Lovemore Kambudzi and Nyasha Sigauke

Lovemore Kambudzi. Photo by Mai Palmberg

"We just draw what we see every day"

Lovemore Kambudzi and Nyasha Sigauke are married, and are both painters. Lovemore Kambudzi was born in the housing development area of Seke in Harare in 1978. He has gone through the three-year art training at the Visual Arts studios of the National Gallery in Mbare, and became after this associated with Gallery Delta in Harare, where he has received training and exhibition space. He has had paintings exhibited in Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States. In 2003 he left for Commonwealth scholarship to New Zealand.
Nyasha Sigauke. Photo by Mai Palmberg

Lovemore has a very individual style of painting, called a variant of Seraut's pointillism, or tachism, with the application of diverse and contrasting large daubs of colour to make up the shapes. They remind of camouflage colours, but the artist's intentions are rather to uncover. He says "Handingavanze chokwadi" (I can't hide the truth).

Lovemore Kambudzi's canvases are usually large and show crowded city life with both everyday life and different situations of suffering or humiliation, like queuing for fuel, stealing maize bags from a capsized truck, or policemen beating their citizens.

Let me first ask, how come you became painters?

Nyasha: From childhood I have always wanted to draw people, sketches of people, without them knowing. Or anything interesting that I would see even on the streets or the TV I would put it on paper. And then when I grew up I figured out at school, Lord Melville School in Waterfalls, that you can paint, you can put it in a picture that is more colourful and more creative.

Lovemore: I have grown up painting, drawing, making sketches. Even when I was little I used to draw. And then I got to school at the BAT and I started to paint and there was a teacher who would teach me.

I want to put a question to Lovemore about his technique. The paintings I have seen I think all of them have a rather distinctive technique with this not quite spots, or perhaps one could call them big spots of colour, something different from and more than brush strokes. Have you been inspired from somewhere else or is it something that you have just invented yourself?

Lovemore: We used to have a problem of how to invent, we just draw to copy the teachers and then we have got a big problem of how to draw in your own way of drawing. I tried some different techniques and it did not work, and then I found out this one. It was first not exactly this that I am doing now, it was like lines and then I started to do some little strokes.

Do you know about the style that is called pointillism, where they took the point of the brush and made a lot of small dots so that together it becomes a surface of the colour?

Lovemore: Yes, now I am reading some other old masters, I have seen the other paintings that are like what I am doing.

But you did not see them before you started yourself?

Lovemore: No, I did not see them.

Nyasha, what kind of art works are you painting now?

Nyasha: I just paint sometimes in abstract, sometimes I do still life, it depends what I see and what I like. If I just like this garden, I can just do sketches and put it on canvas.

Where do you actually paint?

Nyasha: What we really long for is to have a nice home with a nice beautiful studio so that you can paint. Now the problem is we live in a 2-roomed house and if you want to paint you have got to paint in the sun. You take the paintings outside, people come and they say excuse and they come and they move around you, so if you are tired you have got to fold back the paintings. So the sun is the problem, and when it is raining you cannot paint because there is no room for that. You only paint outside and there is no shade.

So we want a place with a studio where you just come in for painting and you paint your pictures nicely, after painting them you just leave them like that and go into the house.

Let us walk quickly over to another subject, namely how art and artists are affected by the crisis in Zimbabwe . Let us start with the material things. Do they affect your access to the material that you need?

Lovemore: Yes, it does because we need some more colours so maybe sometimes you'll be forced to paint without the colours that you like and you just paint with a few colours. And you don't have food sometimes maybe so you can't paint. You always have to think: "Where can I find money?" So it will be tough.

Nyasha: Most people who had shops with material, like oil paint, Da Vinci colours and those canvasses, are now moving out of Zimbabwe to other countries.

Where? To South Africa?

Nyasha: To South Africa, yes. So it is rather expensive to go to South Africa and buy material there. There will be few shops left and they will be really expensive to get those colours from.

And if you do not sell you will be forced to find something else, like a job, just a job to get money to buy food and pay the rent. So we are really affected by the situation.

Are many painters in Zimbabwe like you consistently painting what one could call some kind of a social critique?

Lovemore: I think it is what we are living in so we don't have anything to think of but we just draw what we see every day. And even without this crisis we always draw what we are doing so it is part of life. There are some who have some themes on this. Others they are afraid maybe to paint what they saw. Maybe they are afraid to be accused.

Nyasha: Because there's no freedom of speech. Otherwise if you really want to express what is really happening and put it on TV you would be in trouble. So there is no such freedom where one can paint what is really happening. So people are rather afraid, they are reserved when it comes to painting what is happening so that they don't get into trouble. They would rather paint something like flowers …

How do you feel about the fact that most of the pieces of work of art, including your paintings, which get sold, get sold to foreigners? Do you feel sad that these paintings go out of the country? Or is it something that you feel is natural?

Lovemore: I think it is natural because here people don't know what art painting is, they don't consider paintings. They think maybe that paintings are a loss of money.

There is another side to the fact that paintings go abroad. I am thinking, for example, of the painting – what was it – "Gondo Harishayi", which is now hanging at the Nordic Africa Institute, where I work. One reason why I bought it was that our institute is very much in its research and in its library holdings concerned with problems in Africa, with social science studies on Africa, whereas we mainly have pieces of art that are mere decorations, beautiful textiles from all part of Africa, so I thought we should also have a piece of art which reflects the social conflicts. On the other hand, this is the only image at the institute that relates to the social reality of Africa now. So we are running the risk of people looking at that painting, saying, "Yes, that's Africa, that's all there is to Africa". But in a way the answer is given; this is also part of Africa.

Nyasha: It is actually an exposure of what is really happening here. But in Zimbabwe it is not everyone who is living in such poor conditions, but when you live in those poor conditions and you are exposed to such things, to crime, looting and police harassment, they can just come and harass you, it is something that is within you because you are living in such a society, so when you get a chance to put it on canvas that's what you are thinking, that's what you are living in and that's what's really happening. There are some people who don't even know anything about looting because on our only TV station, they don't really broadcast what is happening to the people here in Zimbabwe . So it is only the people who live in such poor conditions like high-density areas that are exposed and they are the ones who will see and feel the pain of what is really happening. There are some people who live in better places who have maybe - who work in the government, they don't want to know and they don't want to see that because they can't help you in any way, otherwise they make things worse. So if you live in such conditions it is really hard to hide what is happening then to paint something beautiful, which is not happening. You cannot hide the truth.

[Interview in Bronte Hotel Garden in Harare on 29 July 2003]
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