue to be written in this beloved land.

I have only to speak of one more history. That is the one that I have shared with you. I am forever humbled by your achievements, your strength and your love of life. I look forward to the day that you return and we can continue to build this world together. I am proud to be associated with you, and proud that within my own story, our paths have crossed.

Go well.

Aien Aristeyien

Always Excellence.”

 

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That’s the Sound…(Part 1:Ft. Arteepeepee)

“Do a good art, even if it’s a bad art.”

Savannah Hertzberg

“Luc Dood”, L. Brazier, 2016

Historical List of Redundant Form Four Actions (2016)

  1. Wear down art teacher with persistent pleas for the Right to Drink Tea in the studio.
  2. Rename the class “Arteepeepee”.
  3. Sing the music of Queen incessantly, with absolute disregard for the subtle nuances of the great Freddie Mercury.
  4. Engage in a farcical, tea brewing, non-art-making scenario until said granted  right is withdrawn.
  5. Make a good Art
"Luc Dude", E. Robertson, 2016.

“Luc Dude”, E. Robertson, 2016.

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending the Cambridge Outstanding Learners Awards, in which I am very proud to say that the Hellenic art Department claimed the “Best in Zimbabwe” at IGCSE, AS and A2 Level, as well as receiving two High Achievement Awards for the May/June exam session last year. I thought I would post a few of the extraordinary works here, the two AS High Achievement submissions and the IGCSE Best in Zimbabwe.

Mana was one of the members of GShiz, and Melanie emanated from the Studio of “Mrs Mac”. They wrote during the May/June session (something we used to do..) and were part of a group of exceptional submissions. Indeed, since I am blowing our horn (that’s the sound…), I might point out that the lowest grade obtained for the group of 20 was a B, which is quite extraordinary. The AS comprises a coursework submission and an examination (15 hours over three days, which despite being a beast – ask Sarah – is always a creatively intense and rewarding experience). Both Mana and Melanie (Malanie/Melana) had characteristics in common: a high degree of creativity and an exceptional level of skill and a great sense of aesthetic. Here is a taste of some of the work of Malanie/Melana:

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Luc Brazier was awarded Best IGCSE Art and Design Student in Zimbabwe, an excellent result following a couple years of smouldering activity and some pretty startling renditions of Queen, not to mention being the driving force behind the Arteepeepee debacle. His submission was the first animation to be entered as a Final Outcome by the Academy (most likely by any Zimbabwean School?) to date.

Luc combined a wealth of technical knowledge and superb artistic and aesthetic judgement as he produced a work of startling weight and impact. It is not uncommon for our students to address “heavy” themes, many do as their lives collide with the raw and brutal facets of life. It is much less common that these works come over as uncontrived. For many, despite the impact of these, they are less artistically mature and some work becomes cliched, relying on predictable imagery or symbols and “shock” tactics. Luc’s in contrast, is a dark, hard hitting and edgy work. for those of us who know him, it came as no surprise that there are  heavy doses of sardonic comedy (not humour) entangled amidst the tragic narrative.

At each level it is demanded of the candidates that they support and investigate their ideas and demonstrate how these have been developed throughout the submission. I think in some regards we were privileged to be given access to Luc’s thoughts, since so much was highly personal, and which, in sketchbook form, clearly demonstrated the progression and decision making of the work.

Here is a taste of the exploration.

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Here is the final outcome:

Luc was also the first candidate from the Academy to answer an examination with pure photography. He tackled this with a similar degree of creativity and courage, and employing a level of investigation and expertise well beyond what would normally be expected from a student at this level. As before, his preparation was personal and deeply investigative. Here is some of the preparation and the Final Outcome:

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It should go without saying that there was a wealth of extraordinary work that emanated from Arteepeepee and I would do well to feature some more of it at some point. But for now, let me say as always, what a privilege it is to work with the many pupils who invest themselves as wholeheartedly in their work as they do; beyond the extraordinary amount of effort, it is above all, highly courageous.

