IS­TAN­BUL EX­HI­BI­TION ON AFRO-IN­DIGE­NOUS CU­BISM

In Septem­ber, the con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture gallery Klip Kuns opened to show Zim­babwe-sourced stone art in the freshly di­verse artist en­vi­rons of Firuzağa and Çukur­cuma, an in­ner-city district in Is­tan­bul that has be­come syn­ony­mous with cre­ative youth cul­tur

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - MATT HAN­SON - IS­TAN­BUL

‘KLIP KUNS,’ the sculp­ture gallery cu­rated by Gamze Al­par that opened in Is­tan­bul’s Çukur­cuma in Septem­ber, fea­tures the art of carv­ing the Zim­babwe-ori­gin stone, sig­ni­fy­ing an in­dige­nous African ar­ti­san tra­di­tion with a sin­gu­lar con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance to the vis­ual arts world

GAMZE Al­par is an un­par­al­leled cu­ra­tor and a vi­brant host­ess, as she warmly in­vites arts con­nois­seurs and the more cu­ri­ous of Is­tan­bul’s foot­sore wan­der­ers for tea and con­ver­sa­tion sur­rounded by ex­am­ples of the in­valu­able tan­gi­ble her­itage of Zim­babwe, where she trav­eled for her first time this past April and soon af­ter for three months in the sum­mer. She fol­lowed in the foot­steps of an old friend in Kenya to col­lect Shona stone art with her as­so­ciate Mu­rad Gey­imci be­fore re­turn­ing to Is­tan­bul for the Septem­ber open­ing of her gallery, Klip Kuns.

In Old Harare she dis­cov­ered that there are some six hun­dred Shona artists in Africa who re­main ded­i­cated to the craft that con­tin­ues to place African sculp­ture among the lat­est of con­tem­po­rary global art trends long af­ter it rev­o­lu­tion­ized 20th cen­tury paint­ing. The works of Pi­casso and his French con­tem­po­rary Ge­orges Braque speak to one of the most dra­matic trans­for­ma­tions in art his­tory, that of the de­vel­op­ment of Cu­bist paint­ing from African sculp­ture.

In Afrikaans, Klip Kuns sim­ply means “stone art.” It sig­ni­fies an in­dige­nous African ar­ti­san tra­di­tion with a sin­gu­lar con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance to the vis­ual arts world, specif­i­cally from the ori­gins of mod­ernist paint­ing, and ul­ti­mately since time im­memo­rial. Vis­ual art from Africa is some­times still typ­i­cally stereo­typed to prim­i­tivism, as con­sist­ing of cer­e­mo­nial masks and West African sculp­ture. Shona art, how­ever, has been lauded in the in­ter­na­tional press and in the world’s most pres­ti­gious mu­se­ums as a per­fect epit­ome of in­dige­nous mod­ernism, as its artists con­tinue to shat­ter every last cliche, la­bel and con­ven­tion known to come be­tween Euro­pean thought and the un­der­stand­ing of con­tem­po­rary African cul­ture.

The ear­li­est Euro­pean ap­pre­ci­a­tion for African art within the mod­ernist core is widely at­trib­uted to the writ­ings of the Ger­man-Jewish an­ar­chist and critic Carl Ein­stein, whose most im­por­tant work “Negerplas­tik” is about sculp­ture and di­rectly in­flu­enced avant-garde painters dur­ing the in­ter­war pe­riod. At the time of its publi­ca­tion in 1915 Zim­babwe was South­ern Rhode­sia, ef­fec­tively ruled by the colo­nial Bri­tish min­ing in­dus­try who sub­dued mul­ti­ple Shona re­bel­lions. Afrikaans was then a mi­nor­ity lan­guage and soon its pres­ence would all but van­ish from the ter­rain by 1980 with the in­de­pen­dence of Zim­babwe, where the cur­rent eth­nic ma­jor­ity lan­guage of Shona was spo­ken most af­ter English.

In re­mem­brance of the colo­nial era of Zim­babwe, when Shona art gained its in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence as a dis­tinct, world-class aes­thetic dis­ci­pline, keep­ing the Afrikaans name of Klip Kuns pays homage to the so­cial his­tory of the con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture move­ment that emerged from the land­locked south­ern African coun­try of present-day Zim­babwe, whose name liter- ally trans­lates to “House of Stone.” In the years lead­ing up to in­de­pen­dence, Zim­bab­wean artists found space abroad to as­sem­ble freely in the world of in­ter­na­tional art ex­hi­bi­tions.

Jo­ram Mariga, the Fa­ther of Zim­bab­wean Sculp­ture is pic­tured at Klip Kuns above its ex­quis­ite pieces, all by liv­ing artists who fol­low his legacy on the gallery floor. He was among the first of mod­ern Shona artists to ex­hibit abroad, namely in 1963 at the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall in Lon­don, un­der the wing of English muse­ol­o­gist Frank McEwan who founded what is to­day the Na­tional Gallery of Zim­babwe. For the next 16 years be­fore Zim­babwe be­came an in­de­pen­dent na­tion and de­spite West­ern sanc­tions against the bla­tantly racist Rhode­sian gov­ern­ment, Shona art was cu­rated in the finest arts in­sti­tu­tions in the world, from MoMA in New York City to the Musee Rodin in Paris and be­yond.

