he was born dead...
He was born dead, or so they all thought, with barely any breathing, perceptible movement of limbs or the oodles of involuntary gestures that usually accompany a newborn’s entry into the world.
His dainty frame, which was dwarfed by his grotesque and drooping head was camouflaged in a combo of feces and urine as the baby had defecated in the mother’s womb. After all, he had nested in her affluent uterus for more than nine months, and the “poor” mother had endured endless hours of excruciating, gut-wrenching and persistently swelling labor pains. By now, sparsely dilated and severely weak to push the baby through the confined passage of her petite pelvis, her body succumbed to the marauding torture and she collapsed.
Aware of the imminent calamity, the doctor virtually ripped the uterus ajar and detached the “inanimate looking” fetus from the umbilical cord, which at this point resembled a “rotting lump of flesh,” Immediately after, eminent attention was administered to the mother who was in a precarious condition as she lied prostrate on the hospital bed, hardly breathing.
To narrate the web of propitious coincidences that kept both the baby and mother alive is a keenly arduous task, a complex tale that defies logic and befuddles Man’s realm of reasoning. However, upon a circumspect analysis and thorough examination of each single event, threading all the intricate details chronologically, one word suffices to sum up everything, “GRACE.”
However, due to the absence of a catalogue of births from the hospital administered by a few general doctors and catering to a multitude of patients with a legion of diseases in a time of war, his exact date of birth remains a mystery. A birth certificate obtained after independence in order to permit the young boy entry into school records his birth date as the nineteenth of August 1976. However, the mother vividly remembers the “severe joyous” day as the nineteenth day in the seed planting month of September, four years prior to the country’s independence from British colonial rule.
Despite close observation in the hospital's intensive care unit, doctors were convinced that neither of the two patients would survive. The mother’s seemingly interminable high blood pressure and infections contracted from the brutal operation exacerbated their fears. However, even the physicians’ prognosis was rendered erroneous. For on a dry summer day, close to a year after her “water broke” and the prolonged ordeal began; she strapped her bustling bundle of joy on her back and left the health institution after being pronounced fit and discharged.
To those who witnessed the birth, the multitudinous that congregated, fasted and implored for divine intervention while holding vigils, and the meager that closely followed the progress; it was clear that there was an abiding and peculiar force, a mighty omnipotent and omniscient Spirit that was administering unmerited favor and ambrosial care to both mother and child.
“My son will be called Ndapfidza,” were among the first words uttered by Dorcas after many days of breathing through machines. In Hebrew, the name was a personal eponym equivalent to Jabez, “a doleful psalm repetitiously lamenting grievous pain and execrable torment.” However, perhaps with a firm comprehension of the “power of words,” - a venerable aphorism that ironically became the cornerstone of the artist’s work -; an inspired uncle interjected to the conceived name. In his assertive voice, befitting the royal lineage surging in his blood, he stated;
“The ethereal presence of immeasurable Grace, unconditional love and steadfast faith that has accompanied this boy’s sojourn thus far is a window to the enduring work that was set before him even before the foundation of this world. He is blessed. His entry to this planet was transcendental and so shall be the contents of his purpose; he is destined for greatness.”
He graved the matter by concluding, “his name is Munyaradzi-Nyaradzai-Sandirai-Ishe.”
The innate limitations of the English language render it impossible to precisely articulate the core meaning of his name. Still, when closely translated, it alludes to “a compassionate mortal who invariably comforts without judging, a human who is fervently conscious of his purpose and is duly authorized, appointed and anointed to honor, serve, proclaim, glorify and magnify the domain of The King of kings.
However, the inspired appellation with 32 letters and 13 syllables prophetically adumbrating his assignment was to be uttered by only a selective conclave. To the rest of us, he would be affectionately known as Nya’.
early years and use of unorthodox materials
Growing up in a system that impels conformity and glorifies social acceptance as the hallmark of success - a conventional culture that despises what it does not understand – while labeling anyone different as weird; Nya’ had no choice but to consult within for motivation.