Studio One

It seems hard to believe that we are almost the end of the art exams for Trinity term. The AS mock finished today, the remnants of Arteepeepee reconfigured as Pigs and Chickens had a taste of the 15 hour beast; they were weary, but for the most part, successful. Vagrants continued their journey through the A2 coursework,  App up the Vicious wrote their IG mock, the Form 3s (a cracking bunch) are done, so are the 2s and the Form 1s write on Tuesday. A total of 39 hours of exams.

Observations

  1. Aluminium melts at 800 degC. We know this from the IG students smelting it (through questionable means) for casting.
  2. Said molten aluminium explodes if poured into a damp mold.
  3. Percussive sounds of welders, grinding metal and the roar of the (modified) blow torch is heavy, after the 9th hour.

Still an Icon

“I am black, I think black, I paint black”.

Luis Meques, 1997.

Meques, L. ‘Street Kids’, 1997. MM on Paper, 116cm x 156cm.

I cannot think of Luis Meques, without thinking of these profound words, spoken by a painter who was a leader of his generation and icon to Zimbabwean painting for a period of two decades. Derek Huggins, friend and curator to the artist, writes of the statement that “[The words spoke] of a new generation, a new consciousness, a growing awareness a new spirit and pride and purpose of being”. They seem to me to be an expression of identity so strongly felt, so clearly acknowledged that there is no surprise he saw the world with the clarity that he did.

A collection of works from his estate were recently exhibited at Gallery Delta and it was a pleasure to see the work once again after some years (and after a period of feeling somewhat saturated of it) and to remember his extraordinary proficiency as a painter. I was invited to make a comment for the catalogue and it was a pleasure to contemplate and think about the work. The following is the catalogue text:

These paintings embody a polemic explored with extraordinary depth; two sides of visual language which confronts and challenges the viewer:

On one hand, Meques states so much with so little. Marks, gestures, lines and forms are rendered with a simplicity that belie the artistry and learning beneath. We understand that the subjects of these works are not generic representations or symbols, but are derived from and describe individual people and ideas in all their subtlety and individuality. These expressions are constructed over a complex matrix that relies on his extraordinary draughtsmanship, the result of hundreds of hours of study and observation which combine with a natural propensity for the discipline. They are built on top of structures which reveal an in-depth knowledge of the mechanics of composition, of rhythm, balance, and the ever present dialogue between the two dimensional surface and the illusions of painting. And they are made with an urgency and intensity that arrests and reminds the viewer, that this was not only the unique visual language of Luis Meque, this was also his manner of being.

On the other hand we are faced with works in which so much is left unsaid. Meques strips the subjects to their core. There is little concession to modeling, texture or any other device which would seem frivolous. Facial details are often obscured or obliterated. Extremities, sometimes limbs are redundant, and subsequently removed. There is no surplus, no excess, nothing beyond what contributes to the immediate subject at that exact moment in time. At some point the spectator becomes aware that there is far more left unsaid than the details of the subject. There is a world that exists beyond this frame, which conditions, marks and impacts on these subjects. We are aware of it through its absence. We know it through these distilled images and the intensity and conviction of the painter’s hand and voice.

The combination of these parts form a complex gestalt, one in which the subject, the context and the penetrating nature of the painter come together in a single, powerful work. Meque’s ability to achieve this so comprehensively and so often established him as a beacon to Zimbabwean painters, a position I believe he will occupy for a long time to come.

Meques, L. ‘Street Kids II’, 1997. MM on Paper, 116cm x 166cm.

Meques, L. 1995. ‘Untitiled’, Mixed media on Paper. 125cm x 116cm.

In an era in which so much of painting is informed by photographs, bound by the single eye and lacking the vitality brought through the experience of intense observation of the subjects,  these works were extremely refreshing, I look forward to contemplating them again one day.

