Zimbabwean artist, Troy Makaza’s practice offers a glimpse into the life of a young man living and seeking to thrive in a country shaped by political turmoil.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
Images: First Floor Gallery Harare
Troy is emerging as one of the formidable voices in the African art landscape. The artist joins the elite list of talented Zimbabwean visual artists carving their own lane in the art world and putting the country on the map.
Since clenching the coveted Tomorrows/Today art prize at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in 2018, Troy continues to weaponize art to spark dialogue around social ills in Africa. His works have been shown in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, Morocco, and France.
His recent solo show titled Untwisting the Fantasy at Galerie Jérôme Poggi, in Paris, looks at our heroes and the politics of putting people on a pedestal. For the series, Troy delves into personal and social politics; a slight departure from heavy state-based politics.
Troy’s work is abstract and plays with form and texture. He uses silicon, which he discovered and experimented with while seeking alternative and cost effective material. Silicon makes it easy for him to manipulate and explore as it can be cast, painted, woven and tied.
Blacklight chats with the artist about his artistic journey and thriving against all odds.
Blacklight Media: Was it a personal choice to set up your practice in Zimbabwe?
Troy Makaza: Yes, because this is where I grew up. Things are actually looking up in the art scene in Zimbabwe because there are many art collectives being established [by artists]. There is one founded by Moffat Takadiwa, whom I worked with for some time and also assisted as an up and coming artist. There is also another collective by artist Wallen Mapondera and Village Unhu (founded by Georgina Maxim, Gareth Nyandoro and Misheck Masamvu). I also use my studio as a collaborative space; I have a young artist who works with me. So there is this shared energy and communal kind of vibe where we get to share ideas and critique our work as artists. However, Zimbabwe doesn’t really have many art schools, it’s mostly informal training incubators.
BL: How hard is making a career as an artist in Zimbabwe?
TM: It can be challenging. I remember I used to love painting, in fact I majored in painting and sculpture, so I used a lot of oil paint as material, but in Zimbabwe it can be quite expensive. For example, at the time a tube of oil paint would cost around $16 (R160 –R180). Coming out of art school, even if you have a supportive family, it can be quite expensive getting work material and there isn’t much funding as well.
I started using silicon because it was a great substitute to oil paint. I recalled a time when my father and I would fix the bathroom (leakages or other minor repairs) and we would use silicon. I remember it would leave tool marks and they reminded me of the texture or an impasto effect that you get when you use thick oil paints. I tried it and it worked. That is just one example of how Zimbabwean artists are discovering new materials due to the lack of access to the materials they wish to work with.
BL: What inspired your art practice?
TM: When I finished art school, I was trying to find my identity as a born free Zimbabwean – these are people who are born after 1980 when Zimbabwe gained its independence. I realised how politics influence each and everything in our lives. My country has faced many political challenges, but there seemed to be a turning point in 2017 when the late president Robert Mugabe was removed from power. I was also part of the people marching in the streets for change in Zimbabwe.
This was a monumental event in my country because we believed things would change. I found my work being politically inclined because I internalized a lot of feelings from that period and my work became an outlet. Now I have moved to more personal and social politics beyond my country’s politics.
BL: Was there a particular moment or series of events that turned art from a hobby into a career goal?
TM: While waiting for my Matric results, I had this cousin of mine (who is now based in Cape Town), and he told me I was wasting my talent and advised me to pursue art. At first I ignored his advice until I couldn’t decide on which career path to take. I did not like the idea of a suit and tie, nine-to-five, career. I saw how even my father used to dread the days when he would have to go to work.
I also didn’t know of any local artist at the time except for popular Zimbabwean stone sculptor Dominic Benhura. I had no idea that I would be a painter; I thought art was just drawing and sculpting. I joined the Saturday Art Class programme at the National Gallery, I did about ten lessons, and they invited me to join the school full-time. I enrolled, started learning art, and ever since then I have been an artist.
A gallery of pieces by Troy Makaza:
BL: You recently had your first solo show in France. Tell me more about that experience?
TM: I started working with Galerie Jérôme Poggi, which is in Paris, in 2022. First Floor Gallery introduce me to the owner Jérôme Poggi at Art Basel Miami Beach. We then did a few art fairs together leading up to the solo exhibition. Untwisting the Fantasy is about looking at our life heroes, like our parents, and how we put them on some kind of pedestal. I was trying to untwist the fantasy we have as kids of our heroes and share my new understanding of that as an adult and a father of two. It’s really about understanding why our heroes, like my father, did what they did in order to provide or to be better fathers. Sometimes we may not understand some of their decisions at the time, but then we grow up and understand. This show is my life story and [is] quite introspective.
BL: Is there a general response that your art arouses from the audience?
TM: I feel like the work opens up something in people. It’s quite spiritual. People see the work and reflect on it – presenting a new kind of experience. Despite the work sometimes being too political, I just want people to relate. Growing up, I struggled with crowds and fitting in, but art made me open up to the world. So with my work I wish to start conversations that I am normally too shy to start.
As an artist, my work always takes me on a journey. I remember when I started using silicon, I had this weird craving of wanting to see the silicon in bulk. Once I added layers and layers of silicon then I would get some kind of satisfaction. Now there is a satisfaction which comes from the struggle of creating the work. The process can be long and consuming, but it’s worth it in the end.
BL: What keeps you going?
TM: I have an amazing gallery, which makes things easier as a creator. I have been with First Floor Gallery since 2015 and I have learned to trust the process. As an artist, you don’t start off by being great and having sold out shows and acclaim. It’s all about knowing yourself, knowing what you want and being patient. For me it’s about continuing to work no matter what – work, work, work!
BL: Any advice for young artist?
TM: Keep working, don’t stop! Spend more time with other artists, especially those who are truly interested in their practice. Look at how they have progressed and how they work in general. Research a lot and be yourself. We shouldn’t waste time worrying because in the end, it usually works out, just trust in the process.