This is a collaborative community based project whose focus is to voice new visions of a city. The project is site specific being triggered from the barren slab of stone that once anchored a monument of Kingsley Fairbridge unveiled in 1953 by Queen Victoria. The site is called Christmas Pass, which is the entrance to Mutare from Inyanga and Harare on the Northern side of the city. It is the site that supposedly Kingsley Fairbridge at the age of 12, his dog, and Jack who was entrusted helper, prepared a campsite for his father, a surveyor for then Southern Rhodesia. The mission was to find a new location for the town of Mutare to have access to the railways. During those three days, Kingsley had a vision for new farm settlements for young children from the crowded cities of England, which later became known as the Fairbridge farms routing them through Mutare to Australia. In Kingsley autobiography, he supposedly tried to relay this vision to Jack who simply cut him off saying “no bwana.” The monument was appropriately removed in 1982 from its strategic view from the mountains due to its colonial emphasis of one perception of power, rather than a democratic vision of a community at large. The slab of stone is barren, with only holes, which once were anchors, are now void of purpose. The project is aimed at speculating the “other” vision that had no monument erected for. Jack becomes the voice of all the “others.”
This is ambitious project where residents in and around Mutare will articulate their hopes and desires for their city. The project has received strong support from the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Mutare as well as from the Mayor of Mutare, Brian James. The two principal collaborators are Hleziphi Naomie Nyanungo, presently a lecturer in the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at Africa University in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe, and Chido Johnson, associate professor in the Fine Arts department of CCS in Detroit, USA. Naomie and Chido are both the youngest children of United Methodist pastors and both their families have lived in Old Mutare. On the basis of their shared history, they feel a strong sense of connection to Mutare.
There are three components to the project which are: (1) documenting visions from the actual slab on Christmas Pass, (2) a performance for a recording, and (3) a story about Jack. The visions will be documenting demographically selected residencies of Mutare, with an emphasis of the cities diversity, inviting them to voice their visions, embracing their differences unified for a better city. The selected participants will sit on a ceremonial chair called “Jack” made from specific material, and found objects, and placed on the barren slab of stone on Christmas Pass. Then a sculptural object in a form of a chair will be used for a video documenting a performance climbing Mount Chiremba, the original location of Mutare, now known as Old Mutare. The chair is made of materials and elements associated with medicine. The ingredients are:
1. -actual chair from a high school
2. -a head carved from Mupani wood, which traditionally is used for sorcery and cut from a tree in a “taken” farm.
3. -the burlap tied on the feet of the chair is from the Fairbridge farm and it holds dirt from Mount Chiremba (the medicine mountain).
The performance of climbing the mountain is re-enacting Chido’s own numerous journeys up the same mountain when in high school as well as the assumption that both Jack and Kingsley at some point must have climbed it as well. A camera is placed inside the carved head and in a hard hat strapped on the head. The journey begins in a classroom at Hatrzell High School with both videos facing the same directions. Then the artist stands up, picks up the chair and carries it like a backpack (a child) thus causing the cameras to focus on different directions. This continues till the artist reaches the top of the mountain where again he places the chair facing the valley, seats and shares the same view again.
The third component of the project will be a story written by Naomie about “Jack,” the man-servant who accompanied Kinglsey Fairbridge when he went up the mountain. The story places Jack as a central character of the excursion where the vision is supposed to have taken place. It highlights the role that Jack played in this scenario as an actor and not mere appendage to Fairbridge. Jack is believed to have been a of the Sena ethnic group which is believed to have had an antagonistic relationship with the Manyika ethnic group who inhabited the local area. Naomie writes the story from the angle of being Jack’s great-granddaughter. She feels a historical connection to Jack’s character because her family roots can be traced back to an ethnic group from Mozambique which might very wellbe the Sena ethnic group. The complexities of identity as it relates to imagining possibilities sharing visions are revealed in the story.
The project will culminate with an exhibit at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Mutare.