Quarterly Essay ✿ Moffat Takadiwa: The art of small things

Jenan Taylor

4 June 2020

Jenan Taylor returns to her southern African roots, drawn by the mysterious smell of soap, to discover the place where Zimbabwe’s iconic sculptor gathers his materials and community.

(A message to the reader.)

It’s late 2019. From my laptop on my kitchen table in Melbourne, I’m browsing an exhibition taking place on the other side of the world. I catch sight of two towering tapestries. Named The Tengwe Farms, their soils, a curious blend of red and green, look like hundreds of taut microscopic suns studding the valleys and rims of larger suns. Recognition dawns when I inspect the small nubs and something perfumes my memory, just a trace, really, but the soap-like redolence is austere enough to make me pull back and point my mouse elsewhere on the canvasses.

A blue avenue near the western edge of one, I take to be river rapids. A vast gold plain on the other I assign the role of crops, maybe maize, maybe sunflowers. The tapestries, part of an exhibition, Son of the Soil by Zimbabwean artist, Moffat Takadiwa, include pieces such as Land of Coca Cola and Colgate, The Green-Gold and Occupation of Land. They are so mesmerising that the hefty topics they examine—land ownership and consumer culture—almost come as a shock. Looking at the draperies is like gazing back at Earth from the uppermost atmosphere. But go closer, much closer, and you soon realise all is not as it seems. Everything they are made of has already been something else: a bottle top, a cap, a toothbrush. I am entranced and I am perplexed.

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