 

Studio One

We closed our annual exhibition at the end of the Paschal term, which deserves a comment at some time, and are now firmly into Trinity term. IGCSE Coursework is well underway, as are both the AS and A2 components. Here are some fine works by Andrea to end with:

Greg Shaw,

18th May, 2017. Harare

Beauty, Burial and Betrayal: two years with gshiz

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Class of 2016

My classes have always been quiet and focussed, I can’t stand noise or mess and I don’t believe it to be possible to work at one’s best amidst chaos. It is odd, then, that the past two years with this particular L6/U6 class have been the antithesis of that ideal scenario. They have now gone, and the studio is once again silent, clean, serene. It is familiar to me and calming.

Somehow I miss the chaos, and its makers.

This short post is a tribute to those who referred to themselves as: ‘Lower VI Art’; ‘Menagerie of Students’; ‘G-Shawzey and the Clan’ and ultimately ‘gshiz’ (I am strangely honoured to have my name bastardised like that). They were responsible for the disruption mentioned above, an enormous amount of hilarity, stress and more importantly achieving exceptional AS grades and leaving behind some terrific art. They were very serious about the subject, visited museums around the world in an a effort to appreciate the wealth of history and the arts. You can see that here:

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What’s app message from a museum far, far away; ’cause this is thriller! thriller night…

The AS year passed (not without event), we made a few gallery visits, went to the CBD to gather images for a large interactive work, where Michaela was propositioned, we didn’t make Mali, Morocco or Domboshava. My bad; oh well. Revai left us, Mellisa joined, but otherwise the class was quite stable (physically, at least). Excellent observations were made, suggestions and modifications to the persisting issue of appropriate hairstyles and a possible modification to the headgear. I have investigated some of the options in context below:

On the occasion of the AS exam, in May/June this year, an two important figures  were introduced to the class: George (the prawn), and Craycray (the crayfish – go figure…). George was involved in various nefarious activities of a period of months which was often quite startling. The topic fish and crayfish is a wonderful one, other than the fact that we are a landlocked country. Our river fish simply do not have the same visual impact (in general) as many of their salt-water counterparts. We managed to get some crayfish, firstly from the plates of diners at Fishmonger (once they had finished eating…), and secondly from some back-door trader (literally, from the boot of a somewhat bashed up car). There is a certain abhorrence in working from dead animals, which is quite saddening and also carries a moral implication in a country where food is short. Especially when it is clear that they can never be eaten after being subjected to hours of scrutiny, in and out a freezer week after week. Despite these implications, Craycray was a most magnificent specimens who found his way into the class. This is me introducing him:

But he was a nasty bugger; made Sarah cry. We buried him when we were done. I suppose it was a mark of respect. Being a Greek school, we should have performed some of the traditions. We could have easily performed Prothesis, found something to cover his eyes sung a lament; tore out our hair (solve the hat problem).

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Lament and hair-tearing of old

There was a form of Ekphora (a transference of the body to the place of entombment)  but not quite in order…

 

The Perideipnon, or banqueting was also absent. Crazy, there was a continual supply of snacks, Rebecca nearly killed us with chocolate with the #bestbrowniesintheworld. We dug him up, not out of a space shortage, but mostly curiosity. I must admit that there was a kind of Lord of the Flies hysteria, possibly exacerbated by it being the last day of gshiz‘ schooling career. We did not carry him to an ossuary because of the stench. Dug him right back into the ground where he currently rests in piece{s) and shall investigate after the rains, I think.

One other notable theme that ran through the class was the idea of a flash mob. Single Ladies seemed to be the song that attracted the most support.  They found inspiration everywhere, art related even. It was supposed to have been a group thing that would take place in assembly. It is clear that most are expecting to wear a ring on their right hands, except Oliver. He doesn’t seem to want to identify as one of the Singletons. That must be why he wanted to betray us, sticking it right in our Insta-feeds.

Amidst the intense pressure (only those who have taken this subject will know of that pressure) of the final days before submitting A2 coursework, the flash mob did eventually take place near the end of term. Having enlisted no less than the Headmistress for support, I was presented with a moment that will surely be embedded in my memory for a very long time!

The A2 coursework are a maximum of 20 A1 pages, which amounts to hundreds of hours work. It is a pity not to show many of the gems included within the work. Nevertheless, here is a taste of their accomplishments for the year:

It remains for me to say, alrighty bye bye.

