BY NYADZOMBE NYAMPENZA
REVIVAL of the Harares visual arts scene has gained momentum with a recent open studio exhibition by Tawanda Reza at the First Floor Gallery Harare (FFG) in Harare.
The impressive exhibition titled ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ paints a gritty picture of the misfits, junkies and hustlers of Epworth’s suburban neighborhoods.
Reza’s exhibition is the culmination of a four-month residency at the gallery, which in the past has hosted artists such as Pebofatso Mokoena (South Africa), Cristiano Mangovo (Angola), Mapopa Hussein Manda (Zambia) and Bouvy Enkobo (Democratic Republic of Congo), among others.
Through the exhibition, the Bindura born Reza went beyond the limits of his usual practice (painting) to incorporate the aesthetics of street art and the approach to mural style with sprays and stencils.
The result was a cohesive body of work that clearly benefited from extensive reviews and candid commentary.
Reza, whose father was a sculptor, said his work was inspired by his time at Epworth where he observed the alarming rise in drug addiction due mainly to a change in lifestyle, rising unemployment and divorces currents.
“Drugs loom large, and crystal meth is specifically mentioned as one of the catalysts for the erosion of the moral and material fabric of society,” he said.
Through the exhibit, Reza shines a light on the darker side of life at Epworth to reveal unrecognizable and obscured faces in compromised circumstances.
Characters straight out of the dark side are seen loitering around, lounging in a drug-induced stupor, attacked, and preying on the vulnerable.
Finally, the body of a young man dressed in a suit is shown lying in a coffin. The body depicts a friend of the artist who died prematurely due to complications from drug abuse.
The juvenile corpse represents unrealized potential. It is a grave reminder of the tragic demise of young people.
A metaphorical piece in the exhibit depicts a serpent which could be taken to represent the ancient serpent of the Garden of Eden. From a traditional perspective, however, a snake is more likely to represent witchcraft. It is a common belief among sufferers that the wandering behavior and misfortunes that befall their offspring are a curse of jealous neighbors and relatives.
Most of Reza’s characters are drawn in an alienating abstract manner with obscured eyes. An exception is a young woman with an attractive figure in a short, tight, thigh-baring skirt.
The woman appears to be standing anxiously in the dark, suggesting she might be a sex worker.
The awkward gestures of the hand to her lips could be a nervous tick on an uneventful night before the rent is due, or an act of absorbing something to keep her up through the long night.
A startling expression in his eyes draws the viewer into the terrible nightmare that is his life. If the streets have no name, the experiences go beyond simple description, explanation and resolution.
Reza takes the viewer on an apocalyptic guided tour of Epworth, unpacking scene by scene the fermenting despair and discouragement in his younger generation.
A literal centerpiece of the exhibit is Epworth’s topography painted on the floor. This work is a representation of the location with key landmarks such as Dombo raMwari.
The artist uses this map to show the flow and movement of drugs in bright orange squares. Stepping onto the coin transports the audience to Epworth in a way that transcends space and time.
FFG co-founder Valery Kabov said Reza’s work complements government anti-drug campaigns by offering a different way of looking at vice.
Another FFG co-founder, Marcus Gora, said the residency provides a platform for artists to experiment, challenge their ideas and improve their practice.
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