The name of this series is Dying to be Men and it is intended to parody the aesthetics of propaganda and political representation.
I wanted to look at the way government roles are essentially exaggerated personas.
– Kudzanai Chiurai
Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai is an internationally acclaimed young artist now living and working in South Africa. He was the first black student to graduate with a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. Regarded as part of the “born free” generation in Zimbabwe – born one year after the country’s independence from Rhodesia – Chiurai’s early work focused on the political, economic and social strife in his homeland. Seminal works like Presidential wallpaper depicted Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a sell-out and led to Chiurai’s exile from Zimbabwe.
His sell-out exhibition Graceland (2007) offered striking commentary on issues related to black economic empowerment and inner-city rejuvenation in South Africa. From his home/studio located in one of Johannesburg’s most notorious crime hotspots (now earmarked as a rejuvenation zone), Chiurai produced a body of work that featured buildings, residents and signage seen from his own balcony. And while stereotypical benchmarks of urban development, such as the new BMW-driving suburban black elite, were challenged and often ridiculed, a subtle yet powerful ray of hope and progress also emerged. Works like Since 1900 and Fela heralded the perseverance and longevity of mom and pop neighborhood businesses and indigenous African icons. Chiurai offered a deeply personal glimpse of his version of “Graceland” and signalled a fresh direction for future works.
In 2009 Chiurai joined the Goodman Gallery stable, exhibiting in the group exhibition Nation State and extending his foray into the murky world of African politics with two solo shows: Dying to be men at Goodman Gallery Cape in 2009 and Communists and hot chicken wings: the birth of a new nation at Goodman Gallery project space in 2010. Large-scale photographs critiquing the representation and aesthetics of political power were at the core of Dying to be men, and Chiurai followed this with a series of large linocuts, an oversized mural, and the fictional remains of a presidential assassination in Communists and hot chicken wings.
Though he is known primarily as a painter, Chiurai extends his practice to a broad public engagement not always possible in the confines of the white cube. His work as a producer, editor, and designer is often located in informal networks and situations and is intimately connected to his political activism. This wide-ranging approach to making art is demonstrated in a body of work that embraces photography, publishing, music, public art, and fashion. He has edited two publications with contributions by leading creatives. The first of these formed part of his 2008 solo exhibition Yellow Lines, which was a catalogue of the exhibition that also worked as magazine. Collaborating with writers, artists, graphic designers, stylists and fashion photographers, Chiurai presented them with a brief to reinterpret the theme of the exhibition. He completed a second reader titled Black President vol. II, which was published in 2010 by Goodman Gallery Editions.