I once met a young man that promised me access to the world of art. Not the whole world, as it is so vast, but just a small beautiful slice of it. This was quite a few years ago, when Y2K was still a looming big deal! I was studying journalism at a local college and had the opportunity to be amongst men who would change the face of media in Zimbabwe later in their lives. Little did we know it at the time.
Anyway, back to my story. I had met a student who was very interested in local art and culture. For a girl of a mixed race background, it wasn’t exactly an area I could walk into on my own. Cultural differences and colour barriers usually made it difficult to explore certain places on my own. Being me, I had to have access.
In the city of Harare, past the bright sparkly glass buildings of the central business district and driving out along Samora Machel, a road so straight I’m sure the Romans would have been proud of it, there was a little vlei (open area of land) where some old men and women sat. It was opposite the turn off leading to the cemetery and sported long elephant grass lazily dancing in the gentle breeze and tall mupane trees lending shade to the workers sitting on reed mats under them.
The women were weavers and the men were sculptors. They sat there all day everyday, weaving and carving their wares to sell to the passing traffic. Blocks of limestone were transformed into animals or miniature figures of ‘madharas’ – old men captured in the midst of working on something with their hands. I was never sure if they used each other as life models for their sculptures and the thought only occurred to me now that it might be true.
My friend made a promise that we would meet up at the local bus stop in town and catch an ET ( emergency taxi) to the open spot and sit for the day with these artists. Unfortunately it never did happen as I was called away to another story I couldn’t afford to miss about a little girl called Patience, in the village of Mutoko suffering from Hydrocephalus.
Later, as a parting gift, my mum gave me two sculptures she had bought from the same place at the open vlei. Two madharas busy at work pictured above and below. These madharas have been in our family for many years and I keep them safe as a memory of where I am from. I do regret my missed opportunity (of which I’ve had many!) but knowing I have a little piece of their art with me makes me happy.