MUDARIKI CON­JURES FRESH RE­AL­I­TIES

The Star Early Edition - - ART -

The scale of his art has grown. Late last year, he landed a pres­ti­gious res­i­dency at The Foun­tain­head in Mi­ami, where he was ex­posed to larger-than-life works and en­cour­aged to cre­ate art on a scale he was not used to, com­ing from Chi­tung­wiza, a vil­lage out­side Harare.

A piece, aptly ti­tled The Pup­peteer, cov­ers the wall and de­picts Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma as the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, ap­pear­ing cen­tre stage and don­ning the tra­di­tional cir­cus ap­parel. A naked au­di­ence looks on in awe while the pro­tag­o­nist weaves his fin­gers to ma­nip­u­late his string pup­pets. Bro­ken pup­pets lay strewn in the fore­ground, their pur­pose ful­filled and their pres­ence no longer needed at the cir­cus.

Shake­speare said all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely play­ers. Mudariki plays on the no­tion by rein­vent­ing tra­di­tional cir­cus char­ac­ters and us­ing them to com­ment on in­jus­tices.

To call his work con­tro­ver­sial would be an un­der­state­ment. Yet the artist is soft-spo­ken and unas­sum­ing, far re­moved from the dark sub­ject mat­ter his work par­o­dies.

Mudariki’s work is is­suedriven, high­light­ing the vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights, stereo­types, in­equal­ity, cor­po­rate greed and misog­yny. He is con­stantly ap­pro­pri­at­ing the defin­ing as­pects of clas­si­cal works by the likes of Goya and Manet, with­out im­i­tat­ing or repli­cat­ing them. The in­ter­pre­ta­tions are beau­ti­fully crafted paint­ings and, de­spite their ref­er­ences to grim nar­ra­tives, each pro­vides the viewer with the op­por­tu­nity to revel in his abil­ity to recre­ate such dark sub­ject mat­ter in a way that is beau­ti­fully en­gag­ing.

Mudariki’s first solo ex­hi­bi­tion, My Re­al­ity, at the Jo­hans Bor­man Fine Art Gallery in Cape Town in 2012, was a re­flec­tion of the eco­nomic and so­cial crises that up­rooted Zim­babwe. De­spite the ti­tle, his work makes no ef­fort to por­tray ac­tual events; they are fab­ri­ca­tions pro­jected into new frames of ref­er­ence, where their mean­ings are ul­ti­mately trans­formed. Robert Mu­gabe’s reign and im­pro­pri­ety is high­lighted, while also shed­ding light on in­jus­tices.

“The po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion af­fected ev­ery­one. As an artist, you al­ways re­spond to your en­vi­ron­ment and com­mu­ni­cate that through your work.”

Since mov­ing to Cape Town in 2011 the sub­ject-mat­ter in his art shifted from nar­ra­tives of greed and in­equal­ity that haunt his na­tive land to is­sues that were Cape Town-spe­cific. The pas­sion gap among the Cape Coloured com­mu­nity, the in­no­va­tion in town­ships and Helen Zille have all fea­tured. His shrewd por­tray­als of is­sues are gritty, forc­ing the view­ers to ac­cept that the re­vamped snip­pets in history have be­come our lived re­al­ity.

“I want to be part of the nar­ra­tive of art history,” said Mudariki. “I want to con­trib­ute to the history of Zim­babwe and the con­ti­nent.”

Art his­to­rian Lloyd Pol­lack has de­scribed Mudariki’s work as “Brueghe­lesque pageants of in­famy and trans­gres­sion”. Given that he had no for­mal art train­ing (he stud­ied ar­chae­ol­ogy at univer­sity), the scenes he cre­ate are sur­pris­ingly rem­i­nis­cent of the “Old Clas­sics”.

“My idea was to remix Old Masters and Euro­pean paint­ing to grab peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and com­mu­ni­cate this con­cept. I wanted to in­form peo­ple about what was hap­pen­ing in the coun­try, the suf­fer­ing and tor­ture. In a sense, with­out know­ing that, I was ac­tu­ally do­ing art history.”

Al­though Mudariki uses artis­tic de­vices and mo­tifs that re­call the art of Stan­ley Pinker (the aloe plants) and Brueghel the Elder (me­dieval fig­urines), when view­ing the art, that fact be­comes ir­rel­e­vant.

His use of colour and the­atre tropes con­vey the ur­gency of the sub­ject. In The Trick (2016) the ma­gi­cian’s trick of saw­ing a per­son in half is re­vealed to us. The au­di­ence though can­not see they are being de­ceived; their faces ex­press shock and dis­be­lief.

Mudariki loves draw­ing his view­ers into his work and once we be­come part of the au­di­ences that he de­picts in his art, the work takes on a dif­fer­ent meaning. The viewer tran­si­tions from on­looker to par­tic­i­pant and there is a sense of being let in on the big se­cret that the char­ac­ters are un­aware of.

Mudariki dares to re­veal the cruel tricks of the trade used by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, politi­cians and law­mak­ers, call­ing us to ac­tion. In this way, the re­spon­si­bil­ity shifts to the viewer to ei­ther watch on in si­lence as these atroc­i­ties are com­mit­ted, or re­veal the dirty tricks that have plagued our so­ci­ety for far too long.

The ex­hi­bi­tion can be viewed at San­lam Art Lounge, 11 Alice Lane, Sand­ton, Jo­han­nes­burg, un­til Sep­tem­ber 9.

The Pup­peteer, by Richard Mudariki.

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