By Faith Chimutsa
President Emmerson Mnangagwa privately toured the Stars are Bright Zimbabwe exhibition in Harare at National Art Gallery and reiterated the country’s call for the unconditional return of its symbols of heritage, artifacts and creative works.
Mnangagwa was part of the preview of the Stars are Bright Exhibition and welcomed the return of one of Zimbabwe’s amazing artwork collection created by young students from Cyrene Missing in the 1940s.
The President said, the artwork collection being show-cased at this Exhibition is a testimony that the Arts, Culture and Creative Industries have long been part of the daily of the people of Zimbabwe connecting us to our indegenious landscapes and communicating the obtaining socio-economic realities at different development epochs of our history
“My Government, under the Second Republic recognizes the need to create an environment for holistic national development. Beyond a modern and industrialized economy, it is critically important to invest in sectors that feed and drive the soul and give our communities and the nation as a whole identify and character,” he said.
“Worldwide, Creative Cultural Industries are considered on top of the five largest economies sectors in terms of turnover after financial services, information technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology as well as tourism. Hence as an Adminstration, we remain committed to supporting and promoting the Creative Cultural Industries,” revealed His Excellency.
“Against this background, I am extremely pleased to have this opportunity to view this art collection which dates back to 1953”, he said.
He commended the Curtain Foundation represented by the Honde Valley Hydro Electric Power Trust for their work towards ensuring that this collection of art was preserved and safeguarded.
“I equally congratulate the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and all the stakeholders who have made it possible for this amazing artwork and cultural heritage to be re-united with members of the family artists who created it,” said Mnangagwa.
The works, which draw on an unusual decorative style, translate Christian themes into distinctive African imagery. This stems from the young indegenious artists creative style of forging a deep understanding and spiritual connection with the country’s landscapes in their works by re-imaging local realities and biblical narratives.
“I exhort the Church to continue partnering, complementing and supporting initiatives which advance Zimbabwe’s national development narratives in close liaison with Government Ministries Department and Agencies. The Church and the State are indespensable partners in request for a higher quality of life for people and a more prosperous nation” said President Mnangagwa.
The Stars Are Bright exhibition proudly sees a return to Zimbabwe of an astonishing collection of artworks created by the students of the Cyrene Mission School between 1940 and 1947. The art exhibited has been absent from Zimbabwe for over 70 year where it was kept in storage following a highly successful tour of the United Kingdom, Paris and New York in the late 2940’s and early 1950’s.
The purpose of sending the artworks abroad was to ignite interest in the abundant freshness and originality of the imaginations captured in art by the local students of Cyrene, the result of a highly successful project to encourage young blacks scholars to forge a connection with their indegenious landscapes and reimagine local myths and biblical narratives as they personally saw them.
The tour was a resounding success and proceeds of art sold at exhibitons funded future work at Cyrene. After their lengthy tour of the UK, Europe and the USA,the unsold artworks were carefully put into storage at St Michael’s and All Angels Church in Shoreditch, where they miraculously survived for many years in a rapidly declining physical environment and somehow remained in pristine condition.
The Stars Are Bright Exhibition director Lisa Masterson said the exhibiton is an historic ocassion to the several members of the young artists as they celebrate legacies of their fathers.
“The Stars Are Bright presents a proud snapshot into a period of our country’s history viewed from the lens of black artists. The 1940 ‘s represented a challenging time for everyone. The world was struggling with the horrors of the Second World War, while Zimbabwe itself (then Rhodesia) was deeply divided along racial lines under colonial rule. The artworks produced at Cyrene capture a reimagining of a brighter, more equal, and just future world; a vision of social equality which was then still some forty years away.
These narratives explore a wide range of Africa’s heritage, myths and lore by capturing the rich spirit of local history and tradition, including many legends passed down by oral storytelling, which the Cyrene artists recreated and reanimated through their work, not to mention their striking reworking of Western Christian iconography into distinctly African themes and subtext”, she said in press release.
“After their rediscovery, the collection of Cyrene artworks was staged as The Stars Are Bright Exhibition at the Theatre Courtyard Gallery in London between June and October of 2020 and was widely acclaimed. And now, befittingly, the collection has achieved its long-awaited return to Zimbabwe, to be cherished and enjoyed by audiences who share a direct lineage with the original artists of the Cyrene school”, she added.
“The first exhibition of the collection on home soil was opened by The Honourable Minister of Sport, Art and Culture, Kirsty Coventry and was held at The Arches at Aberfoyle in the Honde Valley in November 2021.
This was followed by a very successful return to the collection’s “hometown” of Bulawayo for an official launch at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in April 2022.
The official Harare launch of The Stars Are Bright collection was took place at The National Gallery of Zimbabwe Harare and officially launched by His Excellency President Mnangagwa as His Excellency privately toured the exhibition on Monday.
That this astonishingly brave and truthful work can now be reunited with the very landscapes that inspired it after 70 long years, makes for an exciting and emotional homecoming.
Cyrene Mission School opened its doors in January 1940. Around 100 boys aged between 22 and 20 arrived at the mission having left their homes across what is now present day Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana. It was founded by a Scottish clergyman Edward “Ned” Patterson.
The focus on art at Cyrene was to prove both an inspiration and liberation for the young students who embraced the freedom of expression and immersion into their imaginations that the subject offered.