From an early age, he discerned that spending time with the sheep and goats he shepherded close to the undulating hills surrounding his grandfather’s farm where he grew up was more edifying than hearing the monotonous fables recounted by his peers. Hearkening to the internal promptings that tailgated his days in the pastures, compounded with the oral memoirs from the villagers who flocked to seek wise counsel from his grandfather, Nya’ subliminally began to compose an opulent visual library within the chambers of his mind that later fueled his early paintings.
As the oldest nephew, the young boy participated in the skinning of animals and carefully apportioning the meat according to the ‘Manyika’ custom, an important chore reserved for “machindas,” (the king’s sons). This is imperative to underscore as cows have an especial significance in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are associated with affluence and prosperity in a society that is traditionally agrarian. Even today, they remain an accepted currency that a prospective groom must offer his bride’s family in the revered and sometimes “controversial” age-old practice of ‘roora’ (bride price).
The habitual exposure to blood, internal organs and raw-hides of various animals furnished Nya’ with a profound appreciation of materials that he now metaphorically alludes to as well as tactfully employs in his modernistic paintings.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, cow hooves are believed to contain quintessential elements important for men to foster the stamina vital for pro-creational sex. Therefore, as Nya’ matured in the midst of proud and valiant “machindas,” he was entitled to indulge in the delicacy of eating ‘mazondo,’ (cow hooves). He soon discovered that their mucilaginous quality, which is thoroughly exposed after cooking them incessantly on a ‘baobab logs’ stocked fire results in a substance with adhesive properties. To date, the artist scientifically amalgamates animal hooves and other synthetic materials to produce the bonding agent for his compositions.
Nya’s maternal lineage is comprised of strategic thinkers, distinguished scholars, politicians, astute entrepreneurs and both civic and business leaders; one of the eminent being King Tendai Chifambausiku Chimbadzwa Masawara-Mutasa. A visionary leader of the Manyika people who planned, consolidated and inaugurated political, judicial, economic and empowerment structures that are still relevant to date.
The fact that the artist never intimately knew his biological father, except for the last month prior to his premature demise did not encumber his precocious development. On the contrary, Nya’ states how the absence of a physical male figure he could call “father” positively incited him to seek and wholly understand that fatherhood is not an intrinsic title, but an unparalleled position solely determined by its function hence consecrated in amaranthine obligations.
In one of the artist’s early work, a 48 x 36 inches (121.92 x 91.44 cm) piece comprised of discarded metal, cow-dung, cow-hide and river sand entitled “Pearls of Potency” Nya’ explicates the authentic meaning of the word, “father” by tracing its root in the Hebrew language, and duly listing the “keywords” that elucidate the “functions of a father.” In the verse accompanying the work, the artist describes a “father” as “the Source, the Sustainer, the Nourisher, the Author, the Progenitor, the Protector, the Root and the Foundation.” Ensuing the tirade of words depicting a father’s raison d’être, the forty-sentence verse is capped with the statement;
“From my Father, I comprehend my identity, I know my heritage, I assume my authority, I see my vision, I unearth my purpose, I birth my work, I find my legitimacy, I perceive my ideal, I possess my power, I pursue my mission, I discern the imperishable value of my inheritance.”
Most probable, the artist’s capitalization of the letter ‘F’ in the word ‘Father’ in the painting’s synopsis is an allusion to a celestial Father who, in the son’s eyes, is a paragon of immortal purity.
The theme of fatherhood is re-visited in the artist’s later work, “Blueprint of Grace.” In this composition, the ebullient and psychedelic colors that dominated his early work discoursing the same theme have been replaced with a more confident, subtle and refined palette connoting the ethereal mirth and serenity that engulfs one’s consummate being in the presence of “The Father.”
Nya’s use of sackcloth and ashes is undoubtedly rooted in his upbringing at Mutiwechikotsa farm. In distinct African cultures, when a son poisons “the root of love” by blatantly ignoring the rebuke from his mother and in his insolent pride, fails to reconcile with her before she dies, he was banished into the hills dressed in sackcloth with ashes smeared on his forehead. Solitary confinement in the wilderness with roving wild animals, he would confront the forlorn depths of his transgression, earnestly seek forgiveness from his Maker and at sunset, literally crawl his way to a revered elder’s official residence.
