Select artworks by Zimbabwean painter Misheck Msamvu
Born in 1980 in Penhalonga, Zimbabwe, Misheck Masamvu studied art with Helen Lieros at Gallery Delta in Harare and at the Kunstacademie in Munich.
Masamvu’s haunting depictions question the continent’s current trajectory by dramatically exposing psycho-social and political realities.
His work has been shown internationally at Galerie Françoise Heitsch (Munich), Zimbabwe Pavilion at 54th Venice Art Biennale, Influx Contemporary Art (Lisbon), Africa Museum (Arnhem), National Gallery of Zimbabwe (Harare), Gallery Delta (Harare), Dak’Art Biennale 2006 (Dakar) and more.
Headrest, 19th–20th century Zimbabwe; Shona people Wood
Wood headrests are both a longstanding and widespread form created by African sculptors. Shona sculptors from present-day South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique have contributed a rich range of formal and aesthetic interpretations.
Among the Shona, headrests served as a kind of “pillow” used by adult males to sleep. The user could sleep either on his back with the headrest under the base of his neck, or on his side with the headrest under his chin and one ear. Headrests also provided a means to keep the elaborately braided coiffures of Shona men in good order and free from soil or dust.
In Shona music, the mbira dzavadzimu (“voice of the ancestors”, national instrument of Zimbabwe) is a musical instrument that has been played by the Shona people of Zimbabwe for thousands of years. The mbira dzavadzimu is frequently played at religious ceremonies and social gatherings called mabira (sing. “bira”).
A typicalmbira dzavadzimuconsists of between 22 and 28 keys constructed from hot- or cold-forgedmetal affixed to a hardwoodsoundboard(gwariva) in three different registers—two on the left, one on the right.
While playing, thelittle fingerof the right hand is placed through a hole in the bottom right corner of the soundboard, stabilizing the instrument and leaving thumb and index finger of the right hand open tostrokethe keys in the right register from above and below. The fingers of the left hand stabilize the left side of the instrument, with most fingers reaching behind the instrument. Both registers on the left side of the instrument are played with the left thumb and sometimes the left forefinger.
Bottle caps,shells, or other objects (“machachara”) are often affixed to the soundboard to create a buzzing sound when the instrument is played. In a traditional setting, this sound is considered extremely important, as it is believed to attract theancestral spirits.
During a public performance, anmbira dzavadzimuis frequently placed in adeze(calabashresonator) to amplify its sound.
Thembira dza vadzimuis very significant inShonareligionandculture, considered a sacred instrument by natives. It is usually played to facilitate communication with ancestral spirits. Within the Shona tradition, the mbira may be played with paired performers in which thekushaura, the caller, leads the performed piece as thekutsinhira, the responder, “interlocks” a subsequent part.
The Ritual is known as the Bira. During these all night ceremonies, people call upon the spirits to answer questions, the variations of notes in an Mbira piece aid the participants by going into a trance in which it is said in shona culture aid the spirits in taking over the participants body.