Raised by a father who was a mathematician and engineer, who obviously would have loved it if his only son had followed in his footsteps, Jethro was ‘not about that life‘, as millennials say, and he had other plans for his career path. As a young boy growing up in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia, Jethro already enjoyed drawing so much and was improving his skill by the day. Read on to find out how he nurtured his love for art and also became an amazing Graphics Illustrator.
What made you deviate so much from your dad’s field from a very young age? What inspired your love for art?
Growing up I never spent much time with my dad, so I found myself drawn so much to drawing from a very young age, around 10 or 11. I didn’t even know that it was art. I just loved drawing things around me, and that grew to me painting later.
They say “the forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest”, and that was the case with you and your love for art. What made you persist with drawing, even though your parents had told you to stop?
My father was very strict and tough on us, me especially being the only boy, so I never really admired his career. I always wanted to be different and do what made me happy, which was art.
You enrolled at the University of Malawi hoping to study art, only to find that their programme was more theoretical and centred in Art History. What did you then decide to major in, and why?
I decided to major in Music because I grew up in a society that never encouraged art as a career. Even though I loved art, I defaulted to music which I also love, with the hope that I would become a music teacher in a private high school.
Though you majored in music and went on to become a music teacher after graduation, totally quitting art for about four years, you stated that art always gave you a certain peace and calmness within. At what point did you finally decide to drop teaching music and focus solely on art?
I decided to completely dive into art full time in 2014. At this point teaching music was so stressful, and I felt like I was not growing.
Before and throughout university, you focused on pencil art. What or who made you switch to paints and watercolours, and how was that transition?
When I was in First year, I met a social science student who loved art, and she was impressed with my pencil work; she then she showed me some of her paintings, and challenged me to start painting. Initially, I was scared of the switch. Here I was at the top of my pencil game, and I knew switching would mean going back to square one. Much to my surprise, painting was easy and fun, and I really enjoyed it from the onset.
What kind of art do you focus on, or enjoy the most?
I love painting wilds cats, lions and leopards mostly. I also enjoy recreating my own African scenes, breaking away from the popular movements of African art, more like fictional art but in my own unique way. I enjoy using multi-canvases. I think I was largely influenced by my love for geometry. (Ah, so he does have a little love for his dad’s favourite subject in him, lol).
Your wildlife paintings are exquisite. Do you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors camping etc. to get inspiration?
In my childhood years especially, we went to a lot of wildlife reserves, national parks, and zoos. I also lived in areas that had a lot of wildlife and nature, so that formed my love for wild animals. As an adult I haven’t had much time for adventure, but plans are underway to probably spend more time in the wild and do art… that is my dream.
Since you started painting full time, you don’t sleep much, at one time going for 3 days straight without sleep. How do you manage to stay focused on what you are doing, without making fatigue-induced errors?
There is something magical about loving what you do. You lose track of time and your level of focus is so intense. I read somewhere where Beyonce was in the studio for 2 days, and forgot to eat. I love art so much to the point where if I don’t paint for 3 days, I start getting agitated, and after a week, I start feeling sick, suffering from all kinds of body pains and headaches, hahaha. I am truly obsessed with art!
You mentioned that some of the personal challenges which you faced have actually inspired you to produce some of your best art. How did you manage to pick up a brush and gather the strength to paint when you were going through emotional challenges which sometimes led to depression?
Since I was a child, art has always been a place of safety for me mentally. The moment I start to do art, my mind becomes clear, free, no stress, and I end up creating artworks that even blow my mind. I believe it’s a gift I was given to bless others, and to refresh my mind and body. Over the years, I have learned to throw myself more in art… it’s a peaceful and beautiful place to be.
When you were now painting full time, you treasured your art pieces so much and totally refused to sell them. When a friend from Brazil offered to buy some of your art, you charged him an exorbitant amount which you hoped would deter him from making that purchase. When he was not deterred and gave you the cash upfront, did you not regret not having sold your art from the beginning?
Not I didn’t regret, even though I needed the money. Every painting is like a part of me, and even up to today, selling my art is not easy. But I have learned that I must bless other people with my gift. The more I share, the more I realise how big this gift is, and the more I get new ideas and inspiration.
Can you tell us about the Graphics Design course which you did in Cape Town? What did you specialise in, and why did you choose to do that course?
I have always wanted to do graphics design since 2015, but I just didn’t have the time, and I didn’t know where. So when I went to Ruth Prowse School of Art to do Fine Art, I decided to switch to graphics design because I already was into art and painting. Graphics design was about visual communication, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of art with a function. I learned about marketing and advertising, colour theory, typography, illustration, digital art, etc. I really love it and I plan to go for further studies in graphic design, especially illustration, and animation.
You and a few other artists we have come across have lamented the lack of Graphics Design schools in Malawi. Do you plan on sharing your knowledge and skills with the youth, and if so, how?
God willing, I want to start a school along those lines. There is so much potential in Malawi, and I feel like a lot of young people are missing out on this wonderful discourse. Visual communication is in everything these days. We are living in a visual age.
You have plans to further your education again in South Africa. Can you tell us about the Master’s programme you plan to enrol in and how it will enhance your career?
I want to do a Master’s Programme in Visual Communication, focusing on Children’s Education, and hopefully, do a doctoral degree as well after that. I want to have a say that will have an influence in the academic circles in Malawi concerning Art Education. If you have a PhD, key people listen to you and respect you. I plan to create art curriculum for schools, and other useful materials. I also want to be a role model for many young artists in Malawi, challenging them to aim higher. I grew up without any role model so it was trial and error situation, but now kids will not have to go through that, they can make use of my experiences and skills.
What are your parting words to budding African artists who might not necessarily have the support of their parents or families?
Its tough, but its possible! If you really want it, you can do it, and it’s worth it. Keep pushing, discipline yourself and a way will eventually come up.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Tanto Wavie | Founder of TrapSu, A Genre of Vibes and Reflection
The Zimbabwean music landscape has evolved in a big way during the past years we have witnessed the creation of new genres and new sounds. From the country’s infancy right through its maturity, we have been blessed with genres such as Sungura, Museve, urban groves, Zim dancehall. These sounds have played a crucial role in defining the culture and Identity of the Zimbabwean people. Our feature artist has done a remarkable job of fusing the sound of old, and the new sound of the times. We introduce to you Tanto Wavie
Zimbabwe is a country known for its hardships, corruption, and bad press overall. Through the midst of all these negatives, Zimbabwean art still thrives. As much as it is not lucrative for the collective at large most artists still find a way to release and make music. This one artist is no exception, Tanto Wavie is making waves through his music, no pun intended.
I first heard of Tanto a couple of years ago through a random YouTube suggestion of his song John Chibadura. This song is a tribute to the late John Badura a famous Zimbabwean Sungura artist whose music defined the fabric of the times in the early 80s to 90s, a legendary figure etched in the Mount Rushmore of Zimbabwean music greats. The intense base guitar Sungura fused with hip hop and Trap beats in a genius and flawless composition made me an instant fan. This was the beginning of a beautiful sonic relationship between me and this muso.
All his records laced with the vibrant and high-energy producer tag at the beginning of each song “chi beat cha Tanto,” translation “Tanto’s beat”, you know you are in for a treat. Many have tried to fuse or sample Sungura or Museve, only to produce mediocre results, leaving much to be desired. On the other hand, Tanto has successfully found the secret formula to this magic, in his cauldron he cooks up a concoction of a new brand of Trap and Sungura, cleverly dubbed Trapsu. He creates timeless jams I believe are still yet to be discovered and pieces that will echo through the passage of time.
With releases such as Sungura Museve a pure non-skip album that features stand-out tracks such as Mudhipisi, translation a “cop out” or “straight up fool always killing the vibe for everybody”. Tanto narrates a story of an individual who’s always messing everything up when people are trying to live their best lives and have a good time. In true Sungura fashion, the songs on the project are very descriptive and comedic at best but trust me! the man’s projects are no joke, he is one to be taken seriously.
The album is also graced with Gems such as 007, Dzinga Munyama, Mabhachi ft Denim Woods with a killer verse, Heart Yangu a soulful Trap+Sungura+RNB just to name a few. After Sungura Museve he has dropped a number of projects and singles all bangers. The future is bright for Tanto and personally I can’t wait for the new drop this Friday “Wake Chaiye”.