Greg Shaw

2 November 2016

 

 

 

Of Imagery, Made Things and Connections

“From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

  • Ernest Hemingway

“Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another.”

  • Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

The Broken Stool, 2016. Digital Drawing, 3094x4036px; printed on matte wallpaper.

The Broken Stool, 2016. Digital Drawing, 3094x4036px; printed on matte wallpaper.

I cannot claim that I have made anything with the qualities of truth or immortality as expressed by Hemingway above, despite my most (earnest) attempts. But I have made new things (insofar as “original” is a possibility, a whole other argument) that derive from the sources he describes so comprehensively, indeed, quite profoundly. I hope that at least in some my work, there is enough “life” to be of interest to the spectator.

Recent works have been accumulated bringing together different threads investigated over the last year, considering identity and the meeting and influences of culture and other agents within our context. I have been pleased to tie in some of the three dimensional work of the last period and hope that in doing so, new thoughts about the works may emerge. From a slightly simplistic perspective, there is a meeting between the abstract forms (to some eyes) of the sculptural works and the figurative drawing and prints. I have intended a meeting of ideas, and that the artefacts incorporated contribute to extended meanings, not simply the pilfering of cultural heritage as has been the case in many instances.

Fourteen works make up my contribution to the exhibition “Link” currently showing at Gallery Delta, along side Arthur Azvedo, Helen Lieros, Wallen Mapondera and Thakor Patel. Five artists with completely different styles, backgrounds and artistic heritages, each with some commonality and three of whom have impacted my own career of the years. I have written often about Helen’s role in my career as a painter, and the impact she had on me as a 16 year old and beyond. As always, it is a privilege to be able to exhibit with her for what must be at least the 40th time.

Wallen Mapondera is the youngest of us, one of a handful of Zimbabwean artists for whom I have the utmost respect. In May 2014, I wrote a foreword for the exhibition catalogue of “Social Zoometry” a one person exhibition. It included the following: “Mapondera engages the viewer with sensitive, exacting marks that express penetrating observations of the various subjects, which are… rendered without exception, with a deep sense of pathos.…[He]” challenges the spectator to confront their humanity… [and allows the viewer] to identify with the subjects of these works as his/her kind. From this perspective, we answer questions [which reveal] power structures, hierarchies, abuse of power, but also kinship and companionship.” The works of “Link” build on these attributes, as well introducing challenging new thoughts and ideas of intrigue.

The first piece of art that I ever purchased was a tiny Arthur Azvedo etching of a baboon from the Annual Zimbabwe Heritage exhibition at the National Gallery sometime in the early ‘90s. It hangs in my dining room to this day. To my knowledge, Arthur was one of the founders of welded art in Zimbabwe, and over recent decades, few have reached his level of artistry in the medium. His knowledge of his subjects is penetrating, always based on the deepest observations of movement and form and translated into both his welded work, and the drawings and prints for which he is renowned.

Arthur Azvedo, 1991. "Baboon", Etching and Ink on Paper. 5 x 7cm

Arthur Azvedo, 1991. “Baboon”, Etching and Ink on Paper. 5 x 7cm

I had the privilege (I feel this to have been a one-sided thing) of being a student of Thakor Patel at the Polytechnic between ’89 and 91’, and later to work with him at that institution. For some reason, perhaps because he taught a few of my first-year modules, many memories of our association at that time feature the ridiculously immature 16 year old I was, trying to make sense of the out-of-reach level of competition of many of my peers, materials which I had no clue how to control, models I couldn’t draw and history beyond my level of thinking and comprehension. And the moratorium on whistling which Thakor imposed.

