Surprisingly near to Victoria Falls town, life takes on a different pace. Within 5 kilometres, you find people living in traditional villages, tending their fields and livestock and living in close-knit communities. They rise with the sun and work according to the seasons, living in a natural rhythm forgotten to many of us today.
One such place is the village of chief Mpisi on the outskirts of Victoria Falls. This welcoming community is happy to host guests and an innovative experience that combines art and culture is now on offer here by Art of Africa.
The company was created to share the talent and love of art in Zimbabwe with others. One of their experiences is a ‘Village Tour and Art Experience’. On the tour, you are hosted both by the village chief, Mpisi and by Khulekani Maseku, known as ‘KK’, a talented artist from the village. The experience benefits the community by employing its members. I decided to find out more…
We drive down a dirt track with wonderful views and upon arrival at the village, it is easy to see why the wonderfully picturesque setting lends itself to artistic endeavour.
It is December, at the beginning of Zimbabwe’s rainy season, and the sky is a crisp blue dotted with fluffy clouds that contrast with the orange of the soil and the startling green of new vegetation. The village is made up of groups of huts that fringe open communal areas. In one of these is an ‘idali’, an open-walled shared space that serves multiple purposes from a wedding venue to an art studio, dining room or a place to relax and gather. It is here that we go to meet the chief.
There are geometric decorations on the mud-walled huts and the designs etched into their thatch roofs. Women in colourful African print skirts are picking vegetables from the fields. Carved faces border the entrance to the idali, and we are met with an enthusiastic welcome from Chief Mpisi. We sit on low Tonga stools as he guides us through his rich culture and history. He is a vibrant personality and each one of us is riveted.
After 20 minutes or so, he passes us on to KK who leads us outside where a row of canvases lie in wait. A simple background has been painted on each. KK is warm and encouraging, leading us past our nervousness and through creating a simple finger-painted village scene. We are encouraged to experiment and after a few minutes our nerves are gone and we are genuinely enjoying ourselves. It’s incredible how the process of creating quiets your thoughts and brings you to the present. We all feel calmer as we concentrate on the colours and textures around us and work with our hands to create what we feel. Time flies by and when it is time to finish, many of us want to continue. We are a vastly different group from the trepidatious one we were at the start!
We then enjoy a traditional meal alongside community members. The founder of Art of Africa, Kim Sparrow says that it is integral to the experience that the guest is not merely an observer but also a participant in village life while they visit. The time spent together over a meal and talking informally is where I feel people really connect as they discuss everyday life.
After the art workshop, I meet up with KK to ask how he came to be an artist and tutor. He says his passion for art is always with him: “It is like a headache. I can push it to the back of my mind but it is always there wanting attention. There was a time when I didn’t make art for a while but the ‘headache’ was always there.” He eventually met Tichaona Ncube, another artist who works with Art of Africa who mentored him. KK quotes the proverb ‘iron sharpens iron’ meaning that the two make each other better. He then met Kim who hired him at Art of Africa. Both encouraged him and ultimately allowed him to continue his passion and to share it with others.
Chatting to KK, he says a favourite compliment of his was when a visitor said the experience brought him peace. “Art is therapy,” he states. I think of my experience painting and can’t help but agree. If you would like to share culture and capture memories in your unique artistic style, contact Art of Africa and ignite your creativity today.