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Alumni Spotlight: Masimba Hwati (MFA ‘19)

On Thursday, December 5th at 7 pm, Futumuka Fulangenge, a video performance by Masimba Hwati (MFA 19), will be shown as part of States of Flux: ZIM to DET, an evening of performance-based work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

In partnership with the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and the Zimbabwe Cultural Center of Detroit (ZCCD), States of Flux will feature performances by artists and musicians from Detroit and Southern Africa who will be responding to the themes within the MOCAD exhibition, Crossing Night: Regional Identities x Global Context (on view October 25, 2019 – February 22020).

Masimba Hwati received a national Diploma in Fine Art at Harare Polytechnic in Zimbabwe and an MFA in Art from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. He has a certificate in Building on Indigenous Knowledge Systems for Development from Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University. He has exhibited works extensively in Southern Africa and Europe, and has taught sculpture and drawing at the Harare Polytechnic in Zimbabwe. His work is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and private collections in Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, France, and the United States, and has been shown and received reviews at several art fairs across the globe, including South Africa, London, and Brussels.

Hwati is also a co-founder of Post Studio Arts Collective, an establishment set up for the advancement of contemporary visual art practice and education in Zimbabwe.

Recently, the Stamps School Communications Team caught up with Hwati to learn more about Futumuka Fulangenge, his process, and his path.

Masimba Hwati, Sokunge: shadows of resistance, 2019

In addition to your Stamps MFA, you have a really interesting certificate in Building on Indigenous Knowledge Systems for Development. I’m very curious to learn more about that and about how you’ve used your experiences in academia to build upon your professional creative practice.

I got this certificate from The Coady Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They are known for their investment in community leadership and resilience of Indegenous cultures. I’ve always worked with communities around areas of culture and resilience and the experience at Coady was a big investment in that part of my practice. Academica for me has opened ways to be accountable and to share my practice with wider audiences.

What were you looking for in your MFA experience?

As an artist with a gallery career, it can be hard to take risks. People have built their brand around your work, your supporters are expecting certain things from you. I wanted to push myself and explore in-depth things that are important to me and some new stuff as well: sound, music, movement. These were in my work before, but on a shy” level. They would come up here and there, but not in an elaborate way. I wanted to take more risks and experiment more. I wanted a space where I could be critical about what I was making — and to have a community for that.


Tell me about your work with the Zimbabwe Cultural Center of Detroit. How did you get involved with them? As a board member, what excites you most about that organization?

I started working with ZCCD 10 years ago when I met the co-founder Chido Johnson in Harare. I got interested in creating portals for creative exchange between the two cities, Harare and Detroit. I’m excited with the prospect of connecting artists from the two cities and helping to design projects that exists between the two cities. In the past, we’ve managed to get artists to travel between the two cities and collaborate on projects.

Tell me about a recent collaboration, where an artist was working in both Harare and Detroit.

Our recent project had us sending Halima Cassels to Harare. Halima Cassells is an interdisciplinary artist and community organizer with deep roots in Detroit. Much of her work is located at the intersection of social practice, visual art, and community building. She is co-founder of the Free Market of Detroit, a multi-genre nomadic swap exchange where community members share goods, stories, information and artistic modalities. From December 2018 to January 2019, Halima was on a research residency at Njelele Art Station in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit (ZCCD). The residency was supported by the Knights Foundation and Resonant Detroit, a Creative Many Michigan award.

Halima Cassels

Tell me about your vision for States of Flux: ZIM to DET. What are you exploring?

In my current work, I’m exploring insomnia as a permanent state of socio-political consciousness. I come from Harare the capital of Zimbabwe and Haarare’ from which harare is derived, is a Shona word meaning the one who does not sleep.” This was the name of Neharahwa, a famous warrior chief form the area who resisted the British in the period around 1890. He was known as being awake and ready to fight, even at night. My work uses sound sculpture, voice, and movement to explore this type of insomnia.

Your creative practice centers music, ritual, and performance that speaks to the cultural identities of both Detroit and Zimbabwe. Talk to me about the similarities between those two groups. In your experience, where are the points of convergence? Where are the points of divergence? Where is there tension? Where is there ease?

Detroit is less populated, Harare is the opposite. Both cities underwent economic demise and this created and identity and culture for the people. Isolation and suffering are negative things but, if engaged with well, they produce a character and identity that is unique and inspirational. All the heroes and the people we love and admire have some story of resilience and triumph in their back pockets. We love them because they have been through the fire and they came out as gold. The two cities share that aspect. Both cities share an artform called Jit.” In Detroit it’s a dance in Harare its a music genre with aspects of dance. It’s a mystery how this developed at almost the same time in different cities.

I understand that you’re working closely with MOCAD and ZCCD to conceive a performance that affirms the connections between Detroit and Zimbabwe, highlighting the throughways in shared cultural traditions. Tell me more about that collaborative process.

The cities both share histories of using their cultures to engage with repressive system. I’ve been collaborating with Detroit artists for over ten years. My last collaboration was a dance, Mbende/​Jerusarema. This is a movement piece with Hardcore Detroit, a dance company from Detroit that specializes in a dance form called Detroit Jit’. This dance invented in Detroit in the late 70’s in the African American communities. I was exploring the intersections between Detroit Jit (the dance) and Mbende Jerusarema (a dance of resistance from Zimbabwe).

Do you experience friction when creating new work that uses cultural tradition as a launch pad?

Not necessarily, but I do think a lot about appropriation and who can and who not cannot use what. In my experience, collaborations sometimes creates common areas where tension sometimes resolve themselves.

Why are you so passionate about the connections between Detroit and Zimbabwe? In your view, why is it important for others to consider?

I call these places home in some way because I’ve made precious memories in them. For me, it’s important to explore these spaces in my work with the hope of understanding them more and adding value in some ways through my practice.

What do you hope your audience members will think about or feel long after they watch the video of your States of Flux performance?

I hope to share with the audience sounds, feelings, and images that exists in between these two spaces.

States of Flux: ZIM to DET, an evening of performance-based work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), takes place on Thursday, December 5th at 7 pm.