Chenjerai Mutasa and Isaac Mukonde are Zimbabwean artists who bring to life the junk that we toss out. Using old car parts, wire, drift wood, metal and stone — mostly accrued from the scrapyard — they build beautiful and imaginative sculptures. By Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff and Masixole Feni for GROUNDUP.
The two artists knew each other as children attending primary school in Harare, but their paths separated when they left Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. In 2012 Chenjerai and Isaac were reunited in Cape Town, and together with Chenjerai’s elder brother, Mambakwedza, they opened a workshop by the Hout Bay harbour.
Violinist playing to the backdrop of the Hangberg community in Hout Bay. Photo by Masixole Feni.
Before opening the workshop in Hout Bay in 2012, Chenjerai lived for ten years in New York. His art has brought him to Europe several times as well, and he now travels regularly back and forth between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Chenjerai talks about the religious significance of his sculpture, “Regiscale,” depicting an angel balancing human theology on her left arm and Jehovah’s fire on her right. Photo by Masixole Feni.
“An artist is always on the move,” Chenjerai says. He explains that this is both to expand your art to a wider audience and also to “expand your mind and perspective, your influences and the materials you work with.”
Contorted person. Photo by Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff.
Unlike Chenjerai, Isaac was not professionally trained as an artist. “I learned it running,” he says. He came to South Africa in 1998 looking for a better life, arriving in Nelspruit by train from Harare. In 2000 he moved to Johannesburg, where he lived for several years with craftsmen who taught him how to work with wire. He then spent some time in Durban before moving to Cape Town in 2003.
“It was all an adventure when I first arrived,” Isaac says, laughing, but his expression turns more serious as he continues with his story. “I’ve been deported from this country three times. Twice I had to jump off a train bringing me back to Zimbabwe,” he confesses.
“Here [South Africa], you must live with your hands,” Isaac says. The sculptors’ steady hands are working on an order from a restaurant for wine bottle holders. Photo by Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff.
In 2008 Isaac was living in Dunoon near Milnerton, when xenophobic violence swept across South Africa. He fled and says how lucky he was to find a room in Rondebosch. Isaac now lives legally in South Africa because in 2010 he managed to obtain a business permit, which he has renewed since.
This sculpture is titled “Contemplation”. Her metal gaze is lowered as if in thought. Her hair is made of heavy drift wood, and her hand — the hand of an artist — hesitantly holds her bosom. Photo by Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff.
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