Carving Lines

Carving Lines, 2021. Mixed Media, 145 x 75 x 30cm. Photograph, David Brazier

This ongoing interrogation into concepts of borders has not, so far, been straightforward. This is not surprising, like any contemplation of ideas of consequence (I don’t mean mine…), there are never simple answers, and the more you look, the more daunting it becomes. Even at a very shallow face value, answering questions such as “should national borders exist?” (yes, sometimes, no…), demands that you take some position. And it’s unlikely, that with any iota of thought, that one might land on Lennon’s Imagine stance with anything other than an immature drifting through lala-land. Maybe I’m just not “dreamer” enough. It seems reasonable, that if you have a nation-state, and that you have a functional relationship with the mechanisms and structures that maintain its workings and ideologies, then you also have something to defend, and some form of boundary in this regard is worthwhile.

It is equally obvious that achieving that relationship, for many people and many parts of the world, is just as “dreamy” as Lennon’s Imagings.

Like most artists, I provide limited explication of my work. David Hockney suggests that the artist should protect some of the mechanisms of their work leaving elements of mystery – perhaps in the manner of a magician. I don’t presume to be in Hockney’s league, mind, or even in the same game, but I do feel that over-explanation becomes limiting, rather than opening. The work Carving Lines is the first of the border works to be exhibited, currently showing at Gallery Delta. What follows is not an explication of the work, but a scant scratching around some of the ideas inherent in the piece.

As mentioned in previous posts, my thoughts emerged with the conception of the current national boundary and the manner in which it was created. We know that there were already divisions and territorial conflicts in the region prior to this point, but the 1884-85 partition resulted in divisions being codified on a map. The map stands as a move towards an “agreement”, or symbol or tool to determine and endorse who “owned” (maintained/administered) what part of the geography. The map becomes a locus for interrogation of these ideas, controversial as they are. Obviously, that it was created and imposed on the indigenous inhabitants with extraordinary disregard, should be the overriding line of enquiry through which everything else is considered – it has been my intention that the general character of the work suggests the violence of this event.

I am intrigued by the idea that these territories were conceived (carved up/allocated/grabbed?) from a remote and mediated position – whilst the means in which this was achieved has changed considerably, the manner in which we understand territories via Google Earth, or similar, echoes the process and secondary understanding (if not the motive). I have a fascination with maps, marking trails and hikes and virtually exploring various geographical locations. My experience in this regard underpinned the idea that it is possible, with limitations, to garner an experience of a place virtually. As I explored Tuli in this way, I became aware that my “gaze” in some ways related to the processes of possession, exploration and experience of that location.

The bottom layer of the work, blackened in bitumen, evolves from my own conceptions of the Tuli circle through that process (Tuli as a starting point is discussed here). It refers not only to my own experience, but refers too to that initial mediated experience of the 1880s and ’90s. The colonial gaze. The processes of virtual experience removes the human element from the imagery, and I had some concern that in a similar way to the colonial landscape paintings which often presented the landscape as uninhabited, my own work has arrived with similar lack of human representation as though they are not part of this discourse. Whilst that aspect is worth some discussion, I think that looking backwards, whilst the this is a positive aspect, as it precludes the possibility of me attempting to speak of another person’s experience or history. The mapping involved in that layer of the work established not only aesthetic elements, but provides an underpinning – perhaps a literal base layer to the ideas.

The horns were a starting point for me, and have since evolved into something different. They initially acted as a visual metaphor, deriving from the oxen at the Tuli circle, but with many possible meanings emerging from that. The actual cleaning of them needed a YouTube education (along side “how to clean the speed sensor of a Toyota Prado”, “how to re-connect the cable to the gear shifter of a Toyota Harrier”, how to self-heal an achilles tendon, how to cope with Long Covid, and why, apparently, the underlying cause of any pain is cancer…), thankfully, as always, the educators obliged. I found that I faced ethical questions with regard to working with animal products, but to some extent, the physical engagement with the horns seemed to muffle some of that nagging. Perhaps, in the manner of a meat-eater that erases from the mind the sight of cows heading to the abattoir (a personal and common experience), I just got on. As the horns were cleaned, it was fascinating to uncover the visual attributes of the objects, and I was pleased with the way the line of the tear within the wire, the central rent of that layer could be aligned with the markings – whilst the work has a more sculptural form, I felt I was painting, but in 3D.