In closing, I believe an artist like Tanto Wavie is the missing piece to the future of the Zimbabwean music scene. He not only embodies the heritage and legacy of a sound that carried and groomed a whole nation, but he also brings the energy of the present-day with artistic integrity and vigor. Tanto is one to most definitely watch out for. Zimbabwe, Africa are you ready???
Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume
I am sure we all can agree that the beginning of the year 2020 was a rude awakening wrapped in a global event for the books due to the Covid19 pandemic. Zimbabwean sculptor slash Lawyer, David Chengetai Ngwerume, took to his creative outlet to not only process but provide a map for future generations in the form of his work, ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Collection’ that has taken the world by storm.
According to Ngwerume, art “…is a duty and calling…”
The 40-year old’s sculpting journey started in the humble communal lands of Musana in 1995 under the instruction of revered fellow sculptor Cosmas Muchenje. He continued to excel in his academic studies as well which led him to an LLB (Bachelor of Laws, Honours) in 2006 from the University of Zimbabwe.
According to Ngwerume, “Art is a duty and calling that I persistently continue using various forms mainly in Stone Sculpture in invoking thought into Humanity, share awareness with the contemptuous world.” Ngwerume’s sculptures have been exhibited all over the world from Hong Kong (China), Canada to the United States of America, and locally in Zimbabwe at the Hebert Chitepo Memorial.
“My ambitions are global so I am in for it; it’s not always about where you are but where you are going.”
The sculptor’s ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Collection’ comprises of pieces such as ‘MJ’ inspired by the pop icon Michael Jackson, encouraging people to mask up and get vaccinated. Another piece in the collection is called, ‘We are Torn’ which encourages people to sneeze into their elbows.
He is currently working on two other collections:
- ‘Thy Next World Collection’ which addresses concerns pertaining to humanity as we move into the future;
- And ‘Taking the Reins Collection’ which looks at the advancement of the world through the relationship between people and horses and their loyalty to humanity.
Ngwerume’s art is a reflection of the times and he is not stopping any time soon. He is also responsible for the iconic ‘Scales of Justice’ sculptures situated in front of the High Court in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare and the second capital, Bulawayo. We got to chat with the sculptor.
- The first question is probably something you get a lot, but I just have to ask; how did you manage to find yourself in the world of law and sculpting? To us laymen, the fields look so vastly different.
I am a hard worker and I believe staying in work in both professions has made me invincible. The modern-day world is driven by skill and knowledge and it is acquired by putting in more effort.
“As a creative I also can tell you inspiration is everywhere, everyday life is filled with endless sources of influence.”
- Have you ever found yourself in a position to choose between the two (law and sculpting) or a situation where one had to suffer for the benefit of the other?
Never! My ambition has always been to do more and I believe amongst the many I do I can manage both. If anything my professions feed off each other in a way.
- What is the intention of your art?
To influence change in this world and make it a better place through various mediums from Stone Sculpture, paintings, installations and various other mediums in portraying contemporary messages that invoke thoughts into humanity towards shaping their moment in times and make this world move towards positive thinking.
- In a past article, it is mentioned that you draw inspiration from your experience practising law; can you remember the first case that inspired an exhibit? Why did you find the case worthy of being your muse?
The first case I got inspired by was a Domestic Violence case. It motivated me to do a painting titled, WOMEN – STRUGGLE from the CRADLE. It was the extent of damage this particular domestic abuse case had inflicted on those involved that moved me to create.
- In another article it is mentioned that you mostly use serpentine stone, why is that?
I use various types of stones in my sculpting, like Spring stone, Opal, Lepidolite and Granite. It all depends on the message I intend to portray.
- Would you say you have any sculptors who either they personally or their work influences your work?
I am inspired by many sculptors like Michael Angelo, Gustav Vigeland and Dominic Benhura to name a few. As a creative I also can tell you inspiration is everywhere, everyday life is filled with endless sources of influence.
- Sculpting isn’t really popular in Zimbabwe, how can you say the sculpting scene is in Zimbabwe? Is there a support structure from fellow sculptors or it’s more of finding your own way?
Zimbabwe in a nutshell is about finding your way, but the upside of today’s world is that it’s a global village. In this global village, if you do your best, the world will always notice. My ambitions are global so I am in for it; it’s not always about where you are but where you are going.
- Could you please try explaining to us the creative journey you took in creating your popular COVID 19 Gallery?
