Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai is an internationally acclaimed young artist now living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was the first black student to graduate with a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. Regarded as part of the “born free” generation in Zimbabwe – born one year after the country’s independence from Rhodesia – Chiurai’s early work focused on the political, economic and social strife in his homeland. Seminal works such as Presidential Wallpaper depict Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a sell-out and led to Chiurai’s exile from his home country. Chiurai has held numerous solo exhibitions since 2003 and has participated in various local and international exhibitions, most recently Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Impressions from South Africa, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, ”1965 to Now” at the MOMA in New York, which acquired Chiurai’s work for their collection. Kudzanai was also included in dOUMENTA13.
The title “State of the Nation” is intended to explore aspects of a constructed African state that has just been ravaged by conflict. “On a continent that has experienced more violent conflict than any other, this exhibition follows an individual’s narration of events that lead up to the inaugural speech by the first supposedly democratically elected prime minister. This leader styled along many of our existing African leaders, retells the history of a people from another time, but still Africa’s time…” says the artist.
With Melissa Mboweni as curator of the project and collaborations with photographer Jurie Potgieter and singers Thandiswa Mazwai and Zaki Ibrahim, Chiurai references child soldiers, African liberation movements, and civil wars. He tracks the similarities in the societal, political and ideological fabric of states in tumultuous times of transition. Notions of public and private are raised in performances taking place in the streets of Newtown and in basements with limited access. A sound installation scores the gallery experience. Representations of spectacle perpetuated by the media are brought to question. Scenes captured in photographs, drawings and paintings play into popular hip-hop imagery.
In a similar style to previous bodies of work (such as his Dying to be Men series of 2009), Chiurai’s constructed environments are enticing and seductive but explore very real casualties of African independence and democracy and the effects of globalisation on war. Chiurai’s nation asks, “If we could write our history and chart our futures as we please, who would we be?”