List of Things I Aspired to, aged 16

  1. Climbing rocks well.

Thakor’s 3 metre wide modernist paintings of the late ‘80s, on which he worked in a studio at the Poly’ made a huge impression on me at that time. They were one of the first portals into a world of art that up to that point I had known nothing about. Indeed, I did not know anything about any world of art. Knowledge of the discipline at home was confined to a few “how to draw” books, which despite my present slight disregard, actually had something to do wth me heading in the direction of the visual arts. My family home was decorated in the popular mode of the time; there were various things  of visual interest, such as the highly textured abstract work my father had made, generally referred to as “thing”; though it fit well into the ‘70s, it would also have found commonality amid my works of the early 2000s, whatever may be construed from that. A beautiful, turned wooden pot stays in my mind, a wonderful percolator (a similar type of which I found on a jumble sale years later) and a wooden stool my father made which I use today in the studio.

School art had consisted of pencil-drawn calabashes and seed pods, etc. and batiks. My only visit to any art gallery up to that point was a visit to the Annual Schools Exhibition at the National Gallery, where largely, more of the same was visible, and for which my friend an I had made a pair of fencing figures. These we found broken and flattened somewhere on the mezzanine floor – the only thing  that I remember (other than the ramp with the rubber which makes the special underfoot noise) about that expedition.

The scale, vibrancy and abstraction of Thakor’s work was extraordinary to me, as were the blended, controlled oil colours. Over the next two years, the only time any of us neared that effect was with the aid of the revered air-brush, a tool that thankfully seems as manacled to the ‘80s as Wham. (Sadly, the gradient effect seems to have been embraced by the makers of Power Point and Keynote, and still frequently pains my eyes). Thakor spoke of artworks having “air”. It seems a vague, unformed piece of advice and something difficult to pin down. He would page through books, tapping his fingers upon a particular work here and there illuminating his thoughts.

Until now, though this particular quality seems difficult to define, the advice remains with me and I am always aware of works which possess the particular trait, and those which don’t. It speaks of an aspect that is not related to empty pictorial space, nor illusionistic depth. It is a quality that seems contained in the making of marks and application of media, the ability for a work to ‘breathe’. David Hockney says that artists should protect the ‘mystery’ of painting (ibid.) and I tend to agree, but that is not my intention in this regard. Perhaps I shall just say that this advice is ‘vague’ but makes sense to me, and leave it at that.

This exhibition then, is about connections. Connections within my own work, the lines of thought that have preoccupied me for months, even years. Connections between artists who share a common context, and have met at this point, this juncture. And for me, connections of a personal nature, of students, artists, teachers and friends. I find it aptly called “Link”.

Pipe Dreams I and II, 2016. Charcoal, Soil, Metal and Found Objects. Height 115 and 110 cm

Pipe Dreams I and II, 2016. Charcoal, Soil, Metal and Found Objects. Height 115 and 110 cm

Studio One

We are in the middle of our examinations, and heading towards the late afternoon of the IGCSE, AS and A2 coursework. Though pressure should be building amongst the students, it seems as though it is not. I fear the moments when the realisation of that begins to penetrate their teenage brains and I suffer the ramifications of their current actions!

Here is a wonderful work by Mana which is at least an excellent start…

Michelle with red cloth, 2016. Acrylic on Paper.

Michelle with red cloth, 2016. Acrylic on Paper.

Greg Shaw, 30 June 2016

An Extremely Rare Space

“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.”

― Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road


This has been two weeks of extremely high pressure, as expected: A combination of IGCSE examinations, A’ Level coursework and Personal Studies due, as well as Upper VI final assembly, speech night and leaving traditions that have had to be attended to. I am immensely proud to be the Line Tutor for the Upper VI Year group, though I am never quite sure what qualifies me for that position… Nevertheless, it is highly rewarding to work with these young adults, and I am forever optimistic that these extraordinary young men and women will return to this beautiful land, and make their contribution. How else will our children survive these radicalised environs.

This is what I said to them at their Final Assembly. The second half is probably of more interest than the first:

Upper VI 2015

It is clear that the you have taken a step, and walked without the shadow and weight that previous years have carried under the status ‘new school’ carried. Rather than looking to the past for guidance, you have stood tall and walked forward, independently. These steps have made you unique; you have relied on your own judgement, brought strength, imagination and courage to this institution. You have every reason to walk out here with your heads held high; I applaud you for this.