The COVID-19 Pandemic is a global event affecting us all, and as an artist, I found it prudent to play my part in capturing the moments and share my views on Awareness and Vaccination.
- In making the exhibit MJ, how did you hone in on making the sculpture about the U.S pop star Michael Jackson?
MJ was the first public figure to move around wearing a mask, and his actions were early warnings of our reality, where the air we breathe is not safe as before because of COVID-19. His messages then were foretelling.
- According to New York-based art dealer Shingirai Mafara, your pieces are going to be part of the United Nations World Health Organisation permanent collection. Such an achievement, congratulations! How does knowing your work will live on long after you are gone feel? One could call it time travel of sorts, conversing with future generations.
I believe art is a reflection of perception and I am grateful for such higher strides being attained through my ingenuity. It is humbling to know that my work will inform, maybe even inspire future generations all over the world.
- How has it been coming into contact with big art dealers like Shingirai Mafara and do you think that has or will affect your style or subject matter moving forward?
Such dealers inspire my work and further my will to create and give me higher hopes that my art will be seen globally.
- Your most recent exhibit, “Halt Child Marriages” is definitely one for the times. As a man, where do you think the root problem lies in Zimbabwe’s child-bride pandemic?
The issue when it comes to child marriages is pure ugly GREED. The greediness in those men is uncalled for, it’s dirty, it’s illegal and it is immoral to view the young Girl Child as an object. We need to right such wrongs, and I am more than happy to lend my artistry to the cause.
(All pictures used are courtesy of David Ngwerume’s Facebook)
Interviewed by Hazel Lifa
Serge Doamba – Deaf Artist Based In Senegal Making The Most Of His Visual Ability
My dream is to sell my art in other countries, especially in the US, but I have not found a way to do that yet.
Kiswendsida Serge Doamba is a deaf artist and art teacher in Dakar, Senegal. Serge, as he is fondly known, was born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Born deaf, he was his parent’s second child, after his older sister had passed away as a baby. Later in his childhood, he bacame sick for some time around age 2 with a high fever, and he was unable to walk for a time. Says the talented artist, “When I got sick, my parents went to church and talked with the pastor, and I was healed. After I was healed, I began going to the school for the deaf in Ouagadougou, where I continued until the middle school level.” The humble, kind and jovial art teacher says that he really did not like school, and all he wanted to do was to draw.
Through the assistance of Angela Bednarczyk, Serge’s colleague, who was kind enough to translate sign language for us, we were honoured to be able to interview the inspiring young artist and teacher. Read on to learn more about Serge and his art.
You discovered your love for art at a young age, were your parents supportive of your passion?
Around age 7, I saw an older friend of mine drawing. I wanted to do the same. I realized that all I wanted to do was draw. I only had a pencil and paper, but I drew faces, cars, and other things in my world. Pastor Maxime, a friend of my parents, saw my artwork and he thought it was very good, as did my parents. They encouraged me a lot with my artwork.
Did you study art at school?
I did a lot of drawing while I was in school, and showed my art to my teachers who encouraged me, but I did not have any formal art instruction during those years at the school for the deaf.
What did you do when you completed school, and what kind of art did you specialise in at that stage?
In 2007, I traveled to Senegal with Pastor Maxime and his family. I thought I was there for just a 3-month visit, but Pastor Maxime thought I should stay in Senegal, and he found me an apprenticeship with Aziz, a Senegalese artist who did artwork with gourds. I began to work with him and learned how to clean, prepare and decorate gourds. He could see that I was a good artist.
What inspired your move to Dakar, Senegal?
In 2009 I met Mrs. Jane Penney, who encouraged me to come to Dakar and work at Ecole Renaissance des Sourds (ERS). I began at the school as an assistant teacher. I was very excited to be in a school for the deaf, and to be given the opportunity to teach and encourage the young students.
Did you always dream of becoming an art teacher?
I dreamed of going to a university where I could study art. I did not think about being an art teacher at that time. When I first came to ERS, I only thought about teaching the children, but after a few years,
we decided to have professional activities, and art was one of those – so I was able to begin to teach art. I was helped in this teaching by Susan Roese who was an art teacher in the US, and who came to work with us for a few months at a time. Then when I was in the US myself, and worked with different artists, I learned more and more about different types of art, and shared that with my students.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching art?
