Portia Zvavahera’s What I See Beyond Feeling opens today at the Stevenson Gallery Johannesburg. In new works on canvas and paper, Zvavahera combines exuberant gestural painting with areas of finely detailed mono-printing in depictions of spiritual and emotional topographies.

Zvavahera points to her dreams as a crucial source of inspiration and positions the works in this exhibition as visualisations of pivotal dreamscapes. Describing herself as working with ‘what I see with spiritual eyes’, she explains, “As human beings we have dreams – we are told about our future and our past through dreams. This is what I’m trying to speak about. As I’m sleeping I see things … I cannot tell others what I see, only the emotions, the feelings that I try to transfer to the canvas. When you have a dream it’s like when you look at a painting: there’s a focal point. In the dream there’s this thing that strikes you, and that’s where I create my painting.”

The ecstatic lovers of Zvavahera’s previous exhibition, I Can Feel It in My Eyes, are transmuted here into angelic and human beings entwined in images of suffering and solace. The motif of the lace wedding gown becomes a veil that both protects, embracing the figure in an exploration of surface and detail, and allows access through to what lies beneath. Beyond the union of lovers, it symbolizes the marriage of the earthly and spiritual, dream and reality, human and divine, future and past, torment and safety. The figures in What I See Beyond Feeling are elated and burdened, demonstrative and meditative.

The exhibition runs till January 27, 2017 and is Zvavahera’s fourth show with the gallery. Her work is currently included on Body Luggage: Migration of Gestures curated by Zasha Colah for the steirischer herbst festival in Graz, Austria.

Vese Vakanddibata (They all gave me strength), 2016, oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas, 199 x 315cm

Vese Vakanddibata (They all gave me strength), 2016, oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas, 199 x 315cm

Portia Zvavahera was born in 1985 in Juru, Zimbabwe, and lives in Harare. She studied at the BAT Visual Arts Studio under the auspices of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe between 2003 and 2005, after which she obtained a first-class Diploma in Visual Arts from Harare Polytechnic in 2006. Zvavahera held a solo exhibition, Under My Skin, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, in 2010 and has taken part in numerous group exhibitions in that country. She was an artist-in-residence at Greatmore Studios, Cape Town, in 2009. In 2013 she was the recipient of the 10th Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, and in 2014 won the FNB Art Prize, awarded at the Joburg Art Fair. She represented Zimbabwe at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 as part of the exhibition Dudziro: Interrogating the Visions of Religious Beliefs at the Zimbabwean Pavilion. Zvavahera has also been included in the group exhibitions Body Luggage, part of the steirischer herbst festival in Graz, Austria (2016); I Love You Sugar Kane at the Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean, Mauritius (2016); African Odysseys at Le Brass Cultural Centre of Forest, Belgium (2015); Liberated Subjects: Present Tense at Foundation De 11 Lijnen in Oudenburg, Belgium (2015); and Shifting Africa – What the Future Holds, at the Mediations Biennale, in Poland and Kunsthalle Faust in Hannover in 2014.


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