2 March - 1 April 2006
Tapfuma Gutsa’s work, both as artist and workshop leader, has transformed art practice in Zimbabwe and beyond. In this, his first solo UK exhibition, he explores the physical and metaphorical possibilities of a range of natural materials, from granite and oak, to horn, egg shell, bone and clay.
Tapfuma’s use of materials both advances and subverts the tradition of stone sculpture that dominated Zimbabwean art through the 1960s and 70s. Beyond the confidence and elegance of his objects’ forms, his choice of materials brings to the works an almost shamanistic power. He explains: “objects such as buffalo horns are used by medicine men to empower and strengthen the warrior before battle – in this sense the shaman creates an object that can acquire meaning and influence people, just as an AK47 or a bible can wield influence and power – I am therefore interested in creating ‘gadgets of influence’ – enigmatic forms that are intrinsically functional, in the sense that medicines or weapons are functional. It is a kind of alchemy”.
His works narrate stories of voyages, migrations, life cycles, battles and power. The 2004 installation Ngara combines stone and buffalo horn in the form of a funerary boat. The vessel is filled with artefacts – axes, knives, bones, ritual objects. He describes the work as “an epic story that talks about the slave trade, the trade of goods and artefacts… to make a full-scale study of these things I would have to turn up at the British Museum because most of the material and the cultural fabric of Africa is vanishing.”
Gutsa studied art at the Dreifontein Mission School in Zimbabwe, and later became the first recipient of a British Council award to Zimbabwe. With this scholarship he studied for three years at the City and Guilds School of Art in London between 1982-1985, where he was awarded a Diploma in sculpture. After returning to Zimbabwe, he organised, in 1988, the first of a series of Pachipamwe Workshops, under the Triangle arts model, bringing together younger and more well-established artists to explore new directions for Zimbabwean art. He went on to establish the Surprise studios in 1997, providing studio space for a generation of Zimbabwean artists. In 1990, his work was included in Grace Stanislaus’ seminal exhibition ‘African Artists: Changing Traditions’ at the Studio Museum, Harlem, and he has since participated in numerous international exhibitions, workshops and residency programmes. He currently lives and works in Vienna, Austria.