Tag Archives: Zimbabwean

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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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

 

 

 

About things said, and unsaid

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large – I contain multitudes.”

-Walt Whitman


Greg shaw, 2013. "Day 75". Digital drawing, 1408 x 1920px.

Greg shaw, 2013. “Day 75”. Digital drawing, 1408 x 1920px.

Having written a few posts, I signed up to the WordPress Blogging 101 course some time back, which was oversubscribed. However, the first assignment arrived in my inbox this week (not the most opportune time…) which was to make a post defining what this page is about. It seemed a good idea, so here it is:

I am above all, a husband and parent to two daughters. These are the most sacred things to me, followed by my three dogs. Like each of the following aspects, they are part of my self-identity. More than the others, I hold them carefully and closely to me, mostly away from the scrutiny of the world, quietly: they require no public endorsement to accord them their inestimable value.

My wife Shaunagh, and my two daughters Hannah and Eden with me at Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens near Harare.

My wife Shaunagh, and my two daughters Hannah and Eden with me at Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens near Harare.

My tagline of my various media states: Artist. Teacher. Zimbabwean.

If only things were as simple as a single word. I make art and have some reputation in my country, though in recent years, my output has been a little limited. It is in constant negotiation between the other agents within my life, and has settled into a status quo that I have come to accept as part of this time of my life. A life I would dare not tamper with, for it is an excellent one! I believe wholeheartedly in the place of visual arts in society, and their ability to elucidate aspects of our context and time.

Two Lists of Observations of Teachers

One

  1. They have the power, the presence, the authority to absolutely decimate one’s aspirations, to belittle, to render a sense of worthlessness.
  2. They can humiliate beyond one’s possible imagination.
  3. They have a propensity to fail to “teach”.
  4. In years past (and I fear present), they can effect random beatings, with a variety of objects, as was normal in my junior and secondary education. The picking up of an eight year old by his ears and the thrashing a 12 year old with with a ruler until he begged for mercy in front of the class seem to stick in my mind. Cracking students heads together (one in each hand) was an un-extraordinary event at one institution at which I once taught, nor was a sharp blow to the face with an open hand, of each member of a class of students who lined up for the occasion.

Two

  1. One English teacher, made secondary school a more tolerable place than it would have been without him.
  2. As previously written, my mentor Helen Lieros was instrumental in the transformation of my life.
  3. My tertiary education was full of the most insightful, hard-working and dedicated members of the profession, many of whom I have the utmost respect and for, and whose opinions about my work remain invaluable.
  4. I am surrounded by inspirational teachers and professionals for whom I have the greatest respect, at the institution at which I now work, and at which Studio One (of which I often write) is located.
  5. My wife Shaunagh is a Grade 2 teacher, also extraordinary, dedicated to perhaps the toughest part of any educational phase!

 

Walking Home, 2009. iPad drawing, 1042 x 1902 px.

Walking Home, 2009. iPad drawing, 1042 x 1902 px.

I am patriotic, and love the country into which I was born. It is extraordinarily beautiful, and inhabited by warm, peace loving people. Even the name is seriously cool:

 Z      I      M      B      A      B      W      E

Houses of Stone

In a conversation with the author John Irving, Phillip Dodd says “…I have a view of all of us, that we are all marked by our generation, that you can leave the ‘60s and the ‘40s when you were born, but they cannot leave you…”. I am a white Zimbabwean, born in the early 70s, and marked by that. That is, I was a child during the brutal liberation war. I am not of the generation that fought that awful, but seemingly inevitable war, nor am I a “born free”, though I certainly identify with that era. I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about my in-between status, and the manner in which it contextualises my existence.

Self-I.D. 2016. Digital drawing, 2480 x 3508px

Self-I.D. 2016. Digital drawing, 2480 x 3508px

It seems then, that this blog is a narrative of the larger strands that make up my self identity. It runs parallel to my own visual arts, that of my students, and my teaching. It is framed within an extraordinary but sometimes immensely challenging country.

Greg Shaw, 8 February 2016.

Roar Meet

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

-Pablo Picasso

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others.


We finished our final art exams for the term on Sunday. Form Three exams, an enjoyable period, where innovation and creativity is awarded as highly as technical skill. I am happy to say that for the most part, the ‘Threes came to the party! Our Art exams are quite well structured, with an emphasis on coursework and preparation, and only a part based on actual “controlled testing”. For the most part, I am an examination hater (h8r): The Art of the Short Memory Test: of Information that will Never Need To Be Recalled On The Spot Again. Unless I suppose one is a first-responder, or in some other crisis situation, or watching The Chase, etc. …. Of course there are the aspects of applying knowledge, and testing understanding of concepts; I get that. But still.

