The Stars are Bright, a Zimbabwean collection of art
The Stars are Bright: Zimbabwe through the eyes of its young painters from Cyrene (1940-1947)
A few weeks ago, I visited the exhibition The Stars are Bright in Shoreditch at the Theatre Courtyard Green Room curated by Chiedza Mhondoro, Jessica Ihejatoh and Georgia Ward.
I was not sure what to expect as my knowledge in Zimbabwean art is quite limited, but I was thrilled to discover it. The exhibition gathers a remarkably interesting collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures made by over 40 different artists. Their provenance is even more fascinating: indeed, the artworks originally came from an Anglican mission school based in Zimbabwe called Cyrene. This boy school was founded in the 1930s by a Scottish clergyman named Edward Paterson. He believed that art should be a subject to be taught in school and encouraged his pupils to paint their surroundings rather than teaching European traditions (except for religion). The works in this exhibition are dated between 1940 and 1947 and shows us the wild imagination of the young artists. The works are vibrant with incredible colours, although quite simple, the details are impressive. The young artists mostly depicted predominant landscapes with human beings or animals. The young painters started to arouse interest in the UK as the Queen came to visit back in 1947. Paterson managed to make their works touring in South Africa and brought them into England in 1949 to be exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society Gallery in Bond Street. The show draw very much attention to the young artists’ works and started touring in Paris and America for 3 years.
After being forgotten for about 20 years, the works were retrieved from the basement of St Michael and All Angel’s church, not far from the gallery. After the church was deconsecrated, all items were put into auction in East London in 1978. Over 600 paintings were bought by the architectural antique, salvage and curiosities firm Lassco.
My most preferred piece are the wood and soapstone sculptures by Joseph Muli (1950-1994). You will see in the last picture absolutely beautiful little sculptures. There is chess game with big wooden pawns, some others exhibited alone or aligned together. Although born in Kenya, Jospeh Muli lived his last 29 years in Zimbabwe and attended Paterson’s school. Theses sculptures are typical to Muli as he often sculpted Zimbabwe's culture references, representing women with children or soldiers as spiritual healers.