Tafadzwa Tega, Harare Dream
20th of May – 26th of June 2021
The economic and political collapse of Zimbabwe has led to the mass migration of men, women, and children to neighboring countries and beyond, in particular South Africa where Tafadzwa Tega is now based. Desperation and the desire for freedom have forced many Zimbabweans to leave the place they call home. Deprived of choices at their destination, they have to survive, often taking up menial jobs in restaurants, hotels, construction or as gardeners; many women – mothers, sisters, aunts and sisters-in-law – are reduced to sex work with the shame and stigma that is attached to it. Xenophobia is daily reality for these immigrants.
The individuals depicted in these figurative works are migrants with dreams and aspirations. Real people met by the artist, who come to pose in his studio, sometimes family members, friends or people from the ZIM community. In these vibrant polychromatic portrayals, the artist restores their dignity through smart and fancy clothes set in bright and bold interiors. Their thoughtful poses hide their burdens. The book, a symbol which appears in most of these portraits, is a constant reminder that these individuals are educated people. The tiles recall the artist’s own humble beginnings, when he first arrived in SA and had to sleep on the bare floors of warehouses – now warm and colorful. The ubiquitous flame lily – Zimbabwe’s national flower which you can find in home gardens across the country – is an index of rootedness, renewal and healing: it connects people around the country and is also used for all sort of medicinal purposes including against Covid. The halo around the heads is there to protect them: even in darkness, there is a light cast upon them.
Harare Dream is a critical exploration of the harsh realities faced by Zimbabweans beyond the landlocked country’s borders, in particular the disconnect between the reality in the country of destination and the Harare Dream they each had back home: dreaming of a better life, funky clothes, a good job and love. Instead, a former policewoman is seen as a sell-out when she leaves her country where she isn’t even paid, a University professor becomes a dog-walker, models turn into prostitutes, doctors now work as cleaners. When they don’t simply go missing and vanish from the face of the earth like Tega’s own uncle. Each of Tega’s paintings tells a painful but important story about the realities of migration.
Most of all, Harare Dream is about the duty of care Tega feels towards his fellow countrymen and women: he humanizes and dignifies them by glamorizing their appearance, anchoring them in radiant and potent surroundings, connects and roots them to the homeland with the powers of the flame lily, protects them through the magical shield of halos, substituting darkness with brightness. Tega shines a light upon them in the gloom of loss and alienation that comes with migration. In Tega’s paintings, we get a glimpse of the Harare Dream which still survives in these women and men. Resilient, like the people from Zimbabwe.