In Zimbabwe artistes — be they writers or musicians or sculptors — are not taken seriously but merely as a type that can be ignored. Give them a job in the office like any other citizen, and if they don’t work let them starve, seems to be the official mantra. In other words, the arts in Zimbabwe are not seen as a viable industry or career, but merely as a part-time hobby.
In Zimbabwe, it all comes to the same: in one way or the other artistes are stifled by simply being completely ignored. This is the national fate of our creative arts. Writers, musicians, painters, sculptors — are in the same boat, smashed against the mores of our totalitarian State. The liberation war and subsequent independence revolution achieved nothing for our culture because it seems it achieved nothing for our individual freedoms.
Politics does not challenge art in principle — it merely treats it with indifference and unconscious cruelty, but when politicians talk culture let’s all be wary. Dambudzo Marechera directly warned, “When politicians talk about culture, one had better pack one’s rucksack and run, because it means the beginning of unofficial censorship.”
It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the faculty of artistic creation if the artist is treated like any other kind of producer, and compelled to produce a specified output in a specified time, for instance, we know that the national galas ceased to be independent music events, but political ceremonies, abusing musicians for free T-shirts with slogans and free airplay on national television. The vein of creation or inspiration is soon exhausted under such duress.
What is not so obvious is that the laws of supply and demand in art are very different from those in economics. It is evident that artistic practice in Zimbabwe has been affected by our political history and development. Apart from rendering future influences in creative style and expression through their creations, what else have the older artistes done to nurture the next promising generation of Zimbabwean artists?
There used to be the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Women Writers, Zimbabwe Union of Musicians, Zimbabwe Theatre Practitioners Forum, etc. Where is the infrastructure to build the future of our arts?
The interaction between the established artistes and the younger artistes has been minimal to an extent. It seems there are more fractures and splinters — mazvake mazvake — and less unity among the artistic community in Zimbabwe. Art, in its different, but rich forms, is a window into a people’s way of life and when it is shut, the spirit of a people is smothered. Artistes of Zimbabwe must unite and work for the common good.
While the creation of the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe was meant to bolster local arts, I struggle to see what change it has made. Millions of dollars are being wasted on mediocre projects that have no national resonance. For an organisation that promises creative opportunity for Zimbabweans, the organisation itself is stiff, outdated and no different from ones that have gone obsolete. It has the potential to be the cutting edge, but it extremely lacks flexibility, inclusivity and opportunity for all.
It is no secret that in Zimbabwe there is no room for personal creative growth or career growth. We happen to be ruled by old men with small minds, old men who cannot see beyond their stomachs. Why should it be okay for Zimbabwean artistes to aspire to leave the country of their inspiration to realise their potential? Why should the Zimbabwean story be written from outside? Why should we live in a country with no art?
If Zimbabwe is to be a great again, we must be an intelligent country. Artistes, help us keep the big picture in spite of our harsh reality. This is the only way to create a place where we wish to live and invite the world to be our guests.