In 1969, Amer­i­can fash­ion de­signer Mary Josephine Mc­Fad­den mar­ried McEwan in Rhode­sia while es­tab­lish­ing Vukutu, an artist com­mune for Shona sculp­tors called the Work­shop School. Although the mar­riage lasted a year, the artists who emerged from her sculp­tural farm now grace the pan­theon of Shona artists. They are now cel­e­brated at Klip Kuns. The por­traits of Nicholas Mukomber­anwa, Henry Mun­yaradzi, and Joseph Ndan­darika re­call the in­spired in­ge­nu­ity that cropped up from Vukutu, of­fer­ing art his­to­ri­ans and worldly aes­thetes a clear and ex­pan­sive view on a his­tory of African in­de­pen­dence through fine arts pro­duc­tion.

Al­par dis­plays the core val­ues of Shona sculp­ture with mul­ti­fac­eted so­phis­ti­ca­tion about her gallery in a free-flow­ing open-house ex­hi­bi­tion style in­te­grat­ing tex­tual and pho­to­graphic el­e­ments to em­bel­lish hun­dreds of in­ge­nious sculp­tures by about 50 artists. She per­son­ally met most of her gallery artists whose works she cu­rates for niche art mar­kets in Is­tan­bul and across the globe. Tau­rai Chimba, for ex­am­ple, is a rare name in the in­ter­na­tional spot­light among new Shona art- ists. Two of his soap­stones at Klip Kuns de­pict play­ful, mythic char­ac­ters rem­i­nis­cent of the Inuit aes­thetic of the In­dige­nous Arc­tic, yet with an al­to­gether unique, au­then­tic for­mal­ism that leaves afi­ciona­dos won­der­ing how Cu­bism and Shona art dif­fer at all.

On any given day, Al­par re­ceives vis­i­tors and pa­trons from across the glob­al­ized so­cial spec­trum at Klip Kuns, such as Amer­i­can me­tal­work and ce­ramic artist Cas­tro, who speaks to art his­tory and cre­ative in­de­pen­dence with an un­com­mon ease also demon­strated by his spe­cial tal­ent. When asked if he is in­spired by Shona art, he an­swers promptly in the neg­a­tive. To him, arts ap­pre­ci­a­tion and cre­ative work are sep­a­rate worlds. He con­fi­dently as­serts pure, in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic orig­i­nal­ity in his craft while dis­cussing the debt owed by fa­mous painters to the African sculp­tors who in­spired Cu­bism.

Where an im­me­di­ately un­mis­tak­able nude sketch by Pi­casso stares from a ledge on one of the many gallery walls dec­o­rated with Shona sculp­tures, Cas­tro shared lu­cid thoughts on African art and artis­tic in­tegrity as Al­par deep­ened the con­ver­sa­tion with ex­citable bursts of in­sight from her peer­less ex­pe­ri­ence as the only Turk­ish cu­ra­tor ded­i­cated en­tirely to Shona art. She muses com­fort­ably on ev­ery­thing from her days in Zim­babwe to a re­cent Klip Kuns gallery loan for the set of a new film by Serra Yıl­maz and Ferzan Özpetek.

Shona artists carve but­ter jade, ser­pen­tine, spring stone, black and white opal, verdite and soap­stones to con­jure vast ranges of emo­tion from min­eral sur­face. As is tra­di­tional to the in­dige­nous phi­los­o­phy of Shona art, the stones are thought to take sculp­tural form by the will of an­ces­tral spir­its. The artists re­frain from pre­med­i­tated sketch­ing and from us­ing so­phis­ti­cated tools be­yond sim­ple pick­axes and cut­ters so as not to in­ter­fere with the cre­ative source.

Wildlife and vil­lagers are among the re­cur­ring sub­jects be­fit­ting the cross-genre def­i­ni­tion of ne­o­re­al­ist nat­u­ral­ism, such as the ribbed rhi­noc­eros by Yar­daro R. Mu­denda. And there are ab­stract, ex­pres­sion­is­tic pieces more akin to Cu­bist affini­ties, as in the mono­lithic por­trait im­pres­sions of Sec­ond Mapp­fumo and Nhamo Iasi on dis­play at Klip Kuns along­side sim­i­larly in­no­vated pieces with ti­tles like, “Ma­trix,” “Spi­ral Face,” “Wise” and “The God of Storm.” Other works, such as “Ea­gle” and “Love” demon­strate syn­cretic aes­thet­ics that blend the equally so­phis­ti­cated tech­niques be­hind both tra­di­tional forms and con­tem­po­rary styl­iza­tions.

Klip Kuns is the only gallery in Turkey, and po­ten­tially in the world, with a sole fo­cus on Shona art. Its aes­thetic phi­los­o­phy con­trasts with a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance be­side tra­di­tional Turk­ish art, as there is no com­pa­ra­ble stone sculp­ture tra­di­tion in Turkey given the his­toric Is­lamic pro­hi­bi­tion against graven im­ages. Al­par is wide-eyed and am­bi­tious. She is al­ready plan­ning win­ter­time ven­tures to Zim­babwe to strengthen her ties with the lo­cal ar­ti­san com­mu­nity while set­ting her sights on Toronto, Dubai, Paris and else­where to broaden the cre­ative space for con­tem­po­rary Shona art to con­tinue to flour­ish with dis­tinc­tion world­wide.

Shona art is a style all its own, as its forms bear the orig­i­nal story of Cu­bism, as seen in the works of Nhamo Iasi at Klip Kuns.

Last year, af­ter Gamze Al­par vis­ited Zim­babwe for the first time, she be­came a Shona art col­lec­tor and opened Klip Kuns in Is­tan­bul.

Tau­rai Chimba is unique among the new gen­er­a­tion of Shona artists, as he gained in­ter­na­tional fame thanks in part to the spe­cial ef­forts of Klip Kuns.

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