A visual artist happy to return to his roots with the exhibition Shanduko

The Chronicle

Mbulelo Mpofu, showbiz journalist
“It’s morphing time!” Many children and young at heart will remember these famous words synonymous with the American superhero television series Power Rangers which had Jason Lee Scott as the lead.

There is a new breed of Zimbabwean “Power Rangers” changing the visual arts industry in faraway lands.

Shanduko (to change/morph) is a collective exhibition curated by Richard Mudariki and dedicated to four contemporary Zimbabwean visual artists; Linnet Rubaya, Franklyn Dzingai, Mostaff Muchawaya and Wilfred Timire.

Linotte Rubaya

Group show member Linnet Rubaya told Saturday Leisure how it all started for her in the visual arts division.

“I am a self-taught British-Zimbabwean figurative artist based in Leeds.

I was born in Harare 31 years ago and grew up in London. I studied Biomedical Science (BSc) at the University of Brighton hoping to be a doctor, but moved to Leeds to work as a software testing analyst.

I know I described what I do, but what I do is an extension of who I am.

Beyond that, I’m still trying to figure out who I am,” she said.

Rubaya pays homage to her father and attributes to him her readiness to shape the feminine force of art that she has become.

“Like any Zimbabwean child, my life was adorned with works of art, from the wooden and stone carvings that seemed to be in every household to cartoons.

I think the difference was that my mom and dad were actively creating things.

Spending a summer with my father in Bulawayo paved the way for me.

“If I remember correctly, I think I drew a cartoon or something and my dad said it was fine, but the proportions were wrong (like any 6/ 7 years).

Instead of leaving it at that, he decided that we would spend more time perfecting my drawing but start with the basics – stickman or hangman!

We drew stick men over and over until I started getting the proportions right.

I basically had a masterclass on proportions!

To this day, when I draw ideas, I start with stickmen,” she said.

Rubaya won the Saul Hay Emerging Artist Award last year, which she says has opened more doors for her.

“It was (winning the prize) amazing.

I was in tears when I found out!

As part of the award, I had the opportunity to have my first personal exhibition.

It was the first time that I began to think of my work as collections of works exhibited together in a space.

I learned a lot about storytelling, finding the balance between putting everything on a canvas and leaving more to be desired.

It was an invaluable experience and changed the way I approach my work ever since,” she said.

Bridgman Studio Award (2019)

Rubaya has also been shortlisted for several awards including UK Young Artist of the Year 2019 (now known as UK New Artist of the Year), Bridgman Studio Award (2019) and Art Harare Africa First Prize (2020).

The Leeds-based artist who grew up in London said growing up in the UK had been a blessing in disguise as it allowed her to connect with her compatriots.

“The UK is a great place to be an artist, however, not being quite British led me to a place where I started to pursue my roots in order to understand who I am.

Shanduko is for me a marker in my life where I started to go back to my Zimbabwean roots and explore my cultural heritage as well as my darkness and my femininity.

“I am grateful to Richard Mudariki of ArtHarare for providing a way to connect with Zimbabwe and other Zimbabwean artists in an artist community that crosses borders.

“It has been so instructive to be involved in this collective exhibition organized by Richard.

I was able to learn a lot about the challenges faced by my contemporaries in Zimbabwe and how they overcome them.

I also learned that people and community are a common thread in our work,” she said.

Rubaya has carved out a place for herself in the creative field, but she is also involved in the field of biomedical sciences where she works as a software testing analyst.

“I have a 9-5 job as a software test analyst.

I feel like a myth has built up, especially on social media, that creatives just create content and everything is rosy afterwards.

I find power and comfort in my daily work. I like it because it challenges me in new ways every day.

“It literally keeps me on my toes and gives me a forced break from thinking about art.

Plus, through it, I have the luxury of being able to only take on commissions that I’m truly passionate about and having conversations with potential collectors of my work knowing that my bills and my food – as long as I have a employment are covered.

It helps me clearly identify and avoid potentially exploitative situations experienced by budding artists, freelancers, and business owners.

“I’m an advocate for people who do both for as long as they can.

There’s no shame in being a creative with a 9-5.

You don’t have to choose one.

The beauty of being a creative, versatile person is that you can chart your own path,” she said.

Rubaya draws on figurative work produced by Kerry James Marshall and Barkley L Hendricks and Amy Sherald, creating a distinct and unique style.

Christopher Doyle

Artists and cinematographers such as Alma Thomas, Zhao Xiaoding and Christopher Doyle influenced his use of color as a language.

Departing from his earlier work, Linnet sought to portray the vibrancy and beauty of the world despite the expectation of misery.

Stab the Rubayas and you’ll see they bleed art!

Linnet Rubaya is the sister of producer and artist Lucian Rubaya, known in musical circles as Black Orient.

When asked how she relates to music, Rubaya said she sometimes titles her artwork after song titles and lyrics.

“Music inspires me.

I find many of my paintings are titled as derivatives of song titles or a line in a song.

But no, I don’t sing or produce or do anything musical,” she said.

Rubaya said perseverance is the antidote artists need to make a name for themselves in the industry.

“I would like to urge artists to keep creating.

To create in spite of, in spite of, because of… simply creating,” Rubaya said in farewell. – @eMKlass_49

Briana R. Cross