NGZ turns focus to artist participation in curatorship

The National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare

The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) revealed their curatorial strategy for 2023 at a journalist workshop held at the gallery in Harare on March 30, saying it will focus more on community participation.

According to Fadzai Muchemwa, the curator for contemporary art at NGZ, the plan will be implemented through outreach programmes and by increasing the involvement of artists in the exhibition and curatorial process.

Each year, the gallery in Harare develops a plan for what they want to accomplish and decides which communities they want to engage. It serves communities in four provinces: Harare, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West, while NGZ Mutare overseers Manicaland and Masvingo. The provinces of Matabeleland North, South, and Midlands are under the supervision of NGZ Bulawayo.

Muchemwa outlined the procedures the gallery uses when interacting with artists’ work and emphasised what the artists should expect from the organisation.

A proposal is the first step in the curatorial process, which is a consultative process that includes the education and conservation aspects of the exhibition.

“We have a document that curatorial fills out, and one of the questions that the document asks is how the proposed exhibition fits into national imperatives, observant days, the mission and the vision of the national gallery,” Muchemwa said.

The curatorial team comprising of the deputy director considers the key messaging for whom their audience is intended they also consider if the proposed exhibition fits with the vision of the institution and the National Development Strategy-1 where youth, sport, art, culture and gender mainstreaming is one of the cross-cutting issues that help drive most of the pillars.

The proposal is a concept that outlines the exhibition’s specifics, including a preliminary list of artists and if the event will be an open call, where NGZ issues calls for submissions based on different themes.

However, according to the gallery, they have recently begun to steer clear of themed open calls because the model is inhibiting as it requires artists to produce work expressly for open calls rather than generating work that they enjoy or are interested in.

The curatorial then present the proposal to an exhibition selection committee, which judges it on the merit of whether it can be displayed at the gallery and whether it fits with the curatorial approach. If a proposal is approved, the next step entails conducting research on the artist’s practice, including the medium and subject matter that they employ and how they relate to the planned exhibition.

The entire process, from idea formulation to execution, takes one year and artists have between January and April to deposit their proposals in order for them to be taken into consideration the next year.

The organisation is a collecting institution with a valuable collection on the premises that needs to be kept safe for the purposes of knowledge production. Some materials bring foreign matter that might be harmful to the collection therefore NGZ’s conservation department determines if safeguarding measures need to be put in place. They also assess if any work might need to be quarantined or fumigated before it is put into the main gallery or exhibition area.

Muchemwa, who oversees the institution’s curatorial strategy as well as that of Mutare, Bulawayo, and soon Victoria Falls, said that the gallery has an online submission gateway for open calls where artists can send photographs and documents, however a number of artists do not have access to the internet.

“What NGZ does is if you send a work through the online portal, we look at it and, if it merits an exhibition, we will send a car to pick it up; if it's in the major cities or towns, we can ask Swift or the Post Office courier to transport it, but of course it remains a challenge to artists based in remote areas where there is no post office or where Swift does not go,” she said.

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