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How I met Valentine

By Alf Muronda


I have always loved art in its various forms for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the townships of Harare as a photographer’s son. At a very young age, in his studio in Matapi Hostels, my father introduced me to art by letting me help him colorizing black & white portrait photographs for his clients. Taking after my father, I eventually trained and graduated from UCLA’s Master of Fine Arts program. Besides photography and film, I write and paint though I would not call myself an artist like Valentine.


Sometime in 2004 on a typical tropical sunny weekday in Harare, I was walking in the business district of Zimbabwe’s capital city when I came across a street vendor selling sheets of some kind of art on canvas. What caught my eye was the mélange of bright red paint and other earth tone colors that served as a background to stick figures drawn to depict African men and women in various poses. The splashes of black ink on those canvasses depicting images of African people that was passing for art annoyed me greatly to say the least. I was so personally offended that my first instinct was to buy the whole lot and dump it somewhere where no one would ever see such abomination. The art the vendor was selling consisted of uncomplimentary stick figures of Africans featuring exaggerated lips, exaggerated hips, skinny legs, with oblong black heads, the perfect picture of a buffoon.

As much as I was offended, I was also fascinated by the palette of colors set in a visual harmony that made the very same obnoxious canvasses so attractive.

There was a scribbled signature on some, but it was unreadable. I asked the vendor who the artist was and where he got his merchandise from. The vendor had no interest in answering any questions except to ask if I was buying or not. I think because of my familiarity and language the vendor saw me more as competition than the typical tourist the vendors catered for. So, he would not tell me. I left him without buying and resumed my walk. Then on the next street around the corner in the tourist hub in the shadow of the 5-star Meikles Hotel, I ran into more vendors all selling the same “artworks”.


Today, just as then, I am not sure what was driving me to want to find the source of these canvasses, but I was drawn in all the way. I forgot about the trip to wherever it was that I was supposed to be going to and decided that I was I going to find the source of these canvasses. After many inquiries, I eventually struck a deal with one of the vendors who broke ranks with the other vendors. I assured him that I was not trying to compete with them or cut them out from what apparently was the good business deal they had going selling these canvasses. The deal was I would buy the six canvasses he had left in stock because he was closing shop for the day and pay him to take me to the source of his merchandize.  (Continued)

Read the rest of the story in the book "Zimbabwe's Abstract Artist - Valentine Mutasa"

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