In Conversation with Moffat Takadiwa
Moffat Takadiwa was born in 1983 in Karoi, Zimbabwe. He graduated with a BA Honours from Harare Polytechnic College, Zimbabwe in 2008. Takadiwa’s practice incorporates the use of found objects into sculptural forms that engage with issues of cultural identity, spirituality, social practice and the environment. His work speaks potently to the cultural dominance illustrated by the consumption of foreign products in Zimbabwe and across Africa. Takadiwa has been a recipient of many awards since 2008, such as the Award of Attendance from The Zimbabwe Olympic Committee, Harare, Zimbabwe in 2012. He has also participated in several significant exhibitions including; Broken English at Tyburn Gallery, London, UK (2015); UNcertain Terms, Whatiftheworld, Cape Town, South Africa (2014); Warp & Woof, The Hole, New York, USA (2014); National Gallery of Zimbabwe Annual Show, Harare, Zimbabwe (2014); andBrand New Second Hand, Vigo Gallery, London, UK (2014).
You have achieved a fine reputation as “one of the most geographically widely exhibited and collected of the post-independence generation of artists in Zimbabwe”. What would you attribute to your success?
I have been working very hard for over a decade and am very committed to my practice. Being an artist is not an easy path for anyone to choose and is a journey that requires focus, dedication, staying-power and a great deal of self-belief.
How would you describe the burgeoning art scene in Zimbabwe, and how do you think it compares to other more rigorous spaces like South Africa and Nigeria?
The art scene in Zimbabwe today has been stimulated by a number of causes. Most importantly, the broader political scenario in Zimbabwe has encouraged artists to address difficult issues. In this troubled environment, artists feel a great urgency to communicate. As result of the economic crisis in my country, artists have been forced to explore unexpected media, as I did with my use of found objects. At the same time, it is important to remember that Zimbabwe has a longstanding, highly regarded artistic tradition as evidenced in the Shona sculptures which date back to the 11th Century and the Sky Birds found at the Great Zimbabwe ruins. I would like to add, however, that it is not only Zimbabwe that has a burgeoning art scene. Many African countries are demonstrating a flourishing contemporary art scene like Ghana, Cameroon and Kenya.
Africa Unreachable (Try Asia) is arguably one of your most significant works today. Please explain your thinking behind it?
Africa Unreachable (Try Asia) is indeed an important piece for me. The work was made in the early stages of my career when I was foraging for materials in rubbish dumps. To my frustration, I discovered that I could not reach authentic Zimbabwean material, every object I found seemed to have been imported from Asia. To counter my disappointment, I decided to take the humour of the situation and equate it to someone trying to make a call only to receive a message that the person was unreachable. I could find nothing originating in Africa, every object seemed to be imported from Asia.
This work gave birth to many important works that came afterwards, several of which formed part of my solo exhibition at Tyburn Gallery in London in 2015. I am thinking of works such as Smell of Harare, The Shonglish Translator and Superhighway of Coloniality.
Many of the found and repurposed objects you employ in your work hold personal histories and memories for you. Can you please share some of these with us?
Most of the consumer products found in my work are used in an everyday setting in Zimbabwe, such as spray cans, toothpaste, bottle tops and computer keyboards. These objects represent the community where I come from and where I do my work. For me, each of these found objects speaks of my community.
As result, every time I see my work, it reflects to me something of that community and gives me memories of my people. My work often tells a story, for example, Smell of Foreign Policy, which is made out of gold perfume bottle tops tells a tale of my people importing vanity items while we are passing through difficult times. Perhaps we are trying to obscure the smell left in our cities by the uncollected garbage and sewage, perhaps we are seeking comfort from these items of relative luxury.
How impactful has your work been in your home country Zimbabwe in encouraging local industries and indigenous empowerment?
I most see my impact where I have trained and continue to train many young artists in my studio. I helped found a gallery in Zimbabwe where I mentored a whole generation of young artists. As I now work with a number of people who collect garbage for recycling purposes, I think we also play a role in protecting the environment.
Please tell us about some of your works featuring in your exhibition at Tyburn Gallery and the reception you have received in UK since your first solo in 2015.
The Falling of Rhodes (sia) is a work that has been inspired by the movement “Rhodes must Fall”, which started among students in South Africa. In Zimbabwe, we have a lot of policies which were inherited from the days of Rhodes and the Rhodesian era. We have been moving away from Rhodes inspired constructs to find a new way for Zimbabwe. In making this work, I destroyed keyboards which belonged to the Rhodesian period and then used them to construct my own language. To some extent, this process resembles the removal of the statues both in South Africa and also in Zimbabwe. Yet while the work mimics the removal of the statue, it is not the physical removal which is most important. The challenge is changing the language and colonial structures which have remained.
My reception in the UK and wider has been exceptional and I look forward to seeing how the audience responds to my new body of work.
You have joined a growing list of artists who live and work on the African continent but have developed commercial relationships with leading contemporary galleries in Europe and the United States. What impact if any, have these relationships had on your stylistic development?
It is very important to me that I still work and live in Zimbabwe. I see no direct impact on the development of my work. Having said that, representation and being connected to the art market internationally means that I have funds to channel into my studio and practice. I am helped by having greater support and this has inspired me to take my practice further. The sense that my voice increasingly reaches a global audience is very encouraging. I believe this is fitting as many of the issues I address such as consumer patterns, trade relations and neo-colonialism are global phenomena.
At the same time, I would like to add that perhaps Europe and the US are not the only dreams for artists from Africa. We still dream of the day when we have strong commercial galleries and a developed art eco-system in our own countries and are collected by African collectors, alongside those from elsewhere.
Moffat Takadiwa, Tyburn Gallery, London, March 16 – May 13, 2017, www.tyburngallery.com