Zimbabwean artist uses nation’s old notes in visual art
- Published: Oct 17, 2021, 9 AM
Polymer is not the only “hot” trend in paper money. Artists claim ecological benefits in keeping clutter out of landfills in countries where the money became garbage. In both Venezuela and Zimbabwe, artists have started cottage industries turning worthless paper bills into works of art.
The latest is the work of Zimbabwean visual artist Prudence Chimutuwah, featured in recent reporting by Reuters.
Even though Zimbabwe abandoned its old currency in 2009 and most of it was thrown away, mounds of it remain, and Chimutuwah uses it to make art.
Chimutuwah told the news agency: “A lot of people, when they see the old bank notes, their reaction most of the time (is to) get angry. I am trying ... for people to see the beauty of these old bank notes. So, when someone looks at this artwork they go like ‘whoa’ and then they forget the pain this thing has caused.”
She wants people to look past the corrupt ruin caused by former President Robert Mugabe and find some beauty in the currency that is a nightmarish memory for most, and possible recover from some of the trauma he caused.
Her paintings focus on the lives of women — dancing, cooking or in vividly colored, elegant dresses. She uses the old Zimbabwean dollars not as a canvas themselves, but stuck onto a painted background with glue to become part of the image.
Most of her works are studies in blue because she describes the color as “a symbol of strength and dominance.”
In one painting, a woman is shown pouring liquid from a calabash (a type of gourd), which is made up of pieces of brown 1,000- and 50-billion-Zimbabwe-dollar notes. In another, especially appropriate message in the age of COVID-19, a woman wears a mask and blouse made from purple 500 million Zimbabwe dollar notes. The artist’s intent is to show the “new normal” of masks and social distancing.
Some of her work is now on display in a month-long exhibition at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare.
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