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In the pre-covid era, urbanite Zimbabweans commuted on public taxis locally known as kombis. That was before the government banned them in Harare and other big cities. On an overloaded kombi a few passengers would sit behind or besides the driver’s seat (kugariswa pakadoma in Shona). In that position, they would be facing the rest of the passengers, directly looking them in the eyes. In some instances, that sitting position was reserved for individuals whose fares fell short of the required amount. In the ever-evolving local urban lingo, Ghetto Youths would say one is ‘facing the nation.’

For this exhibition, the Zimbabwe-born artist Option Nyahunzvi appropriates the concept of ‘facing the nation’ to capture the complex scenarios he faces head-on on his travels and in his quest to understand how other Black people live or get by in life. In the process (mukungwavhangwavha) he gets to appreciate the challenges faced by others, as well as a sense of their accomplishments.

He takes note of the similarities and differences in comparison with his environment back home. The quest to find out, understand, and perhaps fulfil the soul transcends the physical realm as it involves serious spiritual transformation as he encounters different cultural and spiritual beliefs. It is a never-ending process of serious dialogic exchange, discovering the unknown, unlearning the old, and learning the new. In that space, the artist is in a zone of suspense, as denoted by the floating heads in this body of work. Depicted against colourful backdrops of nature, the floating faces can be read as anyone in search of a space to settle, at a point when one is not yet grounded. The imaginary faces in this body of work represent every one of us.

Among the multiple interpretations which conjure up on hearing the phrase ‘Face the Nation’ is a call to political representatives to engage with the problems faced by those who elected them to office, especially on our continent where they easily turn their backs on the people, and care less like they were born of the same mother.

Why not just reform and work to afford the electorate a decent life? It is also an expression that captures the predicament of African migrants constantly in motion on the continent and in the diaspora, referencing the adjustments they make in the process of negotiating different environments and cultures, alluding to the syncretism involved in the face of incompatible religious doctrines and conflicting principles.

A surprise component of this show is an installation of the property and clothing items the artist was using in the duration of his stay in Lagos, alongside the collages. It is the bed, table, kitchen utensils, studio table, chairs, and his clothes. These materials enabled him to accomplish his mission. As such, exhibiting them is an act of acknowledging their energy, spirit, and soul. Most importantly it is the artist’s recognition of the crucial role they played in helping shape the work. They bore witness to the evolution of the works, from the incubation phase to completion. Incorporating them in the show is an affirmation of Nyahunzi’s Shona spiritual beliefs which are central to his practice.

Those who have religiously followed the artist’s practice over the years will still discover the familiar favourite elements. Exuding colour as usual, his densely populated collages are an amalgam of figurative and abstract paintings, printing and drawing elements, and etchings on the surfaces of Fabriano paper glued onto the canvas and marked by carefully cut and inked lines. Nyahunzvi adheres to his signature technique and process, which he is constantly refining. The black and white zebra elements, an ode to his Mbizi totem (mutupo), and therefore his way of asserting his identity, is an aidememoire that he is not turning his back on his origins anytime soon (anoziva kwaanobva).

Text by Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti, a PhD in Art History candidate at Rhodes University


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