This month marks the three year anniversary of Njelele Art Station, an urban art laboratory in downtown Harare focused on the practice and production of contemporary, experimental, and public art. Njelele aims to give exposure to range of young creatives with exciting emergent art practices to a new hip audience. They seek to promote artists that are often under-represented in Zimbabwe and the region.
In the past three years Njelele has exhibited a wealth of talent from Africa and its diaspora. The first exhibition was by internationally acclaimed photographer and author Calvin Dondo. They have also hosted many exciting artists including Portia Zvavahera, Misheck Masamvu, Nancy Mteki, Masimba Hwati, Tabita Rezaire, Pungwe Nights, Kombo Chapfika, Breeze Yoko, Nolan Oswald Dennis, Shannon Murphy, and Shani Peters.
The word Njelele is taken from the name of a sacred shrine in Matobo Hills in Matabeleland. The shrine is usually visited between August and September when people come together for rainmaking ceremonies. It is believed that the shrine is the sanctuary of the god of rain, Ngwali.
Located on one of the oldest roads in Harare, Kaguvi Street, Njelele aims to stimulate a creative fusion between the past and the future in a contemporary setting, providing a key to understanding and interpreting our city and ourselves. Two major urban events have been hosted at Njelele Art Station – an exhibition entitled Afropolicity and the notable Gwanza Month of Photography 2014. This year they celebrate their three year milestone with an exhibition by two artists from South Africa, Buhlebezwe Siwani and Sikhumbuzo Makandula, in collaboration with Zimbabwean artist Moffat Takadiwa.
Harare News spoke to Dana Whabira, a Zimbabwe-based architect and artist, and the artistic director at Njelele Art Station. Whabira said, “It is an exciting time for art from Africa in the international market. The Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, commissioned by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, has boosted our international presence in the global art market. However, the local art scene could benefit from more financial support. The recent closure of the Book Café and the reduced operations of HIFA have had an adverse impact. These initiatives provided platforms that support cultural practitioners and attract international patronage which is critical to the sustainability of the sector.
“In the visual arts realm, initiatives such as the Gwanza Month of Photography festival are very important for the growth of our local art market, through increasing the local and regional visibility of art that in turn raises Zimbabwe’s global competitive profile. In conjunction with independent art spaces such as Dzimbanhete, Village Unhu and Njelele, they build an attractive thriving arts destination, and potentially engender the image of Harare as an emerging global art capital that will form a key locale on the international art calendar.”
Whabira participated as a member of the jury at a photographic exhibition in 2015 at Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon, Portugal. She has been invited to return to take part in a roundtable discussion at ARCOlisboa Art Fair later this year.
In 2015 Njelele Art Station participated in the Symposium D’Art in Mali initiated by Medina Mediatheque. In the 2016, Njelele is looking forward to establishing an international residency programme.
Image: Artistic Director Dana Whabira with artist Nancy Mteki during the exhibition of her solo show, “Honai” at Njelele Art Station last year.
Image credit: Tinashe Hwindingwi