The Full Time Artist: Kuda Chakwanda Q & A

Art not only documents culture it offers different avenues of expression.

Words by Usher Nyambi (Writer)
Questions by Usher Nyambi and Alex Gwaze (Curator)

As I continue to document the cultural landscape in Zimbabwe I have witnessed a lot of talented artists in various mediums. One artist who inspires me as much as he demystifies the stereotype of the artist is, Kudakwashe Chakwanda. Kuda is a multi-disciplinary artist who works as a photographer, painter, sketch artist, creative consultant, craftsman and furniture designer. He does a lot of things. Growing up I was always told “you can’t be great if you focus on more than one thing”. This focus on one job mindset is the stereotype that the ‘zoomer generation’ are slowly dismantling. The new kids on block are all about being all you can be – exploring every constructive opportunity that presents itself. Abraham Maslow called this type of focus “self actualization” or the “growth need”, He put it on top of his hierarchical model for motivation – above respect, social, security and survival needs. Basically, self-actualization is the fulfilment of your full potential as a person or artist.

Although he is still young I believe Kuda is well on his way to realizing his full potential as an artist. When I first met him he told me “I have lived for 26 years but I have been sketching for 30 years”. In reality Kuda initially picked up cellphone photography in high school and then he further sharpened his skills under the wing of Calvin Dondo at the now defunct Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts. Nonetheless, Kuda continued his studies and his currently studying a Bachelor in Fine Arts (Hons) at the Chinhoyi University of Technology. In 2021 Kuda founded the creative company, CHKWZ Co – it specializes in photography, contemporary art, fashion, set design and documentaries, amongst other things. The company has worked on projects for the Hivos Collective, the British Council, Haus of Stone, Old Mutual and the Coca-Cola Unplugged Music Festival, just to name a few. Furthermore as an artist Kuda’s works have been exhibited at Pikicha Gallery, Zim Live Sessions, Afropop Exhibition and  Muzeezo Mupati.

For me Art, in particular visual Art, has always been linked to spirituality and purpose. I have always believed that we share narratives with the artist whose work we enjoy. As we look at their work we find our own voice in this world. This is why I had to have a conversation with Kuda to pick his brain about Art and other stuff.

UN: Some artists don’t like this question so I am going to ask it first. How do you describe the style of your work – what’s your artistic process like?

KC: (laughs) Style? I’d say high contrast and monochrome. I do colour here and there but monochrome is my go to. It’s a philosophical thing. And in terms of my process let me focus on photography first. For photography I do pre-production, production and post-production. Pre-production takes a lot of time, production just takes a few hours and editing is easy because I already have what I want. And for painting I do the academic process I learnt at school – sketching, drawing then painting.

UN: You just talked about the academic process, how important do you think school is in an artist’s development?

KC: Honestly it depends on where you want to place yourself in the Art world. On the official side you actually have to go to school. If you want to be a curator, aesthetician, historian or a critic then you have to go to school. It’s an added advantage because you learn Art history, how artists think, the techniques and the various types of Art. If you don’t go to school you have to be willing to put in the work on your self and your growth alone. You have to guide yourself. A good thing about not going to Art school is you can master your own personal style from your own interests.

AG: You are currently studying at university so by now you must have learnt a thing or two about Art. What’s the best advice you have ever gotten from one of your lecturers?

KC: One important message I got from my Art lecturer in uni was this – “you have to know yourself too be an artist”. This advise is applicable across all aspects in life. For a people to move forward, they should really know who they are to the atom of their thoughts and actions. At times people are who they are based off exterior influences rather than their own intuitive interests, which are the best tools to use to navigate their personal journeys.

UN: What are some of your interests – who inspires your work?

KC: It’s hard to say for all my work but for photography it’s actually easier. I have Helmut Newton, Flore Zoe, Seydou Keita, Saul Leiter Albert Watson, Annie Leibovitz, and Henri Cartier- Bresson. As for painting I admire Picasso, Peter Paul Rubens, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, El Graco, Friedrich, Basquiat and Condo. In terms of sketching I’m trying to have my own niche as far as my craft is concerned. I also like KAWS and Virgil Abloh.

