Tag Archives: Teacher

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.

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

 

 

 

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

Razor wire, a gash and some burnt wood (Part 2)

“In the process of creating, meaning will emerge.”

William Kentridge


One thing that is quite apparent is that there is not so much of a demand for mud and barbed wire in the home (not many sofas are made of mud).

Visual notes of a thing that could be matched with a sofa:

IMG_6722            IMG_3023

It is well that I have a salary (“Those who can do, do [rage spit, rage, spew, vomit, ire, more rage], those who can’t, etc.etc. [fury, scream, more violent rage]), thus preclude myself from the “starving artist” identity. I suppose in the minds of many romantics, that is just wrong. I betrayed the cause. God forbid I ever went a step further and marketed my work. I can see that would be very slippery slope:

Income.
Posters.
Website.
Visual prostitution.

#justsaying

The land and its central role in Zimbabwean discourse of recent years seemed to force itself into my work, I think in a general sense, into the work of many contemporary artists. I had not named the various parts of the images as I wrote last week, and the interpretation of the images lacked specificity. A sort of transformation of ideas began to take place. In part, a need to start naming things, or using things with names (as opposed to shape and colour). I think I wanted to form my own ideas a little more clearly, and possibly communicate them more directly.

As with all artistic endeavours, there are a multitude of interwoven strands from which one derives inspiration (so-called…). Like many who paint, I have always been fascinated by the effects of various media, and the possibilities of different surfaces. A student (a Form Two at the time), had crafted a wonderful torso out of aluminium sheeting. She offered me a roll which became a pivotal moment. After a few explorations, I produced the work “Corona”. In that period of a few days/weeks, a relatively brief moment, it brought together numerous ideas and opened possibilities for using particular media and items as a means of figuration.

Corona, 2012. Aluminium, soil and wire on canvas. 120 x 80 cm.

Corona, 2012. Aluminium, soil and wire on canvas. 120 x 80 cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was of immediate interest was that in the way the veneer and wound from before had become torn surface/land, the representation of the wound had become a literal gash, so too had the representation of land, become actual soil. There were many who found a link between the barbed wire and the extremely violent assault that my family and I endured at that time. In my mind this link was not written, but the related idea of defining and identifying territories as well as the land as object (manipulated in the extreme, as had occurred in this country for over 100 years) began to emerge.

What ensued was a series of works that has continued to the present. They have engaged with our claim on resources, our position in relation to these and their central role in numerous narratives during recent years. I shall not attempt a retrospective of my work, that is really not the point, but will mention two works below:

“Hondo” was part of “Sound to Form” exhibition, in which artists responded to various musical works. You can read about my thoughts relating to this work here: http://gregshawzw.tumblr.com/post/54609389484/sound-to-form and can find the music that inspired this work here: http://gregshawzw.tumblr.com/post/55858679181/the-source-of-my-work-below-by-the-renowned-hope (posted with the permission of the renowned Hope Masike). “The Frontier” was produced for “Terra II” at the Gallery Delta.

"Hondo", 2013. Soil, aluminium, oil, nails on paper structure. Height 223cm

“Hondo”, 2013. Soil, aluminium, oil, nails on paper structure. Height 223cm

The Frontier, 2013. Oil, soil, wood, wire on canvas. 140 x180 cm.

The Frontier, 2013. Oil, soil, wood, wire on canvas. 140 x180 cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which brings me to the present. Almost. In 2012, the first Art/Artefact exhibition was mounted at Gallery Delta. Contemporary artists were invited to respond to object d’art from around the continent. Foremost in my mind at the time was the process of re-contextualising what are primarily functional objects. I chose to work with the Tonga door, in itself a beautifully designed, functional object. My response mimicked the form, though obviously non-functional it hopefully brought into question concepts of claims made on territories and the means in which we defend and define them.

Tonga Door, Wood. Height 175cm

Tonga Door, Wood. Height 175cm

Post Colonial Door, Wood, Oil, Razor Wire, Barbed Wire on Canvas, 170 X 71cm

Post Colonial Door, Wood, Oil, Razor Wire, Barbed Wire on Canvas, 170 X 71cm

Art/Artefact II is currently showing Gallery Delta. My response for this exhibition has been to a Giriama Funerary Post. You can find a short blurb about that object on my Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1038223032886843&id=299747193401101. As with many artistic endeavours, the motif that runs through the work came about partly through luck, in that the wooden sections were originally conceived as moulds, as seen in the studio shots below. How often it happens that unintentional moves reveal moments of discovery.

IMG_7277      IMG_7276     Studio

I began this post (Part 1) thinking about characteristics of charcoal. Though I have loved the aesthetic aspects of the substance, one particular quality that is paramount, especially in relation to the funerary post; more so in relation to this extraordinary land: Charcoal has been burnt, it is reduced to a substance that has the ability to be kindled: it embodies, it is potential.

Elegy, 2015. Wood and Charcoal, 123cm x 18cm x 9cm

Elegy, 2015. Wood and Charcoal, 123cm x 18cm x 9cm

OBSERVATIONS

  1. In order to form charcoal bricks, very little moisture is required. A texture like very dry pastry seemed to provide the best results. Drying a brick sized block took more than three weeks.
  2. The work “Corona” was exhibited on the “Colour Africa II” exhibition in Munich. In my records it belongs to Suzie Gliemann of Harare, a long standing supporter and patron of my work.
  3.  According to UN (https://www.newsday.co.zw/2015/09/25/zim-maintains-africa-education-flagship-tag-un/), “Despite the social challenges of the last decade, Zimbabwe has not only met the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) regarding access to primary education, but also remains Africa’s flagship.”