Anyone familiar with my work will know the constant presence of the razor wire over the past couple of years. I this instance, it forms a central layer. A marking on a map is a symbol, but it is “useless” (depending on objectives) unless it corresponds with a practical or physical reality – I suppose, that is what a map is. The wire makes reference to that physical entity; the boundary, the border, the division, the carving. That which determines who is inside, and who is out. Who am I, and who is the “other”. It points to the question of who controls the opening and closing and who may proceed across this line. It asks, how are these crossings facilitated, when are they legal/illegal, what are the requirements to make a crossing – who should administer these requirements, and to what extent are these enabled. These are complex questions, they point not only to physical realities, but to ideas of rights and the relationship of the individual to the state. In this regard, they also enquire of the nature of the crosser, this is a two way experience. These are not, it seems, questions that might be dismissed with an imagining of “no countries”.

I shall conclude with the observation of the fact that the work is described with a third dimension, a 30cm measurement. It is not a map, nor a line on a map. As Francis Alÿss demonstrates in his exceptional work The Green Line , a line on a map represents a dimension – one that might take a period of time to cross. The crossing is a process, not a moment of singularity. That passage itself is a period of enquiry. Border theorist Johan Schimanski 1 observes that a border represents not only a boundary, but an opening, that it’s crossing reveals a passage. There is a transformation of the border as it is crossed, and this necessarily has a transformative affect on the crosser. Once crossed, we do not conceive of the border in the same way. Each of the layer of my work has an opening; the blackened maps and bitumen are created on bamboo mats that have a transparency, the wire is torn from top to bottom and the horns echo this opening. These ideas are begun here, within the third dimension – this is a work that incorporated levels of looking, and in doing so, one engages with that process of time, and it is hoped, with the ideas lightly scratched out above.

Greg Shaw,

20 June, 2021, Harare.

  1. Schimanski, Johan. (2011). Crossing and reading: Notes towards a theory and method. Nordlit. DOI: 10. 10.7557/13.1835. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/33417018_Crossing_and_reading_Notes_towards_a_theory_and_method(Accessed 4 February 2021).

Horns and a Circle

Hit the road. It’ll help you work out where you’re going

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I begun thinking about boundaries with regard to our national perimeter as I wrote of in previous posts (Outlines and Outlines One and Two). As I thought about this framework, it seemed to fall into three conceptual sections, the last of which was the present condition of the nation state which I touched on previously, and within which most of my work will emerge. It relates to my own conditions and my present, and is the position where my voice is most authentic. Like any area of inquiry, as you look, it just seems to get bigger and bigger and trying to find a point of focus becomes harder the more you look at it and think about it.

I needed to find a means of accessing the concepts, a starting point somehow, a window or opening. Art making is different to speaking and writing, I think. There is less definition, thoughts and ideas hang onto the work, or can be attached to the work, or can be interpreted from the work but the work itself is less explicit, perhaps closer to poetry and certain forms of than to writing.

I began thinking about the work in relation to the initial drawing of the boundaries, proceeding from the partitioning of Southern Africa at the Berlin conference of 1893/94, and the Royal Charter of 1889. I wanted to incorporate some of the materials I had used up till now – it has never worked for me to make radical changes in direction in terms of media, a gradual and organic transition has always been the way I have worked. But I did want to be able to introduce new ideas and materials and was open to any ideas. 

The entry point into the Matabele territory at the Shashe river by the BSAC, and the establishment of Fort Tuli and the Tuli Circle provided the starting point for both the aesthetic qualities and the specific materials employed. Tuli circle is significant for two reasons; firstly, it is the point at which the pioneer column entered what is now known as Zimbabwe as they crossed the Shashe river. Secondly, as the name implies, there is a mathematically drawn semi-circle, which departs from the borderline running down the thalweg of the Shashe river, and follows an arc at a 10 mile radius from Fort Tuli, the site of the original pioneer camp. The circle demarcated an area defined in agreement between the pioneers and the local inhabitants, within which the cattle belonging to the local inhabitants would not be allowed to enter. The reason for being to protect the oxen of the column from the rinderpest disease that was inflicting the cattle and prevalent throughout southern Africa at this time. As the border became formalised, the circle became incorporated into the national boundary.

The second section has its roots in the 1964 conference of the AOU in Cairo. At this meeting, the declaration that the borders of African States on the day of their independence constituted a “tangible reality”, the participants pledged that they would respect the borders uti possedetis juris1 as determined in the declaration (UNGA 1964: 172). The acceptance of these borders may be read not as an acceptance of this aspect of colonial legacy, but as an acknowledgement of an irreversible reconfiguration of the nature of the respective territories. 