Whilst you have moved forward, you have not ignored the past, nor the structures that have been created. You sought to build on and improve these where possible, accept and move around and beyond the barricades when impossible, and you have responded to inconsistencies with humour and good nature. When I have lost focus, you have reminded me of one of my own central tenets; that a group only has value when each individual embraces and retains their own individuality. When I have strayed across that imperceptibly faint line, you have pointed it out: that subtle margin between Line Tutor and Dictator.

Your achievements have been extraordinary. You have excelled academically. Your results to date are the highest achieved by any year group at the Academy. You have excelled within the sporting arena, leading your colleagues, peers and the school body with determination and courage. You have represented us culturally, through service and charitable endeavours, with humility, in a way that has brought pride to the Academy. You have created music, art, and drama of an intensity, that has arrested, challenged and astounded us.

You brought us the Knight, you brought us Matthew Mole. You paid for your dance. You wore the most elaborate braids, the largest ‘fros and the shortest skirts. Your parking is wantonly lacking, even by Zimbabwean standards. You acknowledged that whilst good grammar was important, oversized, inflated incapacitatingly large biceps, was importanter (Internet Meme, ibid). The value of your collective late arrivals, would pay for a year of education in this institution. You hold the record for the most so-called “sick” days of any year group to date. You broke the fountain, you broke the driving rules, you broke the record for swimming in the filthiest pond in the city.

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One of our fine leaders…

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The consequence of a bad bet

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 8.22.46 PM(You can find the video of “The Unveiling” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYlzIyM6VDs

You have constantly surprised me, I am often humbled by your imagination, vision and achievements. It is with immense pride, that I am associated with you. You are, and always will be, one of the finest groups of young adults I shall ever work with.

There are few amidst you, who do not understand the extraordinary privilege that it is to be part of this institution. One does not have to look far to notice the extraordinary facilities, to witness their constant development, and the dedication with which they are tended and maintained.  One need not beyond this marquis to see that the administration is constantly driving the Academy forward to keep it abreast with the rapidly changing technological horizons, and ensure that as you leave these environs, you will not be at sea in the world beyond. You do not need to look beyond your classrooms, your common room, your mentors’ rooms, indeed, you do not need to look past your phones to witness the fact that you have at your finger-tips teachers and guides who have invested in you with dedication beyond that which you cannot, at this point, possibly conceive.

But there is a greater, more subtle, more profound privilege of which you are a part. One that you will only begin to comprehend as you move beyond these realms. That is the sacrifices that have been made, the labours that have been endured. Your families’, guardians’ and benefactors’ investment in you that has afforded you an opportunity, a chance, a moment in this space, this place of shelter, this place of protection.

What is the nature of this place, for which sacrifices have been made?

This is a place that acknowledges your right to exist, to grow and to mature in harmony with your kin and countrymen. A place without violence. A place without corruption. A place in which the person with the largest stick does not stand as the head of the hierarchy. The same cannot be said about the space beyond this immediate boundary.

This is a place which acknowledges that the ability to make an expression with a note, brush or movement, is equal to an expression of a work of prose or poem. And that each of those expressions are equal to the study and understanding of our histories and of our physical, social and economic environment. And that each of these, are equal to understanding the make-up of our world, of the chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics that underpin and structure both our past and present. If it is not yet the case that a musical or theatrical performance is equal to a world cup rugby match, then this is a least a space which acknowledges that it should be so. The same cannot be said of the spaces beyond this immediate boundary.

This is a space in which each of you has stood as equal; irrespective of the nature of your particular strengths and weaknesses. A place where provenance, race, or religious bias does not determine your status. A place where you have stood as equal, irrespective of culture, of gender or sexual orientation. The same cannot be said about the space immediately beyond this boundary. This is an extremely rare space and unusual space, and you have had the privilege to pass through it.

The young writer and speaker Adora Svitak said this at a recent TED conference;

“Progress happens because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It is the reason we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children, so that we can grow up to blow you away.”

