Moffat Takadiwa: Witch Craft: Rethinking Power
October 3, 2021 through January 9, 2022
By GARY BREWER, January, 2022
The products that we consume and the objects that contain them are imbued with myriad layers of meaning and history, as well as the intent of the manufacturer. Moffat Takadiwa takes the discarded fragments from daily life: the individual keys from computer keyboards, toothbrushes, empty tubes of various products, etc, collected at the city dump outside of Harare, Zimbabwe, and creates elaborate works of art.
In his work he uses the metaphysical act of creation as a means to transform these objects, which contain the residue of Zimbabwe’s colonial history, and metamorphose them into objects of power. It is an effort to decolonize consciousness and impart a collective recognition of the importance of traditional knowledge and its contributions to medicine and science that have been lost and forgotten: to counteract the dominance of Western ideas that have almost erased the rich history and cultural fabric of Zimbabwean society. In Takadiwa’s work and in this solo show in particular: Witch Craft: Rethinking Power, he opens up a conversation about this colonial hangover, where the forces of branding and promoting, not just a product, but its value and meaning in one’s life, work as another form of colonial influence, shaping the values of a society.
The title of the exhibition refers to the British Witchcraft Suppression Act, enacted in 1957, that criminalized the traditional practice of magic in healing and other aspects of society. It was amended as recently as 2006, in order to recognize the importance of these traditions as a bedrock of traditional religious beliefs in Zimbabwe. Takadiwa is one of many young African artists of his generation creating work that attempts to start a conversation about how to challenge the dominance of Western values and to reawaken an awareness of the contributions of traditional African beliefs.
The show is a brilliant expression of the power of art to create metaphors that communicate on several levels at once. His pieces are imbued with the compelling mystery and grandeur of beauty, a beauty that transforms waste into complex poetic forms: shape-shifting them into powerful sculptures that suggest African ritual objects. Moffat and a crew of thirty five assistants, take common objects and cleans, sorts, arranges and composes these bits and pieces- the disposable bric-a-brac of daily necessity- weaving them together into powerful wall works, that hang like a textile but with physicality and sculptural dimension. He also creates beautiful works that float in space or sit on the floor. The transformation of these humble objects into profound works of art is a feat of magic indeed!
The word Karoi loosely translated means ‘little witches’ and is the name of the region where Takadiwa grew up. It is an area associated with witchcraft, due to the harsh enforcement of laws restricting the use of ‘mysterious powers’. The monumental work Three Little Witches/Karoi is composed of hundreds of black and white computer keys arranged in an alternating pattern. There are three large circles that suggest eyes or mandalas arranged in a row, composed of multicolored toothbrushes. The central area of differing colors is concentric; as it moves outwards, blue and white toothbrushes transition into a spiral. They are hypnotic and conjure mythic associations to many cultures. The work is commanding from a distance. As it draws you near, it enchants with the repetition of small individual objects and the way the things we know from our pedestrian life, can be transfigured into compelling, psychologically charged mythic symbols. There is an incredible amount of craft and patience involved in creating these works. The labor is a force in itself- reshaping the things we use and discard- into active elements swirling in a poetic universe of alchemical magic. The metaphor of transforming one thing into another, of rethinking power, and the metamorphosis of one system of belief into another is the magic that these works contain.
Object of Influence is a floor sculpture that utilizes toothbrushes and Sunlight bottle caps to create a potent, poetic object. In its bright colors, it is resonant with meaning and radiates a chromatic energy that amplifies the ritualistic character of the piece. It exudes optimism and joy, as well as making a clear statement. In it, Takadiwa uses these discarded products of Western influence, to suggest the beadwork made of shells, seeds and other materials from traditional African craft. The piece has an internal power that comes from the contradiction of what it is made of and what it suggests. In that tension, there is a complex transitional space, an intertidal zone where the currents of history are in flux. It is a space where one can rethink power and attempt to look with fresh eyes and truly appreciate the contributions to humanity that come from traditional African culture and beliefs. WM