If ever a culture has fought to survive in the midst of a tempest, it is the original people of Zimbabwe. They have been debased through colonialism, clawed at from opposing sides of the cold war and more recently, faced homegrown corruption, tyranny and neglect. So when there are people fighting for the preservation of the Zimbabwean soul, it is truly a reason to celebrate.
The task of recording the rich layers of Zimbabwean indigenous culture was taken on by a mother and son team who, over a period of seventeen years, rigorously researched and constructed this important textual and photographic record. The project was begun as a labour of love by Gillian Atherstone, who was curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe between 1979-1988. When faced with prohibitive costs and dissatisfaction at the quality of photography needed for a high-end book of this sort, Gillian enrolled the skills of her son Duncan Wylie, an internationally renowned artist whose work has been exhibited in many public and private institutions in Africa and abroad, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, The Museum of Modern Art in Paris and Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.
Duncan says of the book: "This book offers valuable insight for the non-African world towards a deeper appreciation of African art forms and a wider perception of the possibilities of art, the key to a world few have experienced."
Zimbabwean culture covered across the board
The book focuses on the art of the three cultures of Zimbabwe: the Shona, Ndebele and Tonga. It vividly illuminates the astonishing depth of symbolism in the culture, reflected through: ritual, functional objects, interiors, music, dance, fashion and the art of social relationships.
Amongst others, there are chapters on the world famous Shona stone sculptures, the role and symbolism of spirit mediums in shaping Zimbabwean history, contemporary art and a substantial look at Great Zimbabwe, the thousand year old city at the source of the culture of the region. At a time when the Zimbabwean people face terrible challenges of disenfranchisement, starvation and the literal and spiritual dissolution of their culture, this significant celebration of rich and beautiful traditions could not be more pressing.
Zimbabwe birds photographed in their original context
As a final act of dedication to complete the photographic journey, the team requested and were granted permission to photograph four of the emblematic carved stone Zimbabwe birds, that were originally found at the site. (Also represented on the Zimbabwean flag). The actual original stone sculptures were moved from the site museum and photographed where they would have originally stood. For the Zimbabwean people the symbolic power of this act should not be underestimated.
Says Duncan: "This became a symbolic act, a revivifying of these ancient symbols, an acknowledgment of the pressing need for a cultural chimurenga." (Chimurenga was the word for Zimbabwe's war of liberation and uprising against tyranny),
"We speak of cultural Chimurenga as a liberation from the dead weight of materialistic politics and a return to a society founded on cultural principles, in which human values take precedence over material things," he said.
How can you support or own a copy?
The book has been taken on by an independent publisher called: '5 Continents Editions' but the first print editions by necessity are self-funded by the authors and crowd funding. There is a pre-order target of 1000 books which will cover edition one. Additionally Duncan is offering a limited original print with signed early editions.
Find out more here: ZIMBABWE: Art, Symbol and Meaning.
Head over to their Gofundme or visit the website here.