The singular advantage we have over time is patience, that change of attitude that can in one moment turn inaction into harmony, unite motion and stillness. With a career of over forty years and hundreds of works to his name, Mohamed Raza’s brush strokes are filled with patience and attending stillness. This exhibition presents a retrospective of his art, from 1991 onwards, up to several recent works that he created during an Artist Residency with Nafasi in February 2020. The work is contemplative, often depicting figures in thought or reflection. His Zanzibar watercolor series, exhibited here for the first time, is composed of observations of island life realized in blue-green oceanic shades and spare uses of brown and greys. The innocence implied by images of seascapes and market scenes is countered by depictions of pensive and solitary figures. Works such as At The Door Steps and Walking Alone Stone Town are insistent on introspection, on the preservation of internal silence.
Yet it is not melancholy that unites Raza’s works but the possibility of distilling patience within moments of measured time. They convey a sense of filtered mental space, where distractions that occupy or hasten each moment are calmed through lucid conceptions of being. In Raza’s work, the Swahili elder, the young woman, and the child on the street are united in their patient reflection, and the pieces, even in their stylistic contrasts, are united in a common approach to time. Watoto wakicheza Daku, an enchanting work, furthers these contentions gracefully. The two young girls dressed in white are seen from above on sand contoured by shades of white, blue and yellow. The bright shades and angelic allusions are grounded by the posture of the subjects—by their focus and immersion, by the manner in which careless creases in the sand contrast with the six careful hollows dominating their attention. And by the way in which this game, so requiring of patience, reflection, and thought, intensifies their presence of being.
Raza is, as ever, unwedded to style, and ceaseless in his experimentation. Reflections demonstrates his instinct for renewal, through and across various themes, media, and approaches, under a patient eye scanning a lifetime’s vast experience.
I don’t like to be dominated by one style. What I create is defined by subject matter and form. I try to remain experimental and use several media. Many of my ideas are a combination of inspiration and imagination. I have always read a lot of art books, mainly because Tanzania does not have many galleries. These are very important to furthering yourself as an artist. I think I share a common artistic character with my visual choices. I am drawn towards calm and somewhat sad scenes. For me this is because these scenes dominate a lot of time in our lives when compared to more extreme and happy moments, which are fewer. I have had a lot of people in my life and I have lost many people, too. Everything from the 1990s is a product of having peace of mind. The work that came later was slower and less frequent. But creating is the best way to move forward from loss. Creating and being among people.
Born in the 1950s in Tabora, Tanzania and raised in Dar-es-salaam and Mombasa, Mohamed Raza has enjoyed over half a century at the forefront of modern art in Tanzania. His stylistic prowess was discovered at an early age and refined through art classes and regional arts competitions at his primary school in Mombasa. After a period of selling works door-to-door to in Arusha, he earned a commission in Dar-es-Salaam for a portrait of Nyerere that proved to be his big break. Major exhibitions followed throughout the sixties and seventies in countries as far and wide as Denmark, Germany and Nairobi and the iconic FESTAC festival in Nigeria in ‘77. He worked as a colour consultant for Leyland Paints, and later as an illustrator at the Tanzania Institute of Education at the University of Dar es Salaam. His legacy was cemented with the creation of several characters for English and science books that are still in use today. Now retired, he continues to create, teach and inspire from his studio in Mwenge, Dar-es-salaam.