Preserving the environment through art

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Zimbabwe has produced an array of outstanding artists who have followed their vision – including poet Albert Nyathi, playwright Cont Mhlanga and sculptor Dominic Benhura – to mention but a few.

It is that very same vision that has guided two Mutare-based sculptors and craftsmen, Richard James and Philson Camara, to preserve the environment through art. The two are driven not only by their passion for art but by the vision of using it as a tool to conserve the environment.

Illegal panners

Together with Nyasha Chimbamba and Eliot Swaleli, who have since left, the two artists established Batanai Group of Artists in April 2010. The group’s focus was on the need to “maintain harmony between humans and nature.”

James said they ventured into environmentally friendly art after realising that there were a lot of environmental concerns caused by illegal panners in their local community of Penhalonga.

“Illegal panners have been a menace in Penhalonga. They leave uprooted trees and un-rehabilitated pits – posing serious environmental hazards to inhabitants and wildlife in the area.

We took it upon ourselves to try to preserve the area and before we knew it we were indirectly rehabilitating the environment,” he said.
James and Camara collect the stones and trees destroyed by panners and use them in their mixed-media artworks. In 2012 they established Green Zimbabwe to consolidate their venture into environmentally friendly art.

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“urvision is to preserve harmony between humans and nature. We hold workshops in schools and raise awareness among our own peers in art about our cause. It should be noted that some artists also operate in a way that breaches environmental laws. Green Zimbabwe is there to conscientise our colleagues about such issues,” he said.

Gold fields

Green Zimbabwe also has plans to venture into rehabilitation work in the gold fields around Penhalonga, which are home to hundreds of illegal panners. It has partnered with Russian mining giant DTZ-OZGEO and has received support from the Environmental Management Agency, the Forestry Commission and the Department of National Parks.

James said he had exciting plans for a Diamond Exhibition to promote and give exposure to artists venturing into environmental-friendly art.

“The Diamond Exhibition will give prominence to artists who are indirectly using their art in waste management. You find that in mixed-media we use bones, seeds, scrap metal, wood or anything one can find to make art. “Most of these things are lying around as rubbish – so mixed-media art is playing a role in preserving the environment. We want to promote and give exposure to such artists in order to inspire others,” said James, adding that the dates for the exhibition are yet to be announced.

Mutanda Mountain

Camara said they were currently engaging relevant authorities on the need to preserve the Mutanda Mountain in Dangamvura suburb that enshrines the Provincial Heroes Acre.

The mountain has suffered from extensive cutting down of trees and Green Zimbabwe has engaged timber producers and the local authority to introduce firewood stores in the area to curb deforestation.

Asked whether their art was not being compromised by committing more time to environmental issues, Camara said they were managing well.

“Art is not that viable in terms of markets these days. We have many admirers but very few buyers during exhibitions. Our wares are not bought on a daily basis so we have more time to do other business, such as pursuing our environmental cause,” he said.

The Mutasa Rural District Council has allocated them a piece of land adjacent to the Nursery Memorial formerly known as Dare raMambo Mutasa where they can practice their art professionally.

Camara said they were appealing to donors to help them develop the area and champion their environmental cause.

The two artists have participated in various arts exhibitions including MANISA, the Chimanimani Arts Festival and the Culture Week. James was nominated in the 2010/2011 National Arts Merit Awards Mixed-Media category.

Mili Thakur