Harare News journalist Kundai Marunya visits Tapfuma Gutsa in his studio at the Harare Polytechnic, where he is an artist in residence.
Who is Tapfuma Gutsa?
I’m a sculptor who has been working since the late 70s, though I believe I started my career as a young child. Over the years I have ventured into different art forms including design.
How did you become involved in art and what drove you?
I’ve always been artistic but when I left high school I felt a strong attraction to art, starting with photography. Then I met Cornelius Manyana who taught me about sculpture. Cornelius contributed to the building of the church at Serima Mission, a landmark in African art.
Describe your artistic journey.
The start was not easy but I had help from the older generation in the industry. I also had the opportunity to study in Britain through a scholarship from the British Council. So I had a European education enriching my African background. In the mid 90s I set up an arts centre in the Midlands while living in the Gweru Shurugwi area. This was my way of reaching out to the younger undiscovered artists. I discovered a lot of artists including Victor Manhando and Simon Mushau who later became celebrated names.
How did you manage to break into a very competitive market and stay competitive when other artists are fading?
Most artists rely on a recognisable style, whereas I was never loyal to one particular style. I allow different thoughts, situations, and emotions to influence me. This has given me the advantage of the element of surprise. And I also love experimentation.
Given your rich experience, why did you choose to settle for a lecturing job at Harare Polytechnic?
I’m not really a lecturer but rather an artist in residence. I help students with their practical work and I applaud Harare Polytechnic for this opportunity because most lecturers concentrate on theory. They are not well equipped to give students hands on practical experience. I do not have scheduled lectures but students can walk in and interact with me while I work in my studio. There are also matters of cultural legacy. Lately I’ve been working with communities in Binga exploring the commercialisation of basketry there. This would not have had been possible if I had a fulltime commitment thus my work at Harare Polytechnic allows me to operate freely yet from a stable base.
What would you say was the major highlight of your career and why?
I celebrate every day of my life, every opportunity, and every one of my achievements. I appreciate having been selected to be part of the first team of local artists who participated at the Venice Biennale, where for the first time Zimbabwean artists were in the limelight on a world stage.
There are also moments where strangers are touched by some of my artwork to the point of tears. It’s something I never take lightly.
My recent participation in the Basket Case II project at the National Gallery was also a unique experience in that we were reinventing traditional art. The people I worked with in Honde Valley continue coming up with new work despite limited resources. The project ensured that many community members who rely on basketry for income could continue to take care of their families.
Your praises have been sung for decades both locally and internationally but who is the artist you most admire?
The past generations of artists have very strong reputations. Each had a unique voice so I can’t single out one of them. I have grown to appreciate Bernard Mutenhura because of his 3D work, when others were heavily frontal artists. Artists like Authur Fata and Masaya have always been good, while Dominic Benhura is also full of surprises. Out of the new wave of artists Masimba Hwati, Gareth Nyandoro, and Zuze are very good.
Do you think local artists are being treated with the respect they deserve?
Art has always been on the periphery. The average person is not taught to understand art in the same way other subjects are taught during primary and secondary education. Looking at the local media the Arts page is about music and theatre news while visual art usually goes unreported.
With globalisation come new forms of art that foster different foreign styles. Do you think our traditional art forms have or will stand the test of time?
Art, like language, is very dynamic. Globalisation has fostered a situation where visitors adopt something good from Zimbabwe, promoting our art in different countries. We also do the same when we visit other nations.