UC: Which piece of work are you fond off in your portfolio?

KC: I have new work I am proud off but I’m feeling nostalgic so let’s say – “Attached”. It’s a 6 piece series that touches on self-awareness and discovery. I took a Conceptual Art approach where the pieces are arranged in their order – that is the first 3 pieces,  the last 3 pieces represent the state where you’re now on your zen level if I may say.

AG: Talking about Conceptual Art – it’s often the most divisive mode of Art. Some people find thinking about the idea behind the artwork too much work. I’ve heard people say what’s the point of Art anyway when they are engaging with conceptual work.

KC: In my opinion, Art is art for art’s sake! It’s a way of expressing and recording man’s achievements – good and bad. So Art serves multiple purposes – depending on the artist really. There is this famous debate by Plato and Aristotle pertaining to art itself. Art can be a mimesis – that is it is the replication of who and what man is and sees around him. However, what he chooses to say about the subject is highly dependent on the artist. Throughout the history of Art man has both celebrated and shown the evils of life as he sees them. Also artists can alter the human form to show multiple perspectives from one perspective like Picasso did through Cubism. Or Art can be void of form and totally fluid and abstract like the works of Pollock, Rothko and Twombly. Their work conveys a mood, a feeling, a vibe of its own. I guess in a way it is a mimesis of the soul of the Artist. So essentially, Art is a way to speak to the people about who they are, what they have and even how they can express their feelings. It’s talking to the viewer about life, love, politics, society, consumerism – everything and anything. Just depends on what the artist wants to comment on.

UN: What issues does your work comment on, what’s your role as an artist in Zim?

KC: Great you ask! I’d say my role is to inspire, to break ground and prove that even Zimbo’s are creative. There’s a lot of stigma aligned with our Art being mediocre or bland, so I’m trying to have a hand in re-arranging that so called bland room. So my work is mostly social or rather a personal experience type of thing. Stuff like mental health, spiritual beings and interpretations of social dynamics.

AG: I don’t know if you’ve experienced it, but when you mentioned personal experiences, mental health and social dynamics I thought about how artists struggle to fit in a country like Zimbabwe.

KC: Man this just triggered so many cringe memories that I’m glad I’ve overcome. In Zim Art brings its own challenges because of the stigma it carries – “art won’t make you rich”. Zim artists get that stigma stamped on their cheeks then the society really presses on that nerve. It basically becomes a test of character because there are great opportunities that lie ahead for the artist who overcomes the labels that get piled on them. But generally, in some spaces I fit in, especially around other artist peers. But even around some other artistic friends, I feel out of place. Maybe it’s just vibrations on different wavelengths and there’s no resonance. But when it comes to the general public, it’s a mixed pot really. Even in high school, I’d rather draw the geography diagrams and physics experiment setups than actually study (laughs). I’ve always been desperate for Art (laughs).

UC: Who are some of your favourite Zimbabwean artists?

KC: I’d put Tamary and Natasha Kudita, Nothando Chiwanga, Again Chokuwamba, Kuda Baskwa, Thakor Patel, Cosmas Shiridzinomwa, the clan from Calligraph Co, Michelle Madzima, a fellow photographer, Tadiwa and Anesu from Soul’d Dreams (not only for clothing though). Dömane clan, still work with Roy and Taku from Naka Visuals, Zash, Takunda the African selfie stick of Parras Photography. Muses like Rosebud, Kuziva, Tino and many others I’ll keep. Dumo Lungu and Nyasha Mutamba, really good painters and old classmates. Man I could go on and on but Kuda Chakwaz is my personal favourite (laughs).

UN: Finally, what advice would you give other aspiring artists?

KC: First know yourself. If what you want to do takes 10,000 hours, start now. If you start tomorrow, you’ll have to wait 10,024 hours. Second, sit with other creatives – pick their minds. I could sit in a café all day drinking coffee and waste the day away consuming philosophical conversations. Lastly, keep talking to Yahweh and sending positive energy to Him, He’ll do great things for you.

Follow Kuda Chakwanda at: @kuda.chakwaz_jpg
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