As I began to think about work relating to the above, I began to see how these two concepts might give rise to the materials I might use, and underpin ideas of form and structure. Ideas about making lines, division, violence and imposing structures on top of structures. Ideas of incongruence and immutability, of structures and boundaries. As I did so, different materials and different forms begun to emerge. The circle motif derived from Tuli was a starting point, but more importantly, the idea of cattle horns emerged as visual metaphors, or carriers of meaning within the work.

I keep the advert for Nike above stuck up in my studio, and it’s a phrase I often repeat it to my pupils. Art making is a creative process, and one more inclined toward discovery, rather than merely making solutions or representations of ideas – I am reminded of the wonderful quote of William Kentridge, “in the process of making, meaning will emerge”. Early works are in progress, whilst ideas pile up as some sort of backlog in my head – most of those are discarded along the way, but others emerge as I continue to figure out where I’m going.

Greg Shaw,

Harare, 26 April 2021

Notes

  1. uti possidetis juris (UPJ) is a principle of customary international law that serves to preserve the boundaries of colonies emerging as States.  Originally applied to establish the boundaries of decolonized territories in Latin America, UPJ has become a rule of wider application, notably in Africa.  The policy behind the principle has been explained by the International Court of Justice in the Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Mali) Case

    “[UPJ is a] general principle, which is logically connected with the phenomenon of the obtaining of independence, wherever it occurs. It’s obvious purpose is to prevent the independence and stability of new States being endangered by fratricidal struggles provoked by the challenging of frontiers following the withdrawal of the administering power…Its purpose, at the time of the achievement of independence by the former Spanish colonies of America, was to scotch any designs which non-American colonizing powers might have on regions which had been assigned by the former metropolitan State to one division or another, but which were still uninhabited or unexplored.” (Cornell Law School [O], Legal Information Institute. “Uti Possidetis juris”. Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/uti_possidetis_juris).
  2. United Nations General Assembly, 1964. Resolutions Adopted by the First Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Cairo, UAR from 17 20 21 July 1964.

Outlines and Outlines (2)

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

Robert Frost, Mending Wall

This follows the last post, Outlines and Outlines, the meandering pre-thoughts of some of the ideas underpinning my work. As mentioned previously, I am playing catch-up here for a while, the work being made now has moved on and has different and deeper concepts as I will write about in time.

From early consciousness the idea of boundaries and territories has intrigued me. I have a fascination with maps and their virtual and digital iterations, and the actual land and geography is intriguing. As mentioned previously, the manner in which it has been carved up and demarcated occupies my mind. As I turn my focus to the national boundary, I think back to my indignation as a child (that persists) at the notion that I might be granted or denied access to another place on the globe by virtue of where I happened to have been born. With maturity came the cognisance of the actual significance of this situation and the realisation of the implications of a random birthplace in the world (speaking from the point of view of a particular consciousness inserted into a body somewhere, haha, not a generational selection of where one, or one’s children may happen to inhabit). The significance of this situation is well described below in the words of Adekunle Ajala1:

… the location of one boundary may determine for millions of people the language and the ideas which their children would be taught at school, the books and newspapers they would be able to buy, and the kind of money they would use, the markets in which they would buy and sell and even sometimes the kinds of food they might be permitted to eat. Besides, it determines their national culture with which they shall be identified, the army in which they might serve and also the soil which they might be called upon to defend with their lives, whether or not they choose to defend it.

Within the boundaries, the socio-economic/political aspects have been part of my work for a while, but so too the other aspect that Ajala points to, the actual relationship of an individual with the land – or, as he describes, the soil. It seems that when the first goes rotten, there is less possibility for the latter to emerge, or perhaps that is a myopic view. It may be that when the structures crumble, there is only the relationship between the individual and their land, but that is subject to the prevailing conditions. Or maybe I am just radically over-simplifying the whole scenario, which is more likely. It is worth noting that Ajala’s text above is dated 1983, at which point the globalisation we currently experience was unlikely to have been conceived of – the manner in which the boundaries in question have changed has been radical in this regard and informs later work.

