The Unfulfilled Promise: An extraordinary student work

“Poor is the student that does not surpass his master.”

Leonardo da Vinci


The cycle continues. The UVI artists, some of whom have inhabited my studio for six years have moved on, once again. In their place I find my slightly deranged (at least en masse, and in the nicest possible way of course) class of 2016. I believe I mentioned them once before, and have little doubt that I will in future.


Above, is the 2015 class with whom much fun was had, and from which some quite extraordinary work emanated. They look deceptively cheerful and refreshed, following the extraordinary toil of the A2 Coursework. And they look considerably smarter than usual, are not doing hair, nor are they hatching small creatures prematurely, all of which was known to have happened. Unfortunately the corner is cut off of the picture. I think it is symbolic of Raphael, who did not make the picture, or the exhibition of their final work. Sorry dude. Pity, he was the only male student of the year group.

List of Possible Reasons that Few Male Students Take Art:

  1. It’s for “whooses”;
  2. It’s for the academically challenged (which is not the same as);
  3. He’s a real high flyer – destined for the sciences;
  4. It’ll get you nowhere in life (unless you want to teach which is really the same thing;
  5. Neither of [his] parents (or grandparents) can draw a stick man.

Studio One

I wanted to write a post about this extraordinary work, the final outcome of ex-student Amike du Plessis. I have been putting it off until the Cambridge results were released, but also because of other factors: It is a work of such magnitude, that I can say it is without question, the most ambitious work ever produced by a secondary school student that I have ever encountered. Comprising more than 3000 nails and a life-size paper cast of a figure, it arrests the spectator with such extraordinary force that on encounter, one is literally left quite stunned. I will be as bold to say that it is a work of that holds its own within, indeed, is an important contribution to, the contemporary Zimbabwean art scene, and I hope one day to see it exhibited in a wider context.

In this regard, it deserves a thorough and careful reading, which I will write at a later stage. I have been a spectator to the process of creation, and advisor to the student, and think that some space would be beneficial before writing that analysis. I wondered how I would present it in a blog post until I found the opportunity in the February edition of Harare News in which the following Zimbabwean statistics are recorded:

  1. 2 in 3 women experience some sort of violence in their lifetime
  2. Over 40% of cases are not reported to anyone. Survivors rarely seek help.
  3. Mashonaland and Masvingo are the provinces that have the highest prevalence of child marriage – well above 40%
  4. 43% of adolescents aged 13-17 had their first sexual experience forced.
  5. 47% of adolescents aged 13-17 years [old] experience sexual violence and rape multiple times.
  6. 1 in 3 women aged 18-24 in Zimbabwe has experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.

(Mudzonga, T. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence: the hidden scourge”; Harare News. Issue 29, February 2016.).

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” . Nails and Paper, height 218cm. (Photograph by David Brazier).

It is observed that the students of a privileged private school have little to do with the environment presented above. I would argue, that in the face of these egregious statistics, how could they not? Further to that, GBV is only one of many possible starting points of the work. Viewers find meaning, it is not embedded in the work, as is so often observed. Perhaps we should find or consider the structures of a patriarchal society and the insidious behaviours that permeate almost every aspect of our society, the domestic arena; the public arena? Have these structure not conditioned our own histories? Do they not permeate the multitude of cultures, of ideologies and religions that grip so tightly onto our present existence, whether of privileged realms or other? As Mudzonga writes: “We live in a society that endorses and perpetuates an extraordinarily fixed hierarchy that cuts through all social conventions.”



Amike du Plessis, 2015. "The Unfulfilled Promise" (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.
Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.
Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.
Amike du Plessis, 2015. "The Unfulfilled Promise" (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.
Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.












I believe unequivocally that the arts are not some redundant field reserved for the incompetent, whimsical, non-academic, non-achieving members of society. They are the realms of some of the deepest thinkers and most courageous of people and provide a means of reflecting, recording, challenging and opening dialogue about the very nature, the make-up and intrinsic qualities of our existence.

In this regard, as a husband and parent of two daughters, in the face of statistics that give my children a 57% chance of not experiencing sexual violence in their teenage years, what the hell would I be doing if I do not allow or even encourage my students, whether or not privileged, privately educated, or empowered by some other means, to engage with these themes? I would most certainly consider that a failure of some magnitude.

“It is a tricky, dangerous, insidious practice, which is why it is so prevalent, and so hard to talk about. But it is a conversation we must have” (Mudzonga, T. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence: the hidden scourge”; Harare News. Issue 29, February 2016.)


1.Mudzonga does not provide sources for the statistics in the article. However, with only the slightest bit of scratching, the figures that are widely publicised make for some horrific reading:

At Least one Women is raped every 90 minutes in Zimbabwe ( .

Msasa Project records 300 cases of violence against women mthly.(

15 Women are raped every day in Zimbabwe – Zimstat – (

There are numerous reports of this nature which cross our paths only too often.

3. The photographs of the work have been taken by the exceptional artist and photographer David Brazier, to whom I am exceptionally grateful.

2. The process of marking Art is a difficult one, especially as (correctly so) current art theory has dismissed the formal analysis of works, and with that, any independent standards (a topic that demands considerably more discussion). It is worth noting however, that all Cambridge coursework is marked by the respective teaching centres and moderated by Cambridge. Whilst the motivation for this is primarily for practical reasons, it also provides the various submissions to be read in the context in which they were created. In my view, this is very significant, especially as one of the four Advanced level marking criteria is “Knowledge and Critical Understanding”, which provides space for analysis of the work in it’s own cultural context. Our submissions are typically marked by three teachers, and our marking and reports analysed and moderated by the examination body.

3. In what seems a different era, I had a dog called Jezebel, whom I trained, or attempted to do so. I met a man who became my friend, Gordon, an extraordinary dog handler and trainer, who I am confident in saying has notched up more obedience champions than anyone else in this country (as well as numerous records in other disciplines of dog competition). He once told me that the highest achievement he could imagine would be for one of his students to surpass his achievements. At the time, under the influence of youth and I suppose my own delusional, mis-placed sense of self-importance, I was quite shocked. 20 years later, I am happy to agree with him, and also to note da Vinci observations above.

Greg Shaw, 6 February 2016.





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