Zimbabwean artist exhibits paintings of African life at London gallery

For her first solo show at The Tyburn Gallery in central London, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami began searching through old family photographs, taken from the 1970s to 1990s in Zimbabwe. She uses the images to create irreverent reflections on African life through oil and acrylic works that tell a semi-autobigraphical story in what became a personal quest for identity.

SHOWS: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM (RECENT) (REUTERS) – It’s not often that a young recently graduated African art student gets a solo exhibition at a gallery in central London. But that is exactly what Zimbabwean-born Kudzanai-Violet Hwami has accomplished.

Eleven of her works were recently put on sale at the Tyburn Gallery in central London to an encouraging response from art-lovers.

The Tyburn Gallery, just off Oxford Street, is dedicated to international contemporary art, exhibiting, representing and championing younger talented artists such as Kudzanai-Violet Hwami.

The gallery is showing eleven of her paintings all created during 2017. The title of the exhibition – “If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself,” keeps the onlooker guessing at its meaning – rather like some of the works themselves.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s work was inspired by a family photo album. Everyone appearing in her paintings has had some influence on her life.

“In essence the exhibition is about me digging into an old photo album and trying to find myself within the images. Some of the people that were in the photographs weren’t people I was close to growing up, but they sort of played a role into influencing the way I think in some small way or another. And I guess I was looking at these photographs and I wanted to incorporate them in my paintings,” she said.

The display comprises bold large-scale paintings based on old family photographs dating from the 1970s and 80s.

Kudzanai-Violet herself was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993. She now lives and works in the UK.

At the opening of the exhibition, the crowd was able to see reflections of African life both in Zimbabwe and South Africa where the original pictures were taken.

The picture ‘Witness to a Dreamscape Event’ for example, features a wedding and in the foreground a spilt glass of wine – a reference to the impending divorce of her parents.

Nicole Crentsil is a freelance curator in the UK.

“My story is quite similar to hers in that I wasn’t born in this country. And looking at the dual nationality, she’s travelled and lived in various countries. Its quite interesting to see how she draws on memory to kind of produce her work. I really like the techniques that she uses as well in with the imagery, photographs and the kind of layering of images and collages. I quite, I feel quite connected with her work even though I’m Ghanaian born and she’s from Zimbabwe. Her works say something about her story that I am very interested in,” she said.

Hwami’s oil and acrylic works tell a semi-autobiographical story in what became a person quest for identity.

Many of her memories include the image of mother and child – whether her own mother or aunt or other women who played a role in her life.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami says that she wants her work to strike a chord with African and black women everywhere.

“I never see exhibitions like this in London and I crave, I crave for them because it’s what I am interested in and I know many other young black people and young people are interested in learning about this kind of stuff. And we’re not often afforded the luxury of being able to see things like this. So I guess I am lucky,” said Te-Qhaira, an artist.

“I feel very excited for her. And I think that wow she’s certainly like one in a million. She’s lucky to have this opportunity but I think also the Tyburn has done very well by thinking outside the box to go and I think they saw her at an art school show or something like that. To take a bet on her so young in her career and to encourage her to continue with what she is doing,” said African art collector and promoter, Elikem Mutifafa Kuenyehia.

In 2016, Hwami won the Clyde & Co Art Award and the Cass Art Materials Grant, and was also shortlisted for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries Award.

The same year, she was also named Young Achiever of the Year at the Zimbabwean International Women’s Awards.

She has also held various exhibitions both in Zimbabwe and the UK.

Hwami says the works aren’t intended to be about her.

“It’s a progression from being an art student to being a professional artist so with this exhibition it was an introduction to who I am because I am showing myself. I am showing my family. They’re out there in public and I have now done it and it’s a progression. l don’t know what’s going to happen after that but it’s a progression to something else that I am not quite sure of yet. But it’ll be good, I guess. I hope,” she said.

The three-month-long exhibition will end in November. In the meantime, the artist intends to keep capturing moments in time through her artwork giving audiences a chance to appreciate expressions, gestures and experiences that touch on people’s lives every day.