List of things I personally dislike about writing examinations:

  1. Studying.
  2. Writing examinations.

Let me not be mis-understood in regard to learning; I love that! And I love research and understanding, projects and creating, and most of all growth, which is I think what this post is about.

Picasso is famously quoted as saying “all children are artists, the difficulty is to remain an artist as one grows up.” I know this is true; my eldest daughter painted this this when she was very young:

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

She still makes beautiful art, but now with a little more self-consciousness, embodying Picasso’s words above. The youngest daughter does not suffer from that affliction yet. Hopefully never, though that is wishful thinking. There is too much process in the way; we are too enmeshed in the system, not to mention peer/teacher/parent expectation, nor I suppose the expectations of the self. But she is not there yet, and in recent months we have seen some extraordinary creations. Approximately 14 A4 sheets were glued together into a long scroll, which was illustrated and coloured from end to end. It included statements and conditions, being a petition against eating pigs which we were all invited to sign.

She loves pigs, this is a drawing of a rainbow pig. It can fly:

Eden, Rainbow Pig.

Eden, Rainbow Pig. A4

But it was the drawing below that motivated this post. This is a drawing of a crocodile in search of uncooked protein. It could also be a crocodile that is very vocal, in search of protein, or a crocodile that is in search of company. It was with delight that I stumbled on the work on Sunday evening, and also with the vaguest tinge of dismay, with the realisation that after more that 25 years of art-making, I will ever be able to make a drawing like this without it being utterly contrived:

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

I suppose in honesty, that it is the ROAR MEET which is the highlight of the drawing, and that most likely there are many readers decrying the employment of some quite suspect English (H8RS!!). Thankfully, 1: Dealing with that aspect lies in the more than competent hands of my wife, teacher extraordinaire (it is “her ticket”), and that 2. The Art aspect seems to be well in control.

Those who are not too busy hating on the English may sense the extraordinary contour line of the reptile, at its most exquisite on the arch of the back, sway of the tail and along the bottom jaw; Perhaps some sense the quite spectacular relationship between positive and negative shapes formed between the land and animal, most profound in the relationship between speech bubble and jaws! Most students of art would understand that once a corner has been cut off from the composition, like the bottom left above, there is no way back – except that somehow, by virtue of the open ended triangle beneath the tail, a delicate balance is achieved.

Perhaps the more perceptive will notice how at the juncture of the lines that describe the land, a really strong suggestion of spacial recession is created. I cannot believe though, that anyone would look long enough to notice that the very same juncture seems to be reflected in the chance meeting of the base of the “A”, and the top of the “T”.  And I am almost certain, that only a select few (perhaps those schooled by the venerable Martin Van Der Spuy) would observe the employment of the concept of Theme and Variation, observable in only the most exemplary of draughts-people: Where the arrow of the speech bubble establishes the visual theme, the line of teeth takes the form, repeats it in the first variation. The line of spikes along the spine form the third variation and  the scales on the body a fourth…. If they noticed that, they may too have understood that the structure of the feet is directly inverted, varied and repeated in the structure of the grass, and that in both forms, they relate to the initial theme).

Why else would this drawing hold together so beautifully?

But I am not suggesting that Eden is some sort of child prodigy, or that she is in any way more accomplished of better than any one else’s child (she is, so is Hannah, but I am not saying that). The point is that like all of our children, she makes beautiful pictures, over and over again. And she tells stories and voices her ideas. And it is our remit (since we  have the absolute privilege, not only to provide education for our children, but also to teach them), not to bugger that up.

There is hope.

As I have written, the Upper VIs have departed (leaving a hole), submitted their sketchbooks, portfolios and research components and we await their results eagerly. But the result is only a part of the story – the rest is the growth and learning that has taken place during their time in studio. This goes beyond the visual arts, I hope that they leave having learnt a whole load more than that, as I have, from them. Nevertheless, if this growth can be measured within their work, maybe that is something.

One of them. Kayla, found her Form One sketchbook, and brought it in to show me. Here is the first homework drawing that she made for me, six years ago.There are many good qualities about the drawing, and during the course of that first term, her drawing improved considerably.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Here are some of her more recent works, in various media:

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3

Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.

Her work is very beautiful, and to see this small strand of this section of the journey laid out as such provides me with some optimism; that in the future, there will be places where people might not say:

“it’s Raw meat…”, but instead,

“how unique, how marvellous”.

OBSERVATIONS

  1. A total of 41 hours of exams have been written this term, although there was an 8 hour overlap. Typically, four of us invigilate simultaneously, making it a quite substantial input into the process.
  2. Martin Van der Spuy remains one of the most highly regarded teachers of art that has passed through this country. His influence is seen throughout many of the most highly regarded painters of the past two decades.
  3. Hannah still draws beautiful works.
  4. Eden remains obsessed with pigs.

Greg Shaw,10 November, 2015.

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:

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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.

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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.