Studio One
Though the deadline day for the Form Four coursework was not without a significant measure  stress, they all made the submission date. The marking of it is a significant task in which myself and three colleagues collaborate: We have clocked up about 10 hours this week. There has been a slight lull after the effort, though their examination is now 14 days away.

IMG_7264I took the Lower VI to the Delta to see the exhibition and draw from the artefacts. They are a demented group. Though I am generally slightly on edge, apprehensive about what may transpire at any given moment, they are lively and entertaining.

This interesting mixed media (iPad/Collage) work is by Oliver Harvey. Though it would not seem so, he is one of the more sane amongst them.

Greg Shaw 26 September 2015.

Razor wire, a gash and some burnt wood (Part 1)

“My songs have nothing to do with war. They are all about the sad insecurities of a balding rock star”

– Chris Martin (The Guardian 17 March 2003)


I picked a piece off of a painting and painted the hole red. It looked like a small wound in flesh. The surface had been afflicted. It was a small wound, it could be construed to have been caused by a sharp stick. There were also scratches, quite deep I suppose. There was a slight translucency in the layers of oil, which spoke to me of a sort of bruising. Once, when I was using my sisters stilts, I slipped. There was a rusty screw sticking out of the handle, and it stuck me hard in the shin. It made a hole right into the bone, quite deep. I never talked about it because of the fear of going to hospital.

Minimal damage.

Contained.

My painting spoke nothing of the carnage that was created and endured at that time. Perhaps that was not the objective. Perhaps that was simply too big to consider. But as a hole in a dam, a picked scab, the injury beneath a toyed with, nuisance piece of loose skin grew and grew: Visually, physically, contextually. I engaged with that initial hole, that small puncture wound. It was the beginning of an obsession with surface and texture, with representation and literalism that would endure till the present.

This is Part 1 of a post about that preoccupation. I write it as my work “Elegy” hangs on the Art/Artefact II exhibition at Gallery Delta, a work a long way from the painting described above. I don’t think I can really speak about it without writing of one element of it’s history, which is what I shall endeavour to do here. I will post the second part next week. (The painting with the hole (Scratching the Facade) formed part of the 2005 exhibition “Embers of Dreams”.

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm

The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

Between then and the present lie a collection of stories of corrupted foundations, damaged structures, isolation, wounds and destruction. Stories of despair, defence, of light, of patience. Of burning, embers and ash. Not ash. Ash has less value – it is a symbol of something departed – it is hard to work with, grey, lacking contrast, lacking substance. Stories that end with charcoal. Charcoal is different. It has another quality; It’s dense, black. It has substance. It possesses the power to be rekindled. Charcoal is potential.

As the wounds grew, so did the necessity to represent them. The acrylic/plaster base became insufficient for the task. Scratches and punctures were no longer the nature of the environment. In search of a sense of greater depth, I took to ripping and layering pieces of canvas, still incorporating the earlier base. There was a transformation taking place; what began as a representation of a wound, gave way to an actual rip and tear. The surfaces which had until now seemed to form a bridge between the abstract and the figurative became literal embodiments of the ideas about which I was thinking. I didn’t ever name the parts, though the surfaces seemed to reflect different aspects. In one a type of skin, in another, panels or rusted metal, in a third burnt panels, broken, insufficient to cover or piece together the carnage. I worked on numerous pieces at a time, as over the layers of canvas, were numerous layers of oils – glaze upon glaze. I think that they had a richness and depth, from memory they were strong, resonant images. Amidst them were moments of light, of dreaming an hope.

The works below are of that era. They were part of the 2007 solo exhibition “The Valley of the Shadow”.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

The culmination of these ripped and layered works ended with: “Enough Said”. What a load of crap. An total misnomer. As if there could have ever been enough said.

List of paintings that I can think of that (when standing alone) are truly able to describe horrific moments:

1. Guernica.

Not that I would rename it, it was a good title. I think for me it was enough said. It marked the end of a two and a half year obsession with those stories, and those processes. It was painted for the 2008 HIFA exhibition, “determine: Nation”, at the National Gallery. At almost two metres in height, it was somewhat overbearing, the colours were strong, the composition had some tension. It remains for me a really significant painting, one I am proud of.

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

OBSERVATIONS

  1. The product DM6, was an acrylic base which dried into a transparent flexible and extremely tough surface. It had the added property of being extremely sticky. It was developed by Peter Eyllis of Pigmento, as far as I understand, with a certain amount of artistic input from his sister-in-law, the renowned artist Helen Lieros. It is a product no longer readily available.
  2. I now use the PVA “book-binding” glue from A.T. Carter. It is as good a water-based glue as any I have used in my career.
  3. Operation Murambatsvina/Drive Out Filth, also known as Operation Restore Order, was a wide-spread government clear-up (decimation) of informal settlements across the country in July 2005. According to Wikipedia, the United Nations estimated at least 700 000 people were directly affected, and over 2m indirectly affected through the campaign.

Studio One

Still from

Still from “Contamination”, Isobel Fox

We are entering the really frantic period (more frantic that usual) of our academic year. The coursework deadlines are looming for the IGCSE students, and the Upper VI. Despite the high pressure, it is also one of the very exciting periods, as the student work peaks and the Final Outcomes are turned in. I spent last Saturday morning with some of the Form Fours. Isobel Fox presented her installation, a work entitled “Contamination”. It is a complex and intriguing work that will hopefully be included in the Hellenic exhibition next term. I have included a link to a tiny detail here: https://vimeo.com/139447880

Greg Shaw, 21 August 2015.