Visual expression among contemporary artists: implications for Art Education
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Zimbabwean art, particularly stone sculpture, has an international acclaim. While contemporary stone sculpture ideally emerged in the 1950s with the advent of Frank Mc Ewen, it has reached many European and Asian countries as well as the Americas. Since then Zimbabwean art has evolved taking other dimensions and new art genres have subsequently emerged. This study sought to interrogate visual expression among Zimbabwean contemporary artists with the aim of proposing curricula reforms in art education reflective of such contemporary practice. The study used a hermeneutic ethnographic design to collect data from purposively sampled artists, art lecturers and art teachers. Contemporary artists were interviewed and observed as they worked in their ateliers. The observations made were complemented by analyses of some of their artworks that epitomised contemporary practice. Focus group discussions were held with art lecturers to ascertain the status and infusion of contemporary art in college curricula. Data on infusion of contemporary art were also sought from secondary school art teachers and analysis of curricula documents at primary, secondary and college levels. Contemporary Zimbabwean art was found to be significantly Westernised through syncretism. Influence was noted in artistic approaches, sources of inspiration, iconography and the use of non-indigenous media. The artists have adopted installations and performances that were not traditionally in the realm of African art.Formal art training and attendance at workshops, seminars and symposiums influenced some of the artists to incorporate modern Western ways of perceiving visual expression. Some artists produced art with bicultural aesthetics as they used Western approaches to explore Zimbabwean political, social, historical and economic issues. It emerged that art lecturers and teachers were not quite conversant with contemporary Zimbabwean art but satisfactorily informed about Western art and its traditions. Furthermore, it was narrowly conceptualised as stone sculpture practised by the first generation of sculptors such as Joramu Mariga, and art education in early mission schools. Resultantly, they taught more Western art. Effective teaching of contemporary art was marred by shortage of literature particularly by local writers, limited financial and material resources, negative attitudes by some art lecturers and students, inadequate contact time between lecturers and students, as well as limited knowledge by practitioners about contemporary art, among others. Implications drawn from the study that impinge on curricula innovations at primary and secondary school levels and college level include the following: increasing interaction between contemporary artists, schools and colleges; reviewing college and school curricula to align it with contemporary practice; provision of more literature, particularly by local writers on contemporary art and its practice; reflecting more contemporary art in studio practice; and the need for a critical apprehension of the notion of contemporary art in Zimbabwe by art lecturers and teachers.