Until the end of July, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe is presenting an exhibition “Returning to Early Conversations”. It touches on the history of contemporary art in Zimbabwe which stretches way back when there was no formal art gallery.

RelZim.org readers may find the exhibit particularly interesting because of its relation to the early missions’ influence on the artistic tradition in Zimbabwe.

“In the 1930s and 1940s early mission schools such as Serima Mission, 25 km off the road to Masvingo, and Cyrene Mission outside Bulawayo had already adapted a curriculum in apprenticing young boys who carved biblical figures and murals for the decoration of churches in their own African style,” said National Gallery of Zimbabwe communications officer, Rutendo Mutadzapasi.

Serima Mission was founded by Fr. John Groeber who taught six school boys elementary artwork with materials that were immediately available locally and he had results from this workshop as far as drawing and carving skills were concerned. Father Groeber had remarkable results from this workshop as far as drawing and carving skills were concerned and as can be seen today at Silveira Primary School. Between 1956 and 1959 the students used the acquired skill to decorate their church at Serima. In 1949, the works of a disabled Cyrene student Sam Songo appeared in the London exhibition, which toured Britain for two years, and one of his pieces is in the exhibition currently at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

“Several acclaimed artists of note emerged from these centres including Tapfuma Gutsa, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Gabriel Hatugari, Lazarus Khumalo and Cornelio Manguma,” said Mutadzapasi.