Little expresses the impact of these forces on both individual and groups of people more clearly than the global migration crisis we have witnessed over the past few years. For millions of people, not only “a better life”, but simple survival has meant a move (or attempted move) from one bordered territory to another, sometimes with costs so extreme they can barely be comprehended. Closer to home is our own migration and diaspora story, which whilst does not seem to embody the level of desperation seen elsewhere, undoubtedly includes stories which would fill one with horror or heartbreak. My own deliberations regarding where and how I should live and the extent to which these affect me seem considerably trite in relation, and it is with caution and sensitivity that I approach these ideas. Where to position my viewpoint, and how to interrogate things in a personal and informed manner, I think is one of my biggest challenges as I go forwards. 

It was against this broad backdrop that I turned my consciousness to the boundaries of Zimbabwe. Like most people have done, I have often looked at the nature of the shape and wondered how it came to be, why there are straight lines, who decided it should follow the river or the mountains in some parts, and why there is that curious semi-circle shape in the southern boundary. Judy Best and Lovemore Zinyama2 have written about the drawing and evolution of the boundary in considerable detail and I have loved reading their work. They note that by the end of 1891, the broad conception of the modern boundary was drawn, though it is clear that as the BSAC unrolled their occupation under the 1889 Royal Charter, the limits of their claim was at best vague. The Charter authorised the company to operate in “the region of South Africa lying immediately to the north of British Bechuanaland, and to the north and west of the South African Republic, and to the west of the Portuguese Dominions” (Best and Zinyama 1985:1).  The northern limits were initially left deliberately vague, but over the following years were established. The boundary emerged as a line demarcating a claim on a land by people who did not belong there, who had no right to the wealth of those territories. 

They took no notice of how, what or who this line divided, they made a line to safeguard their loot from their accomplices. They paid little heed to the fact that the drawing of this line was a violence imparted on the land and its inhabitants. Their ignorance and callousness is clearly expressed by the well known quote of Lord Salisbury in 1906: “We have been engaged in drawing lines upon maps where no white man’s foot ever trod; we have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers were”. One of the works made to date deals with the idea of the line as violence, it will be exhibited within the coming weeks and I will write about it then. Here is a detail in the meantime.

If I possessed a sense of indignation about my conditions, it is of absolutely zero significance when compared to what must have been the outrage and disbelief of the inhabitants of the southern African territories that were to become demarcated, stolen and claimed through combinations of force and deceit in the years that followed. It is only with bewilderment that I think of this from my 2021 perspective – no words that come to mind can possibly come close to describing what transpired. More importantly, whilst I am part of this ongoing story, to speak on behalf of others in this regard would constitute not only more arrogance, but another theft; it is not my intention to speak where my voice does not belong.

The colonial enterprise in all its vileness is well documented and we are all part of an ongoing process of facing its consequences. Whilst I hope that my work contributes in some way to this process, it is not my primary intention. My main interest lies with the boundaries themselves, their nature as obstacles, markers and indeed passages. A few sketchbook pages are included below as conclusion.

Greg Shaw,

14 April, 2021

  1. Ajala, A. 1983. Africa Spectrum: “The Nature of African Boundaries”. Africa Spectrum , 1983, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1983), pp. 177-189. Sage Publications, Ltd. [O]: Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40174114 (Accessed 10 February 2021). 
  2. Best, J. and L.M. Zinyama, 1985. Journal of Historical Geography: “The Evolution of the National Boundary of Zimbabwe” (p419-432) [O].  Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0305748885801018 (Accessed 2 February 2021).

Rembrandt @ 350

350 years after Rembrandt’s death, the forces of light and dark that he seemed to wrestle with in so much of his work (both literally and metaphorically) seem to be overtly present in our current context. It was with this in mind that I approached the work I produced for the exhibition Rembrandt @ 350, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, in conjunction with the Netherlands Embassy. Artists were invited to respond to specific work of the Dutch Master and submit for selection. Of the two works I created, one was selected for the exhibition (in my view, the stronger more challenging of the two was omitted). This is the second time I have worked in response to Rembrandt, and it was interesting to me that the work was considerably further removed from the originals in comparison, this time conceptually heavier, driven by the nature of our current context. The exhibition first appeared at National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare, and has now travelled to the National Gallery at Bulawayo where it hangs until 20th December. Below are the two works created and the texts that accompanied them.

