Art exhibitions are very rare and far between. And more concerning, art exhibitions of quality and impact are harder to come by in Tanzania such that the culture and way of life that these creatives want to portray are but a show for the tourists’ dollars.
Art has existed since time immemorial. It is an outlet used to portray the imaginative and creative mind of the artist, something that art collectors and genuine appreciators of paintings, drawings and sculptures drool over.
With a growing predilection in art, I was intrigued when it was mentioned to me that a solo exhibition of eight quality art pieces from a renowned Tanzanian artist, Boniface Mwiru, were going on display at the Emerson Hurumzi 236 – a boutique hotel in the heart of Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Though Mwiru moved to Zanzibar in 1998 and got into professional painting, he still maintains a strong bond with his place of origin – Tanzania Mainland and this is seen through his choice of medium that infers a connection with the mainland.
The exhibition was held at a place frequented by tourists – the lucrative buyers of art, considered to be the lifeline to many artists. Without dwelling too much on who buys the art pieces, one of the reasons for staging this unique exhibition was to recognise and celebrate art and also encourage more people to pick an interest in this creative industry.
An impressive display of eight masterpieces drawn on acrylic canvas, with a well-chosen theme of ‘Last Rhythm’ adorned the idyllic boutique hotel.
Pictures depicting the position of women in local music, which appreciate the success but also highlight their struggles were part of the impressive showcase.
In one artpiece titled ‘Orchestra’, a group of women are seen singing, they exude so much passion and an unscathed level of energy reminiscent of the dedication and hardwork that has been a part of this craft for years.
Other displays, aptly named ‘Redemption 1 and 2’, ‘Zeze’, ‘Hand and Head’, ‘Seduction’, ‘Penny Whistle Lady’ and ‘Last Rhythm’ – which carries the title of the whole exhibition, summed up the eight works that were unveiled to an attentive audience.
Going for a pricing of $450 (about Sh1 million), Last Rhythm stood out as the star of the exhibition, it was followed by ‘Redemption Song 1’ priced at $400 and ‘Seduction at $380’. The rest were between $350 and $150. Such prices were indeed a bargain especially for those who came with extra bucks to spend.
Personally, what stood out to me was the ‘Seduction’ painting. With intricately done details, the artwork delivered its message in an effortless style – sheer imagination and immersing yourself into the creative world is all it took to feel like the painting is speaking directly to you.
The painting artistically elaborates the odds stacked against women in music and how male chauvinism remains an impediment to the success of female artistes.
‘Zeze’ is another remarkable art piece which shows a woman with a string instrument carrying a baby on her back. The underlying message in this artwork shades light to the struggles faced by working mothers or women in music who also have to juggle family responsibilities.
One artpiece showing the back of a dancing woman with both hands on her head dubbed ‘Hand on head’, is a peculiar piece which connotes the dire need for freedom for women in music and how dance can be a liberating factor.
All eight pieces conveyed unique messages about the struggle and endurance of female African musicians. The immense talent imbued in these women – from singing, dancing to playing instruments often goes unnoticed. But through the exhibition, the world will become cognizant of this plight and hence take initiative to make the music scene a better place for all.
The title of the exhibition ‘Long Rhythm’ befits the unending exertion seen from artistes willing to go the extra mile to stake a claim in the expansive music industry. The rhythm that a few bold women started a few years back, of setting foot in the music industry should continue and serve as an example for others to follow. Helen McPherson is a tourist from the United Kingdom who says she stumbled into the exhibition but liked what she saw. “The displays were outstanding and for sure in other markets, they can fetch a hefty amount,” she said.
Local artist, John Makilali, in sheer delight shared his appreciation for the talented Mwiru. “Mwiru is an accomplished artist,” he praised, adding: “This exhibition proves the same once again as he continues to inspire a lot of us budding artists.”
Izar Muhsin, owner of a tourist-favourite Nice Restaurant wished the exhibition was advertised more. “Tourists need more places to go where they can appreciate our culture. I could have put such ads at my place,” he said.
This is a second solo exhibition for Mwiru. “I hope my bold move to stage a solo showcase will encourage other young artists to also exhibit their works,” he said.
On the pricing, the artist decided not to lean so much on the expensive side. This was done to encourage people to buy the artwork. “We can have our own middle class who can afford to buy art pieces and grow their collections of art,” he said.