I believe that we have given you an extraordinary opportunity. Now I offer you this challenge:

Grow up, and blow us away!

Aien, Aristeyein: Always Excellence.”

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Upper VI 2015 donated a series of “gates” on to which leavers’ locks will be locked henceforth

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Callum Du Plessis and I, the final moments of the departure…

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Observations

i. You say the Hellenic Academy motto as “eh En, Ari STEH veen”. It means “Always Excellence”.

Studio One

Just to say that the work that has been submitted, makes this job more rewarding than any I could imagine.

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The progressive decline of the very beautiful studio during the late night mounting endeavours…

The Disembodied Traveller

“In this way, in increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us – not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.”

– John Irving, “Until I Find You”


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Hannah and Eden on top of the cleft rock at Cleveland dam.

I have an A’ Level student who has been considering places to mount an installation, and the cleft rock at Cleveland Dam came to mind. It has been as excellent opportunity to revisit the spot, which I did with my family, and inspired a series of small explorations to the haunts of my childhood. Three years ago, I was invited by the inaugural Toastmasters’ club of the Academy to make a speech. Given my recent preoccupation with the South-Eastern side of this city, I have decided to re-hash that speech, and present it here. I hope that the speaker’s voice is not too irritating to the reader:

The Dam at Makuvisi Woodlands last Sunday

The Dam at Makuvisi Woodlands last Sunday

Rufy in the

Rufy in the “Dam” Makuvisi river…

The Flying Boat, Balancing Rocks, Epworth.

The Flying Boat, Balancing Rocks, Epworth.

Hannah and Eden in the cleft rock, Cleveland Dam

Hannah and Eden in the cleft rock, Cleveland Dam

Balancing Rocks, Epworth

Balancing Rocks, Epworth

The ‘place’ of my early existence was the Southern suburbs of Harare. Within this domain was, amongst other features, the Makuvisi river, which I have dammed in numerous places, the Balancing Rocks, Cleveland Dam and quarry and mountainous lime dumps brilliant white, with turquoise lakes on top. The Northern end of the runway and the five levels of the Parkades, were nightly haunts and became for me the most romantic spots in the city. Every square meter was cycled and explored. Owned. As I look back, there is one significant aspect that I remember about my inhabitance of this domain:

Wherever I went, whatever I did, I took my body.

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Me climbing at the Balancing rocks about 1991 (both in in a greener state). Zoomed in, I notice the most awesome, respected Jack Robinson in striped shirt: One of very few people to mitigate the wreck of my secondary school education.

Climbing at the Balancing rocks about 1991 (both in in a greener state). Zoomed in, I notice the most awesome, respected Jack Robinson in striped shirt: One of very few people to mitigate the wreck of my secondary school education.

Today, the “place” of my inhabitance is considerably more vast. Indeed, it is the same territory as yours: the digital domain which extends literally, across the globe, and into space. Within this, we play and study, we are intimate, we shop, we explore. As we do so, our brains undergo the same chemical reactions that we experience in the physical world, and we are subject to the usual experiences of intrigue, pain, heartbreak, lust, jealousy and anger. And as we travel we abandon our physical selves this side of the digital frontier. We become disembodied.

It is a harsh, vulnerable condition to travel without one’s physical self. We are stripped of the defences we have so pain-stakingly constructed: our be-gymnasiumed bodies, the four corner shoes, dyed hair, multiple earings, “porno-shorts” and bizarre slippers, each which mark our individuality and sense of belonging within a particular group or structure. The curators of the spaces we inhabit know this. They acknowledge our predicament and offer us a solution:

The Profile.

We begin with a little badge; Status. I have “mined” various What’s App Profiles to illustrate my point: One declares that she belongs and that she “believes”; “Your need was abundantly supplied before you knew it”. Just as we do in the physical world, we proclaim our identity as defined by another: “SA” proclaims one. “JS”, says SA, and with a touchingly feminine flair, she adds a heart. On the day of his first anniversary,  “PR” was “available” – very, very bad, whilst his celebrant counterpart offered the disturbing winking tongue-pulling emoji. Altogether, a most disconcerting arrangement.