Greg Shaw,

3rd December 2019

Wrestling with the Darkness

Wrestling with the Darkness, 2019. Oil, Tissue, Bitumen, Wood and Wire. 200 x 150cm

This work considers the small but intense painting, The Raising of the Cross. Rembrandt paints himself participating in one of the most prominent moments of Western texts, an event that simultaneously embodies the inter-related, extreme poles of evil and righteousness. He seems to be wrestling with these forces and it is written into every aspect of the work. He paints an alter-ego, staring out of the space at his actual self – the painter, staring out at the viewer. An acknowledgement of a shared presence, a shared participation, a shared culpability. You, as much as I, have within you the potential for immeasurable harm and immeasurable good. These are our actions, this is our world, this is our darkness, you, and I are part of this great evil, this great sacrifice – you, as much as I, are the reason for this necessity.

The Raising of the Cross, 1633.

Of Rembrandt’s paintings, this composition is perhaps the most striking for its discomfort and unease. It is startling in its tension and its ability to disturb: The weights are not balanced, the diagonals not resolved, the colours disquieting. The figure of Christ appears more human than deity; diminished, undignified. He stares to the void on the left: The past; histories of darkness. This moment is prior to the call to His Father, prior to the Centurion’s piercing, prior to the final tearing of the temple veil. This moment is the embodiment of chaos – the collision of light and dark. 

I have chosen to respond significantly larger than the original work, endeavouring to evoke a similar sense of unrest and distress, I hope to have achieved a sense of the immense struggle of Rembrandt. There is little reference to the figurative details of the composition, rather, a consideration of the structure in an attempt to retain the sense of chaos. The materials I employ are those I have been using in recent months. They speak to the matrix that surrounds us; that of control and fragility. This work aims to reflect the great forces at play in our own context. Those forces aiming to wrestle the chaos, the darkness, the despair, into some state of order.

The Redeemer Unseen

The Redeemer Unseen (Studio photograph), 2019. Tissue, Bitumen, Wire and Steel. 148 x 200cm

This work considers Rembrandt’s Christ on the Cross (1631), a small, very powerful work in which Christ hangs illuminated in the visual and metaphorical darkness. I am captivated by the manner in which Rembrandt strips every extraneous consideration apart from the figure of Christ who seems to have lost connection with the terrestrial context and by virtue of the carefully balanced composition is suspended timelessly, endlessly. His isolation seems absolute, His illumination other-worldly. Unlike The Raising of the Cross, this Christ is deified; transcendent. We do not look from below, as may be expected, but at eye-level with Christ. We are drawn to consider the righteousness of the sacrifice.  We are called to confront ourselves and consider, what is the nature of the redeemer. How does this figure confront/transcend the darkness that surrounds him.

Christ on the Cross, 1631

I have worked considerably larger than the Rembrandt painting with the intention to draw the spectator into the work – rather than contemplating the sacrifice from afar. The Christ figure is unseen, and a view of the structures underpinning the darkness is visible. The viewer is challenged to consider the nature of these structures and the nature of the darkness itself and how they may respond in their own context. I have employed the materials that have intrigued me in recent months – those that suggest violence, demarcation, protection, division and control, as well as those that evoke aspects of fragility and temporality. 

 

 

The Fireman’s Knife

A Tribute to My Father

I have a specialist knife that belonged to my father. It is a sort of flattened “S” shape, with a handle at one end and the blade on the inside curve of the other, like a sickle. It has no sharp point, just a rounded, curved, protected end. It is held by a broad, curved sheath with no clips, so that it can be quickly and easily used.

It is a Fireman’s knife, and its job is clear. You can imagine it being used to cut a person’s belt, for example, but without inflicting any other damage to any part. It is a sharp, indispensable tool, there when you need it the most, and it does no harm. In my mind, it is symbolic of my dad.

He was there when you needed him, he was sharp, quick witted, reliable, protective, and he did no harm. It seems to me that if you can go through your life doing no harm, that is a very good place to begin. He was kind, generous with what he had, considerate of people and always willing to give his time to assist wherever there was a need. He was without malice, patient, slow to anger and above all, a man who loved and strived for peace around him.

As you might have guessed, he was at one point in his life, a Fireman. Perhaps one of the most noble of professions, with the potential for the literal sacrifice of the self, for the sake of others. I think it was a principle that guided my father in relation to his family. He did not pursue his own interests at the cost of us, indeed, he went through his life with the good of his family motivating his actions, with mum at the pinnacle.

He was a man of gentle, albeit slightly off-kilter humour and unusual skills. He could blow pipe-smoke into ant holes and make it appear elsewhere in the garden. He could solve complex puzzles, both physical and cerebral and could balance a teacup and saucer onto the firm mound of his belly. In later years he became a skilful photographer and somehow, from a very non-alcoholic background, he learnt enough about whisky to run the “tastings”, convincingly, and with great mirth.

