The colours embellishing Wycliffe Mundopa’s works are kaleidoscopic; as if he were showing us, the viewers, the prism of technicolour that triumphs over his thematic concerns. Such concerns, for a Zimbabwean artist, are steeped in the post-colonial realities of his land; Wycliffe is an archivist of the heart that continues to beat between the changing hands of imperialism and the country’s current political proceedings. This heart, the women of Zimbabwe, are presented in Wycliffe’s work as literal – the women themselves – and metaphorical. For Wycliffe, the country itself is a woman; a feminine being wronged and disrespected, subjugated and still – the embodiment of compassion, resilience, foresight. In our Q+A with Wycliffe below, he makes the painstaking admission of why his work feels so illuminating, “I want to celebrate the beauty of real Zimbabwean women the way they are: passionate, bright, full of fire and energy and uncompromising in the face of difficulty, but also full of laughter and celebration. They don’t live with rose-coloured glasses on and that is what I want to paint.” It is in this wildly authentic and grounded ability to present almost-surrealist colourscapes as wholly realistic and reflective of truth that showcases Wycliffe as a contemporary master. As the 2021 FNB Art Joburg Prize winner, Wycliffe’s solo exhibition titled Zva Nyadza, (Shona for “to bear witness”) was so aptly named; he has received the mantle of responsibility relegated to artists very seriously, with honour, to continue telling the stories that must be told.
Wycliffe Mundopa’s latest exhibition is currently showcasing in a double solo alongside Porky Hefer at Southern Guild Gallery. Pachiwampwe is a continued effort for Wycliffe to ‘be at one with the people of my life’. We are grateful for the opportunity to chat briefly to Wycliffe as he continues to move.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Pachipamwe (We Meet Again). 2023. Cr. Hayden Phipps, Southern Guild.
Your artistic process has been informed by the socio-political upheaval of Zimbabwe; why is canonising women in Harare through your work so critical as a means of resistance?
I see my role as an artist as a compassionate witness and champion of the lives of ordinary people. Women in my practice are not literal but allegorical. The scenes of life in my paintings are infused with metaphor, and the figures of people and animals are as much symbolic as they are representative. In many ways for me to say woman is to say Zimbabwe of the common people. I am particularly interested in pushing back against moral pressures and judgement that women face, even though they are overwhelmingly the backbone of our society and also frequently the breadwinners. Patriarchal society, dominated by colonially imposed Christian moral codes expects women to be pure, perfect, quiet and demure, and hypocritically judges them when they are forced into morally dubious occupations to fulfil their duties as mothers, wives and providers. I want to celebrate the beauty of real Zimbabwean women the way they are: passionate, bright, full of fire and energy and uncompromising in the face of difficulty, but also full of laughter and celebration. They don’t live with rose-coloured glasses on and that is what I want to paint.
The richness of your paintings – the colour, form and emotion – where does that arise from within you during your process?
The colours I use are the colours I see, no more and no less. Harare is called the ‘Sunshine City’ and the nature of its dwellers is as vibrant as its colours. The brightness is both a celebration and a defiance to hardship. The way we face challenges is not in darkness – we don’t forget the beauty of life even in the most difficult of times.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Afternoon Delight Part 2. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Blind Wisdom Part 2. 2020. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Afternoon Delight Part 1. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
What should our readers know about the artistic landscape in Zimbabwe, in 2023?
Zimbabwe has a long history of contemporary art practice. In terms of painting, we have had masters like Kingsley Sambo and Marshall Baron, recognised internationally as early as the 1950s, and who are present in museums like MOMA. While very small and facing challenges in terms of access to resources, the Zimbabwean contemporary artist community is really dynamic and resourceful, and punches well above its weight compared to other art scenes in Africa. We’ve all had to invent ourselves and our practices, and most of us are committed to staying in Zimbabwe despite the challenges of life.
Pachipamwe (We Meet Again) is a deeply poignant reflection of contemporary life in Harare; what were the precious things for you to communicate in this body of work?
I see being an artist as a job and a vocation. For me, working in the studio is not about inspiration, but it’s actually intrinsic to how I live my life, so work happens all the time, with ideas evolving slowly over time as well. Continuity of practice is also crucial for me to never stop developing my practice technically. In this body of work, I am developing some new approaches to painting as well as also revisiting some ideas and visual vocabulary I have been working with over the past fifteen years. Being at one with the life of my people through art is my life’s work and ambition. Every exhibition is a segment of that journey and Pachipamwe is no exception.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Nostalgia Revisited Part 1. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Flesh Pots Part 2. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Prize Bride. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Flesh Pots Part 3. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, Better The Devil You Know. 2022. Cr. First Floor Gallery.
Wycliffe Mundopa, A Rose by Every Other Name Part 1. 2021. Cr. First Floor Gallery Harare.
Installation shots courtesy of Hayden Phipps/Southern Guild.
Artwork images courtesy of First Floor Gallery Harare.
Written by: Holly Beaton