We proclaim our sporting knowledge; “definitely the best keeper in the country”, says one, and stroke our egos; “Keep up, or cheer me on” announces another. Through public, visible marks, we flesh out our disembodied selves, reassuring those we encounter that we have a life: It is bigger than you see here, it has more depth. “Getting rid of memories is easy”, claims one, unconvincingly; “how do I make you fight?” writes another. Each statement is a breath, a pulse, evidence of our existence.

With status as well developed as possible, we manicure our avatars, our imagery and visual attributes: fat rolls hidden, best smiles and correct lighting. Everything constructed to best represent our self-conception, and thus embodied, we are more adequately armed to occupy these vast territories. The braver ones expose themselves, they write and blog. Some inhabit depraved spaces – but they do so under false identities, masked, like thieves. Others hack, troll and spam – the vandals of the domain.

For most, the reality is that there is little of significance that can be said to many friends, and little of value that we are willing to divulge to largely undefined and unknown audiences. Illusions are created, happy photos, great lives, good times. We engage in the curious modern phenomenon of posting the most inane, inconsequential trivia. We erect billboards for our identities, marking our success with “likes”, carefully garnered through dead-end posts such as: “Like, if you wish cancer didn’t exist”. We make desperate pleas for popularity, adding tags such as “I follow back” (The “I’ll be your friend if you’ll be mine” of social media). It matters little what is said, so long as we are noticed – It is the most fundamental of human concerns. As the philosopher George Berkley observed: “To be, is to be perceived”.

My own Facebook page prompts me daily to “complete” my profile, as though I can be neatly packaged. Nice. It wants me to state where I went to school, a miserable wreckage that I would rather conceal. They want me to state where I work, but I do not define myself by the institution that pays my salary, rather by the human interaction I engage in whilst I am there. But that is not an available option. Daily, they prompt me: “The most popular posts are short, friendly and conversational. Write a post.”

Piss Off.

The quantity of information, the nuances and complexities of my identity does not easily fit this curator’s options. The fleshing out of my new body is a picture of what does not hurt, what is not admitted, the mistakes I have not made. If to “be human is to err” then this identity is arguably everything humanity is not. And I have already spent an extraordinary amount of time constructing it. How complex. How frustrating. How frightening. This is not the simple fathomable arena of my youth.

The Northern end of the runway is marked by a row of red lights. About one hundred meters past these is an impenetrable, heavily monitored fence. There is a road which leads to the Airforce Base to the East, and on its left is another large fenced area, perhaps of about 25 square kilometers. Within this is a large signal beacon about three meters tall, which indicates the line and direction of the runway. For what it’s worth, the beacon is accessible from the Old Twentydales Rd. It provides a spectacular view of the low flying aircraft as they land and ascend.

If you go, take your body, you will feel the downdraft as they pass.

The beacon and the row of lights, taken at lunch today.

The beacon and the row of lights, taken at lunch today.

OBSERVATIONS

i. The internet cable network that runs under the sea is 885,000km long. It is long enough to circle the globe 22 times. This link includes an animation which demonstrates this quite extraordinary thing: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/there-enough-internet-cable-under-sea-circle-earth-22-times

ii. A quick internet search of Cleveland dam reflected my own view; an interesting spot, pleasant walks and fun for children. But spoilt by an excess (even relative to our somewhat questionable standards) of litter. It appeared to be an afternoon drinking spot. Nehanda Radio (http://nehandaradio.com/2013/01/28/cleveland-dam-turned-into-sodom-and-gomorrah/) paints a slightly darker picture, likening it to Sodom and Gomorrah – one would neither enjoy the company of the nightly “bouncing” cars (with tinted windows…), nor the guns allegedly pointed at the guards. Notwithstanding the fact that, according to one featured individual, if you have paid your entry fee, “[y]ou cannot be denied quality time with your wife even in the kitchen, dining room or even car.”

Greg Shaw 3 October 2015