A Bit of Both: An interview with Kresiah Mukwazhi

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Mukwazhi is a contemporary multimedia artist and photographer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. After training as a photographer at Market Photo workshop in South Africa she has, with stunning results, recently began to train her eye for symbolism, texture and form towards soft sculpture create pieces that she describes as “objects of resistance.” Nafasi Art Space is proud to have Kresiah with us all this month for a six week residency. And as is tradition, we sat down with her to talk food, influences, activism and the importance of finding a way.

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So is this your first time in Tanzania?

Second time. I was part of this activists Jam session in Arusha. There’s a Dutch NGO called action aid that supported a workshop called the ‘beautiful struggle’

See this is where the limits of my research shows up? How did I not know of this?

Well I was the only artist there really. The rest were more actively political. People that you had to really listen to.

Did you enjoy Arusha?

I did. It was so agricultural, never seen so many bananas. And the food was amazing.

Mtori?

Sorry…

There’s a porridge from Arusha made with bananas and beef…it’s called Mtori

Oh that’s what that was. I thought it was soup. We always called it soup. That was delicious; Mtori, I need to remember that.

There’s good, Mtori near here. We’ll show you. But to get back to the matter at hand, one of the things I love most about working with artists is seeing those random mental tangents in action? Do you have a specific memory of when it all began for you?

I made up my mind pretty early. I was always drawn to artistry. And the jump to them realizing this is who I am wasn’t that large. I’m lucky in many ways because I was able to meet a lot of practicing artists quite early, when I was young. Artists such as Virginia Chivota and others. Spending time with them and learning from the was really the fuel I needed to become who I was.

Kresiah Mukwazhi, Rokwe ramai vangu

Are you from an artistic family?

My grandmother made pottery. My brother is a photographer. And my mother makes clothes as a dressmaker. Fabric is such an important part of any African’s heritage and it’s had a big impact on what I use, and how I work.

Are you the youngest?

Yes the youngest and the only girl. Four brothers. In many ways this influenced my subject matter, being surrounded by boys and questioning the differences.

What about challenges? As a young artist especially, you must have had your share?

Yes, sure. There are times where I have to find ways to sustain myself. I worked as a photographer for an Ngo. I have worked in a night club. It’s always about finding the room to work and the supplies I need to create. An artist has to find a way.

But even the process is a struggle, finding space and acquaintances, dealing with rejection and criticism.

Is there a secret there? To dealing with rejection and criticism

I just learn as I go. Find new avenues. Take what you think is useful. On the art scene there are certain terms, assumptions, reactions. These don’t always go with what I want to say. But I need them to understand how people feel.

Kresiah Mukwazhi Mambokadzi II Mixed Media 148 x 40 x 20cm

Your work is mainly in photography and installation or soft sculpture? Do you have a preference for either or does it go hand and hand?

My first love is painting. I was privileged to be able to do this both in high school and in art school and it was my grounding. But my brother was always taking pictures so and I was familiar with it before being exposed to its potential at my art school. It became the basis as I explored further. What I wanted always was to understand what I was making and why and so in South Africa, when I came to using an analogue camera, that was a way of doing this. I was exposed to the making of an image, and that was much more interesting. But I’m always exploring new dimensions and this was what led to a moment with soft sculpture and installation.

The use of fabric always implies statement of femininity or womanhood, and in some of the images you create are quite powerful in this way, so was the art a way of exploring these aspects or were these images a result of your experimentation.

A bit of both. I mean I wouldn’t say I rely on fabric in any way. I sometimes work with wood or on the body. Often there are there are words and jargon used (about the work) that don’t accommodate my thinking. I was drawn to fabrics because they represent the woman. But when I am making these things I don’t know what they are, only that they are objects of resistance.

Who are would say are your influences?

I like pop art. I’ve taken a lot from that. I like fashion, alternative music. I like installation works, such as those of Dineo Seshe Bobape . I also like self portraiture and trying to get to know how people see themselves in images. I’ve been lucky to be mentored by some of Zimbabwe’s finest visual artists such as Masimba Hwati and Gareth Nyandoro 

Thank you so much Kresiah, we can’t wait to see how it will turn out.

Kresiah is the Nafasi Artist in Resident for March 2019. She will be running an Experimental Photography Workshop until the 14th March. Her unmissable, end of residency exhibition will take place in April. 

Jesse Gerard, Visual Arts Coordinator