Zim visual arts industry in doldrums

HARARE – There is no respite in sight for Zimbabwe’s struggling visual arts sector which has suffered for over a decade due to the decrease in tourist arrivals and diminished demand for art works in Europe and other markets.

Just last week Gallery Delta, which was established in Harare by Derek Huggins and his wife Helen Lieros 42 years ago, announced that it faced imminent closure unless an injection of $50 000 materialised.

“Gallery Delta is suffering a paucity of sales in the midst of the economic crisis.  This is so much so that closure looms ominously unless patronage, sponsorship, donations or benefaction of approximately $50 000 per annum can be found.

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“After 42 years of operation this is a sad reflection of the state of the nation and the economy and bodes severely for art and the arts,” said Gallery Delta director Derrick Huggins.

In an interview with the Daily News a few days ago, Lieros said their SOS call had attracted some help but the situation still remained desperate.

“There are a few locals who have come through with help. We also have friends who have been helping in from outside the country,” Lieros said, adding that the closure of the gallery would cause a lot of suffering.

“A lot of families — over a 100 — will lose their livelihoods, including us. It is our livelihood. What we have been doing over the years is nurture talent. We don’t take established artistes. An artiste takes about seven years to reach their peak; this is what we have been doing.

“I have worked 42 years nurturing, speaking, and participating in a lot of international exhibitions and programmes,” Lieros said.

Sadly, Gallery Delta can’t get any assistance from the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe (Nagz) which has also not been spared by the country’s deepening economic crisis.

According to Nagz curator, Raphael Chikukwa, the entire Zimbabwean arts sector is reeling from the serious economic challenges affecting the country.

“We cannot help them as we are also in the same situation. The only difference there is that they are a private gallery and we are not.

“It is a financial problem that everyone in the industry has been facing, but Gallery Delta has had problems for quite some time now.

“The only way to help them keep afloat is to think outside the box. They need to knock on different doors to keep running, just like we do,” Chikukwa said.

He attributed the challenges facing the visual arts sector to the continuing decline in tourist arrivals.

“They are closing because of the liquidity crunch but another reason is the decrease in tourist arrivals. Galleries mainly rely on tourists to push volumes, just the same as hotels,” said the Nagz curator.

If Gallery Delta eventually closes, it will join Chapungu Sculpture Park, Totem Gallery, Matombo Gallery and many others which shut operations due the country’s worsening economic situation.

When the Chapungu Sculpture Park was established by Roy Guthrie as The Gallery Shona Sculpture in 1970 — closed four years ago — its coveted art collection, valued at over $2,5 million, was auctioned in a bid to raise money to pay off workers and creditors.

Chapungu, which nurtured internationally-acclaimed sculptors like Sylvester Mubayi, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Henry Munyaradzi, Agnes Nyanhongo, Mernard Matemera Bernard Takawira and John Takawira and was home to the most significant permanent collection of Zimbabwean stone sculpture , owed its  24 employees $150 000 in wages.

In a bid to fill the void created by the closure of Chapungu and other art galleries, local sculptors who included award-winning artist Dominic Benhura, set up Tambira Gallery in 2011 to create a platform to exhibit and sell art works from upcoming artists. But the dire economic situation could not spare Tambira either. It closed shop in 2014 due to failure to pay rentals.

Benhura recently conceded to this paper that the local sculpture industry was facing serious viability problems. He said the situation had been worsened by the fact that Zimbabwean sculptors had lost access to big markets, particularly Europe.

“If people in Europe were still buying art works, the dealers would still be coming to Zimbabwe to buy; but things are not moving that side. This impacts negatively on the Zimbabwean sculpture industry because our market is shrinking,” he said.

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