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First Floor Gallery’s Valerie Kabov on Zimbabwe’s Burgeoning Art Scene

Opening night at “The Harare Fauves” exhibition at the Alon Segev Gallery in Tel Aviv was nothing short of vibrant and energetic. Named after Zimbabwe’s capital, the group exhibition includes work by three Zimbabwean artists: Helen Teede, Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude, and Wycliffe Mundopa. While each piece holds its own, as a whole, the works successfully address the political, economic, and cultural turmoil of Zimbabwe.

We spoke to curator Valerie Kabov to get her take on the exhibition’s look at Harare’s contemporary art scene. Kabov is also the co-founder of Harare’s first contemporary art gallery, First Floor Gallery Harare in Zimbabwe. “The Harare” is on view now through March 1, in collaboration with Israel’s art incubator START and initiative Africa First, led by Serge Tiroche.

WHITEWALL: How did you come across or meet the artists in “The Harare” exhibition?

VALERIE KABOV: Harare is a very small city and the art schools don’t produce a lot of graduates, so it’s not very difficult for to be discovered. Wycliffe has been working with for over 10 years. He was in the very first meeting we did when we were launching First Floor Gallery Harare. We didn’t discover him, he’s always been there. I’ve watched him grow up since he was 21, so it’s been a really incredible sort of very special journey.

Helen was studying at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town and after she came back from her studies, she was in Florence for a year, and she turned up to openings and we went from there.

WW: Zimbabwe is undergoing significant economic, political, and cultural changes. How would you describe the social impact of the artwork in the exhibition?

VK: I think the artists are all extraordinary painters at a time when it’s really, really important to contribute to the medium and the medium is seen as somewhat reactionary. Their approach to practice is making a contribution to the medium of painting and showing that it is far from a historically and antiquated view. They’re introducing elements of progressiveness and a positioning of a medium of the Eurocentric paradigm. They position themselves as heirs to a very Eurocentric tradition at the very same time being situated in Africa.

WW: As the contemporary art scene continues to grow in Zimbabwe and gain more visibility, how would you describe the future of the burgeoning industry in the country?

VK: I live in a country where you build what you are able to. The country has been in a fairly unstable situation, politically and economically. You know our currency collapsed last year and we’ve had a change of government. We believe very strongly in the talent of our artists. We believe that the adversity that we survive with every day and that our artists live with is a major inspiration and creates their content—and makes their artwork so powerful. So you know you have to take advantage of that adversity. I honestly believe we have some of the strongest artist practicing in Africa, and that is really important.

WW: As the co-founder of Harare’s first contemporary art gallery, can you tell what makes the Zimbabwe an exciting place for contemporary art?

VK: As an organization we’re in a unique position where we’re in a position to change the course of an art scene and that has happened in Zimbabwe all along. I think this is a scene that will continue to thrive but it faces a huge number of challenges. It’s like we still don’t have an international quality art school, and for the foreseeable future we still face huge shortages of art resources.





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