Creativity is flourishing out on the “Animal Farm”

TANATSWA TARUVINGA, BIRD

ONE gets a pleasant surprise on arrival at the creative complex christened “Animal Farm”. At the gate to welcome guests is internationally acclaimed artist and curator, Admire Kamudzengerere.

Often, a measure of success in life leads people to see themselves as above certain tasks. Not so, it seems, Kamudzengerere – and that ethos has seeped into the culture of the creative sanctuary he and fellow artists have created outside of Harare.

“People in my community come here all the time to just sit and talk. It’s nice to listen to young people begin to express an interest in art and also older members open their eyes and see that the arts are a viable pursuit for the children and adults in their family.”

“Animal Farm” is not just an art studio, but is a safe haven for the creative, according to Kamudzengerereto. It’s a getaway that allows art to flourish without the pressures of everyday life. Essentially, a co-working space for the creative. Without the profit-driven mentality of a startup.

The studio is double-volume, giving the interior a feeling that mixes cathedral and loft… a shape that gives the sense of being on holy ground but free to participate in one’s chosen religion. The air in the studio almost feels different. At its essence is the feeling that this is a place where creativity flows unhindered. Art lives here.

Named after the classic George Orwell novel where the pigs are the inept rulers who take over a revolution and essentially put the revolutionary animals back in bondage, the studio’s name is a reminder of the sacrifice it has taken for local artists to throw off societal shackles and build this space.

“When it came to building ‘Animal Farm’, we all thought, ‘we don’t have money, we don’t have funding, but we’re all artists here and we have a truck’. So we would buy some cheap base materials, make our own bricks and other things.”

The layout of the “Animal Farm” space – a walled property with one main building and plenty of space for artistic projects in the extended “garden” – embodies a mix of the modern and the traditional. In one section of the area is a sunken meeting space, or “lapa” that is used for both social gatherings and “meetings of the mind” – a place where artists can discuss ideas.

Today Kamudzengerere is known within the community as an artist who uses commonly overlooked mediums to convey powerfully poetic messages that juxtapose having a definite message with an unclear context, leaving the message up for interpretation. Entering “Animal Farm”, there are artworks sprawled across the landscape, including a unique piece that utilizes an old, classic television screen as a frame and the heads of old dolls and combs as the “portrait”.

This is all a far cry from the future Kamudzengerere might have dreamed of during his early school years. Born in 1981 in Chitungwiza, he went to school at Hatfield High School and during his early years, he imagined himself becoming a banker. Then, life decided otherwise when he unexpectedly discovered his passion.

“During my final years of high school, Zimbabwe was going through a rough economic patch and I would bunk school because I had not yet paid school fees. I would spend my time at Gallery Delta in town doing art lessons with Helen Lieros. My passion for art grew and continued after high school. Most of the time after leaving high school I would stay at home and start drawing in the morning before my father woke up for work and he would return from work around six and I would still be drawing,” the artist recalled.

Kamudzengerere enrolled for a diploma in fine art at the Visual Arts School in Harare and, after graduating, taught there while exhibiting his own pieces. During an exhibition at Gallery Delta in 2003, he not only sold his first art pieces but also caught the eye of the ambassador of the Netherlands, who urged him to enter his works with the Rijksakademie (the State Academy of Fine Arts award in the Netherlands). The result was a huge boost in morale for the young artist.

Success may have been visible but there was no clear path. A journalist interviewing him discovered he had failed to submit his work with the Rijksakademie after a failure of confidence. Weeks later Kamudzengerere was surprised to hear that he had been accepted to his dream residency – the journalist had submitted his work without him knowing.

Kamudzengerere’s art usually narrates his life experiences and perspectives – often forged by the geopolitical and social aspects of his Zimbabwean experience.

“Sometimes things happen by accident. When I’m creating art, it’s basically a way to preempt how I feel. When I’m mad, sad, happy it reflects in my work,” he explained.

For Kamudzengerere, art has also become a way to provide others with opportunities. Realizing that the majority of his former students were not pursuing careers in art after graduating became motivation to push himself harder to succeed, realising he could provide an encouraging example and act as “living proof” of the possibilities offered by a fine art degree.

“It was important for me to show my former students that they could create a full-time career and that their time at the school had not been in vain,” he said.

“Animal Farm” is in that sense, an extension of that same encouragement to artists; space for both budding and established artists to build a foundation or add an extra brick to their careers.

Departing from “Animal Farm”, one is left with an odd feeling of nostalgia, a sense of reluctantly leaving behind a beloved childhood home… a feeling akin to the sense of tranquillity one might have after a religious service that was particularly enlightening. Definitely, a place to return to.

Editing: Hannington Osodo

/bird story agency



Translate »