With Thapong Artist of the Year Awards 2015 (TAYA) just a day (Wednesday) away, Zimbabwean artist and judge for this year’s TAYA, Charles Bhehe recently gave a presentation and overview on his thoughts about the works submitted in the different categories in this year’s competition. Bhebe expressed in his presentation that although he fell in love with some artworks that were submitted he noticed that most artworks lacked depth.
“I came in as a neutral person and I really enjoyed the craft of art, Batswana still paint things beautifully,” he observed. “However, during the judging process I found there was a problem of depth and meaning of things. I missed the depth part of it, what are you saying and who are you talking to? A lot of the artworks failed to answer these questions, they were merely just lovely paintings of animals, the San, of the president and donkeys. There is nothing wrong with all these, but what sets apart a donkey painting to a breathtaking work is the message behind it,” he added.
Bhehe wanted to be blown away and challenged. “When you draw a donkey or the San people it has to have some kind of social reference. You will not break into international art circles if you don’t come out of the box. What you are saying should be interesting. Does your painting have substance? Challenge your audience and make them talk. I wanted to see Botswana in your artworks and above all else look at an artwork and be able to really feel the artist in the artwork.” Besides the lack of depth, Bhebe also expressed that he noticed a few plagiarized artworks in the works submitted.
He advised artists to start thinking globally when working on their artworks as the piece could be anywhere in the world. Bhebe spoke of the artists today as one who had more power as he/she could exhibit anywhere in the world.
“Artists today are a bit more sophisticated and complex. It is no longer enough to just paint and show works, artist today create trusts and take initiatives and Batswana artists need to be that modern artist and think about exhibiting at bigger platforms such as the Venice Biennial. There are many good stories to tell about your country and the beauty about Botswana is that there is freedom of expression while in Zimbabwe there is very little,” he said.
Bhebe also commented that he was excited to see installations as they offered something different. “I also enjoyed a few works in the photography category, there was something really interesting in there.”
Closing, Bhehe advised local artists to not be afraid of making artworks that sell like pottery, “don’t just be a creative, also be business minded.”