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Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Family Portrait, 2017. Photo: National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Family Portrait, 2017. Photo: National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Announces Artists for National Pavilion at 2019 Venice Biennale

Zimbabwe has announced that four artists have been selected to represent the country at the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale, which kicks off on May 11: Neville Starling, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Georgina Maxim, and Cosmas Shiridzinomwa. The announcement comes on the heels of recent political turmoil in the country. Authorities and demonstrators clashed last month when President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a major fuel-price hike, leading to deadly protests and one of the largest crackdowns on dissent in recent years.

The four artists will be featured in the exhibition “Soko Risina Musoro,” which takes its name from a poem by Zimbabwean writer Herbert Chitepo. Raphael Chikukwa, chief curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and curator of the pavilion, said that the epic poem “reflects the Zimbabwean interpretation of the overarching theme ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ in that we, as people with memory, can map out a future by taking threats head on.”

Starling is a self-taught artist from Bulawayo whose work often focuses on memory and the continuum of identity. Hwami is currently based in the UK and is known for creating work that addresses issues surrounding diaspora, displacement, and identity. Maxim, a working artist and curator, is the founder of the artist collective space Village Unhu, which provides studios for artists and hosts exhibitions.

Shiridzinomwa, who creates work that integrates his personal experiences with national and international politics, told the Art Newspaper that he hopes to show new work on the current political climate in Zimbabwe. “I have ideas that I will turn into paintings about the situation on the ground. . . . What happened over the past few weeks, the protests and the looting, the burning down of shops, the destruction of property, the army and the police going into people’s houses and taking them, it’s a bit tense. They are trying to fight fire with fire, and it doesn’t work.”

Doreen Sibanda, the commissioner of the pavilion and executive director of the National Gallery, said: “The Zimbabwe Pavilion at Venice has been instrumental in inserting the footprint of the country consistently into global conversations about contemporary art. . . . Each and every artist has given their best and created work of great depth and understanding, and therein ties our strength.”