Since the artist’s grandfather, Misheck Siyaso Chimbadzwa Masawara Mutasa was a respected elder and the blood brother to the “then” present-day king, “Abisha Masawara Mutasa,” Nya’ grew up hearing stories of men who had committed this particular abomination, called “kutanda botso.” On occasions, he saw some of them lamenting and receiving emotional and spiritual mentoring and guidance from his grandfather.
The celebratory feast that followed the initial counsel was validated by slaughtering a bull signaling the son’s repentance, clemency and unabridged acceptance into society. In his early painting, appropriately entitled “Botso,” a boldly abstracted outline of a woman - the shadow of the mother, as Nya’ puts it - merges with a rugged landscape and an actual African spear affixed to the canvas. The later object is a symbol of manhood and family pride forfeited by the cursed individual. In the poetic annotation alluding to the massive work measuring 98 x 56 inches (248.9 x 142.2 cm), Nya’ states;
In disrespect of her divine authority
The grandeur of her inspired teaching
You abuse her splendor and the seasoned instruction from her lips you disregard
You beckon away from discipline
And in the journey of time,
Peril pursues, prosperity eludes and multiple misfortunes paint your every footstep…”
The choice of the verb “paint” in the last line of the poem seems telling in that it indicates the almost metaphysical power that Nya’ attributes to the physical act of painting - an imperial force that comes across emphatically in his composition from a later period called “Mburuchusi.”
Mburuchusi is a term for a process by which an ever-tightening strip of bark tied around a bull’s testicles during the summer gradually tightens in winter and eventually castrates the animal by cutting off its ‘semen delivery channel’, thereby making it docile and angry enough to pull a plough for unbearable hours.
In Nya’s painting, executed at the height of political tension in Southern Africa, the bull becomes a metaphor for the bitter-faced people, whose mask-like faces and muzzled lips outlined by dried twigs overlap rhythmically. In acute contrast to these lugubriously docile faces and the literal crude stick figure hovering in the fringes of the canvas, perhaps representing the stench of fear that has frustrated the people’s freedom, are blood reds and other fiery hues reflecting the anger of a people silenced by fear, enchained by sterile rulers, stripped of vision, rapped of dignity and trust, marred by the cancerous wounds of colonialism and enslaved by greed, envy, jealousy, bitterness and hatred.
The consequences of fear depicted in “Mburuchusi,” and other distinguished paintings are discussed in the artist’ Kingdom Lexicon. In these revelatory notes, Nya’ identifies the source of all fear and then elucidates the abysmal severity, the decapitating and suffocating power of fear using a conglomeration of very strong words as follows;
"Fear" is a satanic spirit that reduces any Man created in the exact nature and likeness of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Mighty, Majestic, Glorious, Splendorous, Faithful, Loving and Powerful God into a greedy fool; a jealous imbecile, a covetous creature, a resentful moron, a distrustful lunatic, an envious idiot, a doubtful neurotic, a possessive schizophrenic and a buffoon who destroys his domain of influence by feeding on his own vomit marinated with poison of the past.”
Nya’s allusion to and actual use of cow dung in his compositions is also rooted in his primary years growing up in the undulating mountains of Eastern Zimbabwe. This undigested residue of plant matter that would have passed through the animal’s gut resulting in fecal matter rich in minerals is mainly used as agricultural fertilizer.
The artist grew up seeing cow dung being used to sheathe the interiors of water gourds and to coat house floors due to its insect repellent properties. During the winter, he also saw cow dung used by other villagers to build mud-brick houses and acting as a thermal insulator after lining it on the walls of family huts.
The ingenious usage of cow dung incontrovertibly influenced the artist as interpreted in his work, including select x-rays for the head of the impressive figure in his important work, “Keeper of Time.”
Keeper of Time, x-ray 6
In both his earlier and later works, the fecal matter is employed to either augment a painting’s subject matter or allude to the powerful, protective and preservative qualities of the cow dung in relationship to the didactic message in the piece.
The seed for Nya’s unprecedented technique of singly indenting alphabetical letters and stitching wire on cow dung coated parchments were also sowed in his mind during these pivotal years at his grandfather’s farm.
Conclusively, the history of the rich hues of reds, burgundies, purples and golds prevalent in his work is also traceable to this cardinal period when the artist was in direct contact with cow, goat and sheep’s blood. Through observing the pliancy, density and the exsiccating proclivity of this precious fluid that circulates in the principal vascular system of human beings and other vertebrates, an opulent reservoir of unorthodox ideas were indelibly impressed on the memory of the budding artist. And to date, he adroitly synthesizes animal blood with modern materials in his laboratory to create raw, immediate works that are tactile, prismatic, diaphanous, yet veiled in a superlative ambiance where, as Nya says, “the coherent and amorphous converge.”
the transitory years...
At the age of 10, Nya′ migrated from the hinterland to live with his mother in Harare (the capital city of Zimbabwe). Periodic visits to the metropolis during school holidays made the capacious transition facile.
Immediately after enrolling in a neighborhood school, his introvert persona promptly dissipated as incalculable hours were invested on the streets with a throng of peers from different backgrounds. However, it soon became audibly palpable to his friends that the new kid on the block with a “weird accent” had an uncanny flare of creativity.
In an era where weekend excursions to toy stores were a distinguished privilege for an exiguous black bourgeois and the white minority that was savoring the wealth amassed during the economically repressive Smith regime; every conceivable toy, from cars, trucks, soccer balls, tennis rackets, dolls and toy guns were made on the streets using an agglomeration of unorthodox materials.
By aptly manipulating abandoned electrical wires and pillaged metal from nearby factories, Nya′ twisted, weaved and knitted the callous materials with deft precision, perspicuous acumen and contagious alacrity. Using bare hands and concrete bricks to pummel the raw substance into submission, shards of metal were transformed into magnum pistols, mere wire metamorphosed into racing motorbikes, jet bombers or fire engine trucks with rustling beer bottle caps fitted on the top to act as the siren.
Whilst the young maestro fulfilled orders from a hoard of impatient protégés and friends, a team of nimble peers would voraciously scavenge through pyramids of garbage for plastic containers, beer bottles, pieces of cloth, empty cigarette packets, broken parts of stereos and other electrical gadgets. Television provided an infinite vault of ideas and despite being severely handicapped in his ability to understand English, the budding artist would glue his eyes on the black and white 13 inch (33cm) monitor for protracted intervals.
Nya’s nimble imagination and prodigious memory is further coalesced with a preternatural ability to sculpturally interpret anything his mind envisages using a variegated palette of materials. Thus, a car seen in a 30-second television commercial would be riding around the neighborhood block in less than 3 hours in the form of an industriously contrived wire toy perfectly displaying its trademark emblem.
A circumspect assay of the artist’s work asseverates how this indefatigable period influenced his work. This is incontestably overt in “The Babylonian Shepherd.” In this piece, Nya′ intricately employs an irresistible blend of exquisite virtuosity and conceptual freedom. Materials redolent of his childhood that ambit from wire, rustic metal, blackboard chalk and suitcase locks are premeditatedly ingrained into the work with meritorious precision. Additionally, the aura of youthful exuberance and sublime embryonic aesthetics reminiscent of his juvenile toys emanate from the enrapturing masterpiece.
Another key early work mired in the artist's adolescent years is a 48 x 32-inch (121.9 x 81.3 cm) work on panel, “Wana-dzaa-mushonga-wende.” This 21-letter and 8 syllable title, capable of eloquent enunciation by a distinguished few with a “virtuous Manyika tongue” alludes to the fables and myths that one cherishes in his childhood years but gradually archives when the ineluctable and crucible realities of adulthood set in.
Ironically, the work was consummated prior to Nya′ embarking for America and privately acquired by an exceptional South African businessman who later played an important role in establishing Seed Gallery in New York. By melding traditional craftsmanship and contemporary ontology, the work fluently chronicles the artist’s atypical birth, sheep herding heydays and frolic teen years. Nevertheless, it is how Nya′ has acutely juxtaposed his personal story with quotidian subjects using sackcloth, wire, cow dung, ashes and tree twigs with a hint of satirical humor that evokes his upbringing and the work of the German maestro, Paul Klee and the Spanish surrealist king, Salvador Dalí.
At school, it was Nya’s handwriting that engrossed his teachers and classmates. Regardless of the subject, he would inscribe each letter or number with a deft touch of finesse and spirited ardor. Reminiscent of the mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints of the Dutch graphic artist, M.C Escher; Nya would skillfully transmogrify a majuscule “B” into a rattlesnake that would suddenly emerge on the next page as a boy holding school books - thereby visually enunciating the sentence, “On his way to school, John saw a reptile hidden in the marshes.”
Despite his drawings filling the classroom, the inauspicious dearth of art education resulted in the young artist to be seen as “weird” and his lucid talent treated as a nugatory hobby and a meretricious excuse for insouciance towards science subjects that were perceived as more rewarding.
On the contrary, the constant doodles and oodles of alphabetical letters rendered in bizarre forms on different sorts of salvaged parchment remain an inexhaustible cache of rich ideas. Even the eccentric alphabetical font that Nya′ exclusively uses to inscribe the verses that denote his work derives its roots from this period.
Furthermore, his inestimable appreciation for typography, design, texture and color was initially fomented during these inconspicuous years and gradually developed eight years later at the Harare Polytechnic School of Art and Graphic Design.
the power of a believing mother...
Every conceivable accolade, esteemed adjective and approbation by a mere mortal is grossly insufficient to accentuate the unfathomable role effectuated by Dorcas Mutasa in the life of Nya′.
It is arduous to apprehend the mundane complexities endured by a single mother when raising a brawny son with a “special gift” in an unimaginably nescient society and a topsy-turvy system that venerates the mercurial luxuries of western civilization yet disdains the eccentric minds behind the “essential” inventions.
Perhaps if Nya′ had learnt to banish the relentless promptings that seemed to sculpt his then infantile desires, perhaps if had relinquished the abyssal peace that accompanied the innumerable hours he spent scribbling on every conceivable material, he would have maturated into a “normal” teen with “normal” ambitions.
And perhaps, if his grandfather had omitted those aforementioned oracular words, “he is destined for greatness;” then perhaps, only perhaps, he would have succumbed to “normalcy” and pursued a more noble career, a vocation recognized and revered by the community. Similar to his peers, he should have dreamt of becoming a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor or a pilot; then certainly his mother would not have had to suffer the discomfitures of having a “bizarre son with comical ears, a country accent and a habit of metamorphosing every decent conversation into a three-dimensional sculpture or ineffable pencil sketches.”
But then again, why did the “Word” he had heard at Sunday school “Be not conformed to the standard of this world…” which, in his diurnal meditation, he had interpreted to imply that “he was idiosyncratically created for an explicit assignment by an Omniscient, Omnipotent Spirit,” ceaselessly echo in his bantam bosom.
As it would be, Dorcas was not an “ordinary” woman, and definitely not an “ordinary” mother. Standing slightly below 5 feet, this woman with chestnut eyes possesses a Michelangelo’s “David” confidence that is beyond comprehension. Notwithstanding the operose pregnancy and torturous parturition, she had strenuously endured, her upbringing had not been a bed of roses either.
As the eldest of thirteen children, and raised in a family structure that abhorred selfishness, and the words, “me, myself and I” tantamount to debauchery, she had learnt to invariably indulge the needs of her siblings first, perennially give unconditional love and reverentially listen to disparate opinions. In a period when equal rights did not imply impertinence and untrammeled lasciviousness, it was peerless devotion to first her father, then her husband and the quality and consistency of service she furnished regardless of the available resources that distinguished a woman’s mettle.
With tears climbing down the walls of his cheeks, and an intractable stammer, as if words stubbornly refused to pier on his lips, a fate that enshrines his being whenever he talks about his mother, Nya′ states;
“There are very few words I have discovered with the capacity to blanket the eternal avalanche of gratitude I have for my mother.”
The words the artist is alluding to are from a psalm by the prolific English hymn writer, theologian and logician, Issac Watts. The concluding stanza of the 1707 sacred song poignantly states,
“Where the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all.”
One might deem it blasphemous to attribute the text intended to convey God’s supernatural love to a mortal, but then again, The Holy Scriptures enunciate that “God is love and He abides in us;” therefore, suffice it to say, that it was firstly through his mother, that Nya′ learnt and discovered God’s steadfast, unquenchable, unrelenting, sheltering and immutable love.
Described by the artist as “my first gallerist, patron and mentor,” Dorcas’ faithful support for her son was the scaffolding upon which Nya′ confidently stood and began to discover his purpose, appreciate the illimitable scope of his imagination and understand the potent, persuasive, piercing and power of passion, persistence and prayer.
"Passion resides in the blood, where the physical life of every Man emanates. Therefore, when you are truly passionate, it is impossible for anyone to silence, curtail or persuade you to abort the dream and vision God gave you. Poverty, hardships, setbacks, rejection, intimidation, gossip, doubt and the lack of adequate resources might impede your progress, but rather than become an asphyxiating albatross with the capacity to extirpate your purpose and bury your dreams; these challenges work to embolden your faith in God and thereby repatriate your vigor, ignite your prowess, innervate your ingenuity, authorize favor and garner the ample provision necessary for the accomplishment of your assignment.”
Even though her mother had not completed her formal education, she comprehended the “rarity” of his son’s gift and the indispensable eminence of consciously girdling him with superlative advice, counsel, personal cooperation and whole-hearted aid in a spirit of perfect harmony. Every “word” that proceeded from her lips was marinated in a bowl of praise, constructive rebuke and encouragement.
Despite being unable to afford the innumerous resources deemed requisite for a burgeoning artist, her fertile words adequately furnished an infinite canvas upon which Nya′ was able to imagine, experiment, create and compose a veritable vocabulary that has made his work nonpareil.
Furthermore, his propensity for risk-taking and novelty-seeking, his need for autonomy, the drive to think big and the obsessive focus on detail are qualities he partly inherited from his mother. In his journal, the artist writes;
My dear mother would always say to me, “finding your work and consistently developing your gift through the ephemeral valleys of life is the fundamental key to Godly success - and let your finished work reveal the genius in you - add value to your work, and never get distracted.”
In his artist notes for his painting, “Language of the Soul,” completed in 2002 and now part of the Kendrick and Mashea Ashton private collection (New York, USA), Nya′ describes ‘a gift’ in the following sentences;
A gift is what one was created to dominate and subdue the earth with
A gift is what you set free, give birth to, produce and live for the next generation
A gift is the cherished treasure of immeasurable worth and value deposited inside you by your Creator and Manufacturer…”
“A gift is an intrinsically God-given and a voluntarily bestowed talent without compensation and void of partiality. It is a unique ability or capacity, a genius, a power, a faculty, a capability and an aptitude freely endowed on every Man which can only be personally discovered and then harnessed, honed, and mastered in the dimension of time through the method of work for the benefit and enjoyment of humanity.”
To ascertain that her potent words would remain paramount at the vanguard of his son’s psyche, habitual “power seminars” between mother and son were compulsory. Employing the “Holy Scriptures” as the foundation, a book that the mother affectionately called “the incorruptible seed,” Dorcas would plod through the frail pages of the Bible with her son and clearly exhibit to him how his gift was weaved to every aspect of his life, particularly his purpose, vision and faith in God.
In the verse of a 2009 commissioned painting entitled “Estuary of Peace,” now part of the Cannon family private collection (Vermont, New York), Nya′ partially unveils the wondrously untellable splendors he unearthed from the Bible through his mother and how they are keenly embedded within every pore of his work. Scripted in the form of a letter, as if one was expressing his immortal gratitude to a precious, faultless, unblemished, splendorous, radiating and imperishable lover, the artist inscribes;
I yearn to be in your gaze
I unearth the currency of life with your Word
I learn the equity of my every breath,
The asset of my being
And by your feet,
I find my purpose and I birth my vision...
A prudent examination of the artist’s work incontrovertibly reveals how his mother’s influence is inoculated into the soul of each painting he is inspired to create. However, this is portrayed in extreme subtle undertones that only capture the ethereal essence of the maternal bond.
A splendid illustration is “My Boathouse.” The 41 x 30-inch (104.1 x 76.2 cm) painting grounded on a “discarded metal” chronicles the abiding peace that prevails in the journey of a visionary.
Oblivious to the looming peril, as depicted by the marauding waves and the dense blue clouds encompassing the small boat, or perhaps sheltered in a deluge of Grace that melts the stench of fear into infertile, ineffectual and incorporeal molecules void of authority, the purpose-full “voyager” traverses his treacherous course with a calmness of spirit that defies logic.
However, without a steering compass or key traceable elements that are occasionally perceptible in some of the artist’s work, the viewer is left pondering, “Is the painting alluding to Nya’s arduous birth and definitive calling? Is he narrating his mother’s horrendous ordeal during childbirth, her determined focus, resolute faith and eventual victory?
It is only after carefully dissecting the heavily textured composition that a delicately ingrained watermark with the inscription “Shumba” is barely detectable in the background. What is eminent to accentuate here is that Shumba is a metonym the artist affectionately uses in distinguished settings when referring to his mother. Therefore, by inaudibly inscribing his mother’s totem, we are reminded of the “umbilical knot” that ties the son’s work to his mother.
In “Butterfly Kisses,” one of Nya’s first works completed on canvas, the artist depicts her mother’s inexhaustible capacity to motivate and rejuvenate a fervent sense of purpose in him. The semi-figurative painting captures the compassionate lips of a petite and curvaceous woman on the forehead of her boy child as he recklessly reclines in her capacious arms. The woman’s sublime and tender gaze at her son and the tranquility of the soft colored background reflect humanist dreams of an ideal Man and a harmonious life.
The son transforms into a baby in his mother's arms and serenely dwells in her abiding presence. The lambent colors employed in the work allude to an epigram Nya′ grew up hearing from her mother, it reads, “mawara erudo anesimba rekufukidzira zvitsverudzo nezvimwe-zviro-zvese zvakabvira-kunyangara.” This pithy statement, when translated into English powerfully implies;
“the glorious, splendorous, celestial and immutable colors of love have the profound capacity and immensity to blanket every visible and invisible frailty.”
The preparatory drawings for this painting were concluded when Nya′ was thirteen years old on a wooden panel that was used as a door to the chicken pen. What is endearing about the painting, consummated nine years later, is the artist’s resounding aptitude to limn the vulnerability and naiveté of the baby and dexterously juxtapose it with the stern features of a maturating man who seems cognizant of the imminent adversities related to his assignment as an artist.
Another work inspired by “motherhood” and executed using a set of antecedent preparatory sketches and notes is “Retired Composer.”
“Retired Composer” was conceived on a rainy Saturday morning, (14 November 1992), when Nya′ visited his aunt in hospital. Gazing through the half-opened door to the reclining patient who was unaware of her first visitor, Nya′ was exposed to the countenance of a loving mother who had just been told she had breast cancer. Oblivious to the disheartening news, the artist was puzzled to see his aunt, who had an intrinsic ability to discover the silver lining regardless of the cloud looking dejected and phlegmatic. The contagious zeal and scintillating aura that once inhabited her oval face had been supplanted by a visage of consternation and bleak despair.
Despite her attempted reassuring prose, the young artist left the institution confounded and crestfallen. In isolation, he recorded his brewing emotions in a series of sketches at the index pages of his Bible using ashes, discarded eyeliners and shoe polish.
Fifteen years later, in the solitary of his New York studio, and upon hearing of his aunt’s steadfast faith in God and subsequent triumph over the enervating disease, Nya′ aptly responded by transposing the archived miniscule sketches onto a 55 x 38-inch (139.7 x 96.5 cm) canvas.
In the artist’s work, “Retired Composer” is perhaps unrivalled for the melancholic and contemplative mood it displays. As Nya′ said, “working on the painting brought thoughts that often lie too deep for tears.”
The work speaks of the discipline, clarity and integrity that true surrender embodies. As one revels on the intensely ferocious hues inundating the painting, you are abruptly arrested by a shear expression of obdurate commitment in the eyes of a “line” rendered musician, who, despite a gesture that suggests obfuscation, relentlessly pursues his search for the perfect keynote of the scale of C major. In the abyss of quandary, the musician has stood courageous, thwarted the odds, birthed a novel rhythm, and duly awarded an extended warranty of life. The dignity of the subject, the depth of feeling, and the complexity of means within a very limited range make this one of Nya’s incomparable works.