by Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa (17 May 2010)
‘Gukurahundi’ visual artist Owen Maseko says his arrest and the banning of his exhibition is helping him to get his point across and the police actions are proving his point.
Maseko was arrested in March when he opened an exhibition showing an artist’s impression of the Gukurahundi atrocities of the 1980s, at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo. This was the first exhibition of its kind in Zimbabwe, about this violent period that led to the deaths of an estimated 20 000 Ndebeles in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces.
Police could not remove the graphic pictures and graffiti which had been painted directly onto the walls of the gallery, so they stormed the building and shut the exhibition down. They also covered the windows with newspapers so that people walking past the gallery could not see the images.
On Monday Maseko told SW Radio Africa that while it has been difficult for him personally to be arrested and going to court, his persecution is allowing people to talk about this terrible episode in Zimbabwe’s history.
He made an urgent application in the High Court to have the exhibition re-opened, but this was thrown out. The artist is expected to appear in a Bulawayo magistrate’s court on May 26th where he is challenging his remand. He said it is at this hearing where it will be decided whether he is going to trial or the charges will be dropped.
“I think it’s a win, win situation for me. If it goes to trial it means they (police) risk having the Gukurahundi issue openly discussed and at the same time if they dismiss the case it means they automatically have to allow me to re-open the exhibition and the public can actually see,” pointed out Maseko.
The artist who is currently on bail, was arrested for allegedly ‘undermining or insulting the authority of the President or insulting a particular race or tribe’ through his exhibition. The Acting Director of the Bulawayo Art Gallery, Voti Thebe, had also been arrested, but was freed later the same day.
One of the paintings showed ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe signing the Unity Accord with blood pouring down Nkomo’s back as he was signing it.
The artist said it had been a good opportunity to open his exhibition at a time the government is promoting its, so far, failing programme on National Healing and Reconciliation. Maseko said: “If it is a true National Healing (programme) then we need to talk about these very important issues.”
He said he was surprised that the Ministry of National Healing and Reconciliation had not said anything about his arrest or the closing down of the exhibition.