Last week I travelled to Mutare to visit the National Gallery for the first time, writes Isheanesu Dondo.
This was to attend a digital and Afrofuturistic art exhibition titled Afrika Beyond by Wada Collective, a team of Zimbabwean creatives who are seeking to market and promote young African talent.
The Guest of Honour was Professor Girma Y.I. Menelik of Africa University (Mutare), a Great grandson of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. Afrika Beyond was sponsored by the Austrian Consulate in Harare.
I was a few days early and got the chance to meet the jovial gallery staff. This consisted of Denford Nyambawaro, Washington Chikukwa, Linet Muneno, Medicey Muchichwa, Valerie Sithole, and the Regional Director Elizabeth Muusha.
I am still tickled by their Manyika humour, accent, and etiquette.
The exhibition opened on the 14th of April and will close on the 12th of June 2023.
Participating artists include Dananayi Muwanigwa, Simbarashe Chikunda, SSKD Kudzi, Alfonso Masiyiwa and Mudiwa Marasa.
The Wada team arrived two days before the exhibition opening to help finish mounting the artwork.
These included Tamuka Chigeda, Chamunorwa Mararike, Alfonso, and Dananayi.
This was a mind-opening experience as I saw firsthand the many challenges that come with organising an art exhibition.
At some point we were taken to the kopje at the back of the gallery where we got a panoramic view of the beautiful town of Mutare with its backdrop of sculpture-like mountains.
We got to have a conversation on how the Zimbabwe art community was still to embrace digital art.
As a visual artist myself, I am guilty of frowning upon computer-assisted art and viewing it as a non-art.
Dananayi introduced me to the world of artificial intelligence and pointed out how it was radically changing not only the art world but education, media and research.
He gave the example of Chat GPT, a program that can create art, poetry, essays, audio and video just by typing a few words.
For example one may type “Write an essay on the effects of climate change” or “Create a drawing of a spaceship in the style of Pablo Picasso” and the program will do just that.
Chat GPT also has the capability to answer exam questions. Being a technophobe, this took me completely by surprise. I started getting ideas to build upon my own art practice.
Dananayi, however, pointed out that there were serious ethical and security concerns with this technology.
For instance, it could be used to create fake but very realistic videos, images and audios.
Influencers like Elon Musk have recently advocated a pause on developing this technology because of these and other unseen dangers.
I realised that technology is like a knife or scalpel, which can be used to heal or to kill.
To quote Paul Hennessy, CEO of Shutterstock: “I think there are two choices in this world. Be the blacksmiths that are saying ‘Cars are going to take us out of the horseshoe-making business’ or be the technical leaders that bring people, maybe kicking and screaming, into the new world”.
As an artist, I am slowly realising that the computer is not my enemy. I feel that local artists need more exposure and access to computer knowledge.
It’s commendable that the National Gallery and Wada Collective have initiated this digital revolution.
As a continuation of Afrika Beyond, Wada Collective artists will be collaborating with Ethiopian artists who are represented by Makush Gallery in Addis.