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Monday, January 3, 2011

Zimbabwe Artists Project (ZAP)

When  I was living in Zimbabwe in the 1990's I began to come across a new type of artwork in the form of textile art and paintings.  I liked the colors and the textures which were colorful and eye catching, but beyond that I had no further knowledge or understanding of the source.  Around 2003 I came to know this art as "folkart", and the name of the community which originally created it is Weya, a rural Zimbabwean family of villages in the Eastern Highlands of the country.

A group of women in Weya were taught by the European artist Ilse Noy.   Ms. Noy came to Zimbabwe in 1984 as a member of the German Volunteer Service. After working for three years at the Cold Comfort Weaving Co-operative on the outskirts of Harare, she transferred to Weya where she taught local women sewing and painting skills, and appliqué and embroidery techniques.  Today the Weya quilts are sold across Zimbabwe, in neighboring countries, and in fact, all over the world.

Dick Adams, a retired sociology teacher from Oregon is credited with enhancing the recognition of Weya art in America.  He founded the Zimbabwe Arts Project in the late 1990's and since then he has literally transformed the lives of hundreds of people in the country.  I read the newsletters posted to his website and was struck by his dedication to the artists and his committment to true transformation of their lives one individual at a time.  He is an incredible human being indeed.  Please read and support the Zimbabwe Artists Project website on

Below is a video filmed and edited by Sarah Breidenbach showing the lives of rural women artists in Zimbabwe. 

As you may already know, Tashanda also sells Weya art under the brand name Makuti Training Center (location where the women meet to train, create and gather to sell their products).  We visited them only once when we were in a big hurry to get to Harare from Mutare and unfortunately we did not get the chance to learn their stories, take some photographs or let alone develop any form of a relationship.  They are difficult to access as they are in a very remote (but very beautiful) location off Mutare road near Headlands.  However we are very keen to meet them and hopefully one day, we will be able to support them with new business and new opportunities for transformation.

Below is a sample applique from the Tashanda wesbite.  Each applique tells a story, a true story.  The artist attaches a handwritten note explaining the meaning of each piece.  For example below, the story reads as follows (unfortunately the artist did not show her name):
"Two friends are visiting an old woman who stays alone.  They have bought some food and clothing in their bags"
In Zimbabwe the primary reason an elderly person is living alone is because their children have either left the country to seek greener economic pastures, or they have died of AIDS.  The elderly are revered in our culture and so naturally neighbors and well wishers will stop by to check up on such a person, as is the case in the story.  The "food and clothes" indicate they are supporting her financially as well. 

Sample letter below: