The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) in Harare was nearly gutted by fire in the early hours of last Saturday when an adjacent gazebo caught fire and was destroyed beyond repair.
The gazebo, which belongs to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association (ZIBFA), is one of the several gazebos owned by the association in the Harare Gardens and is situated just a few yards from the NGZ building.
The NGZ is a national institution responsible for circulating exhibitions throughout the country and is a focal and distributing point for art in the country.
It’s core business is also to preserve, conserve, research and publish the artwork collections for the education of present and future generations of Zimbabwe.
A startled Raphael Chikukwa, the NGZ executive director, said he received a call on Saturday morning that there was a raging fire behind the NGZ building. He rushed to check on the situation, but was relieved to find the fire brigade putting out the fire and that the situation had been put under control.
In a statement to the media, ZIBFA executive board chair Memory Chirere, said the cause of fire was not yet known and was awaiting feedback from the city fire brigade and the police who attended the scene.
The NGZ executive director also said while they were yet to know the cause of the fire, it could have been caused by homeless people who often sleep in the gazebo.
“I saw it coming (the burning of the gazebo), given the errant movement of the ‘street adults’ some of whom use drugs and light fires to keep themselves warm during the night,” Chikukwa told IndependentXtra.
He said the fire could have extended to the gallery, but lucky enough it was seen before it touched the gallery and put out, but the gazebo had already been extensively damaged.
“Gazebos are a fire hazard and we will engage the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association with regard to those that are still standing and we think there is a need to relook into them and see how we can protect both the work ZIBF does and our own as a contemporary museum,” he said.
“The National Gallery of Zimbabwe holds the permanent collection for Zimbabwe and it is a platform for Zimbabwean contemporary art and the ZIBF is also another cultural institution and we are both important. As cultural hubs that are situated in the centre of Harare we make a cultural district for Harare together with the Theatre in the Park on the other side.”
Conveniently located within the central business district of Harare amid hotels, the NGZ and ZIBF offer easy access to visitors and international delegates as these host special events and fairs, both local and international, every year.
Chirere said: “Some partners have already stepped in to assist us with rebuilding the gazebo and the vicinity. You may want to know that the ZIBFA executive board and the general council were already seized with redoing all our structures and the vicinity as a matter of urgency.
“That spot had become a destination for book connoisseurs from across the world with books being displayed and briskly sold both on the ground and first floor. This has also been the venue for the Hifa Poetry Café for sometime now.
“Erected in the early days of the first decade of Zimbabwe’s independence, this gazebo and its vicinity were used each year by a country that we chose to focus on for showcasing their books and other cultural materials. Nigeria, Iran, Ghana and others were once stationed in that spot.”
As the prime arts institution in Zimbabwe, the NGZ provides education through the National Gallery Visual Arts Studios and also holds educational workshops, films and lectures within the gallery as a way of promoting and educating the public about visual arts. It has a library which facilitates research and helps in preserving and conserving published works for the education of present and future generations.
It also hires out artworks from the permanent collection to corporates and civic organisations for decoration of their premises, as well as renting out space for private functions, exhibitions and shows.
It also offers technical services, including packaging of artworks, pedestal making, display boards hired out to artists, art collectors, embassies and any other potential clients. It also operates a sales and coffee shop and an internet café.