Surviving in a 16SNLV world

10 June 2013 - 02:01 By ANDILE NDLOVU
Harare-born artist Kudzanai Chiurai
Harare-born artist Kudzanai Chiurai
Image: Sunday Times

Artist Kudzanai Chiurai thinks there's no better time to speak about the normalisation of violence in our society than on Youth Day.

The Zimbabwean-born Chiurai will exhibit his new work, titled 16SNLV, from Thursday at his "fortress" at 50 Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, in Newtown, Johannesburg.

The exhibit will be on display until Sunday, June 16 - Youth Day.

Talking to The Times on Friday, he said that he plans to hand out posters and T-shirts to people who attend his show so that the work's anti-violence message is heard in the communities most affected by crime.

He said his art holds up a mirror to the apathy, rage and violence that has become part and parcel of life in this country.

But why are we so anaesthetised?

"It's not like it happens in private. It's documented and reported on, so it becomes part of our vocabulary. We see it in that context," he said.

"It's not like it's completely new to us. It's there and in a public space. But it's also married with the type of films we watch, the kind of material we engage in within popular culture. It's almost been flattened out in terms of the nature of it."

The exhibition title refers in part to June 16 - and youths' relationship to sex and violence.

Chiurai - who was the first black student to graduate with a bachelor's degree in fine art from the University of Pretoria - has made a film, Moyo, for the exhibition.

Through the use of multimedia, he asks: "What happens when the violence that has taken place in public is mourned in the same public space?"

The iconic 1976 image of a dying Hector Pieterson comes to mind, as does the footage of Andries Tatane's last moments after he was shot by the police in 2011 during a Ficksburg protest.

"They carry the sentiment of public violence. What's interesting about those images is that there is always a sense of sacrifice; what people are protesting for is often something very basic, like human dignity and human rights."

Chiurai came into prominence a few years ago when his first solo exhibition - meant to explore aspects of an African state ravaged by conflict - ruffled feathers in his home country.

One of his posters, which showed Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in flames, with horns on his head, led to threats that he would be arrested and forced him to flee to South Africa to take up residence in Johannesburg.