He was a master driver, demonstrating this through avoiding collisions on more than one occasion (a necessary skill for this part of the world). The pinnacle of this talent was perhaps the fleeing from a herd of very-angry elephants. The blinding display of expertise saw my father reverse a Zebra Van down a windy, tree-lined dirt road at considerable speed until, to the relief of the panicked family we had successfully fled from the wall of charging beasts. It remains an act of heroism that has imprinted my mind, forever.

As much as he loved his family, mum was the centre of his world. His loyalty to her was beyond description, we all knew that. He would have followed her to the end of the world, but it was to Scotland that they travelled where they rebuilt their life. As long as he was with mum, he had the world.

The man I found conducting whisky tastings at the lodge (with maximal enjoyment by myself, the patrons and seemingly my father) was not the same man I remembered leaving Zimbabwe. He had been renewed by Scotland and her people and I am forever grateful to that country and community for this. But I do not forget that it was this brutal and beautiful country Zimbabwe that forged the man that he was and know that these are two sides of the same coin. The qualities so  prominent in dad, honesty, integrity, peacefulness and intolerance of wrong, are those I will search for in myself, and hope to have inherited. 

I will be forever proud of you, and proud to be your son.

Gregory

 

Variations

“A true creator knows that you follow the thing to where it’s going, not to where you think it ought to go.”

— Adam Savagevia Tim Ferris Podcast
Photograph of Jessica’s Final Outcome to the Coursework, “Hive of Activity”

As our annual exhibition draws to a close, I have taken a moment to acknowledge the many pupils of our department and applaud the effort they have made at every level and their many achievements of varying magnitude. I also shout out to my colleagues, Lisa and Mary-Ann who travel this road with me, share the rewards, frustration and exhaustion but ultimately, the inspiration of this endeavour! The pride we have in our department is considerable.

The exhibition is mounted in the three studios, with Forms 1 & 2 (13  & 14 yrs) in the first, Form 2 & 3 (15&16yrs) in the second, and the Upper and Lower 6 (17 & 18yrs) in the third. Our spaces are beautiful, light and interesting, but are hard to describe through photographs. Hopefully, the following slides give some idea of each of the rooms.

Studio Three, below: Forms 1 & 2

Studio Two, below: Forms 3 & 4


Studio Three, below: Forms Lower and Upper VI

Below: Moments, all ages.

We were delighted that two of our pupils were the recipients of Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards, with Michaela being awarded “Best AS pupil in Zimbabwe”, and Isla being awarded “Top in the World”, for her Advanced Level submission. These require their own posts, which hopefully will happen in time (they are queued – there are a number of previous winners who deserve acknowledgement!).

Michaela’s AS submission below: (top left, Coursework Final Outcome; top right and bottom, Controlled Test Final Outcome and Supporting Work detail)

Video of Isla’s Final Outcome Installation and details of supporting work with Personal Study below:

It is a privilege to work with our pupils and to see, once again, their accomplishments on display. 

Studio One

A good crop of Form Threes begin their explorations into coursework, whilst the Form Fours edge closer to their IGCSE submissions. The Whey eat cake, plan bake offs, crush each other to hear their “real” laughter and contemplate their AS Coursework. Barbarians Unleashed remain somewhat savage as the pressure of A Level begins to mount.

Observations

  1. The department currently has 352 pupils. Every effort was made to include at least one piece of every pupil on the exhibition.
  2. It is estimated that over 11,000 pieces of work (some small, some artist studies, others large paintings, sculptures and installations) were made in the past twelve months. Each of these has had some engagement with one of the three teachers, which is staggering.

Greg Shaw,

16 May, 2019. Harare.

Residue

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road: Original Scroll

I have a piece of bread nailed to the studio wall. Dry, broken. About one quarter of a slice remains. It’s from the year 2013, and whilst in my mind I can locate its provenance, and know it was part of a joke, my recollection of the specifics are now vague. I point to it frequently, but guard it’s fragility in the knowledge that it holds a valuable place, as residue of the unfolding history of the studio and the many that have now passed through. 

This very brief post is a shout out to the many amazing characters that have inhabited Studio One, whether their own residue be part of the wall or whether they simply gazed past it, or indeed were unaware of its existence, I trust that wherever they are, they are enjoying life to the full, and that there exists in them also, the residue of this space.

Greg Shaw, 10th April, 2019

P.S. Esther says “hi”.

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.”

 

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

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