I love to work with deaf children and teach them how to express themselves through art. Being deaf, the visual aspect is so very essential, and so teaching the students how to express their thoughts and feelings in their art is very important. I want to expose them to many different artistic techniques, and the use of many different materials.
You specialize in gourds and acrylics. Can you tell us what interests you the most about the art that you specialize in, and what made you choose to do it?
My top interest is now in painting using acrylics. Painting caught my fancy when I was in the US, that is what I am really enjoying now. I have been able to try out different techniques with acrylics, and to develop a certain style of art. I like all of the things that I can do with acrylic paints.
I continue to do quite a bit of work with gourds. I very much enjoy the prospect of creating something out of each gourd that I purchase. Maybe it will become a lamp that sits on a table, or one that hangs from a metal frame. I use different types of tools to make holes and designs in the gourds. I also place glass beads in the holes, making very beautiful designs, especially when a light is placed inside.
The third thing that I like to do is printmaking. While in the US, I worked with a printmaker, and she was very encouraging. She provided me with all of the materials to create prints, but then asked me to plan my prints on my own, without her assistance. I have continued to create a variety of prints which are very popular.
In 2015 while you were in the United States you worked with 7 other artists. Can you tell us about that experience? What did you learn from it and what did you enjoy the most about it?
The artists included those who taught me about drawing portraits, drawing with perspective, painting Chinese water colors, acrylics with a palate knife, print-making, clay sculpture, and batik. I enjoyed working with each artist, and learning all of the techniques that they utilized in their art. Part of my art instruction was with Sue Hand and Michael Hiscox at Sue’s studio, where I saw so many different pieces of art, and especially Sue’s art, as she is a fantastic painter. I just wanted to work on canvas and use acrylic paints. That was the most significant thing for me.
My world was expanded when I visited the US. I saw trees and forests like I had never seen before, I visited the museums of Washington DC, and saw deaf friends in New York City. I went to a church for the deaf, saw Gallaudet University, which is a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C., and visited the elementary school there. I saw that many people knew sign language and could communicate with me. I also saw completely captioned TV – one of the many ways that deaf people are helped in the US.
Also, seeing God’s creation, especially Niagara Falls, was one of the highlights of my trip. The falls never stop – the water just continues, and I was really amazed to see that. I loved the forests and the mountains, and all of the beautiful plants that I saw there.
Have you participated in any major exhibitions, and what has been the highlight of your career thus far?
For the past two years, women from the Dakar Women’s Group have selected my paintings to be in their exhibition and sale. That has been so very exciting to see my artwork shown and sold. I have also been able to sell my art at different places in Dakar – at an international school’s events, and at other events run by the Dakar Women’s Group. I am so happy to be able to see my art at these exhibitions and other places. It affirms my being an artist. Having others tell me how much they love my art, and buying it, has been such an encouragement to me and my work.
Do you face any challenges as an artist in Senegal, and more so as a deaf artist? If yes, what do you think can be done to address those challenges?
It is difficult to find ways to sell my art because opportunities are limited. Being a deaf artist, it’s a bit difficult for me to get involved in the art community of Dakar, which is quite extensive. I do not have other ways to sell my art right now, but my dream would be to sell it in other countries, especially in the US, but I have not found a way to do that yet.
I need to find other places in Dakar, that could sell my artwork, and also, with help from my friends in the US, find ways to sell my art there also.
What words of advice do you usually tell your young students who wish to become great artists like you?
I have one student in particular who is a very gifted artist. He has a natural talent for drawing, using a black or blue ink pen. I encourage him to not only do pen and ink drawings, but to try other media, especially acrylics, to broaden his knowledge of art. I am also encouraging him to go to an art school in Dakar where he will get professional-level training once he completes his education at the school for the deaf.
Currently, where can people find your work if they would like to view or buy some pieces?
I currently sell my art by posting it on Facebook on my page @SergeDoamba. It has also been available through the Dakar Women’s Group sale which has been online for the past two years. I also encourage people to come to my home and see my art. I am planning an art exhibition and sale at our school this December, and I look forward to everyone’s support.
I would like to find other ways to sell my art. If it is to be sold in other countries, I would need some way to have the art transported there, so I hope that one day soon I will be able to get some assistance with regards to shipping my art.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
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