By Violet Gonda
26 March 2010
A well known artist Owen Maseko and Voti Thebe, the person in charge of the Bulawayo National Arts Gallery, were arrested on Friday, a day after they launched an exhibition of provocative paintings about the Gukurahundi era.
Gukurahundi was the name given to the armed conflict in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the mid 1980’s that led to the deaths of an estimated 20,000 Ndebele people, after ZANU PF unleashed the notorious North Korean trained Fifth Brigade in the area.
Shari Eppel, a human rights activist who spoke at the opening launch, told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the ceremony went ahead with no problem on Thursday but the police went to the art gallery the following day and started filming all the installation and pictures, and then arrested the two.
At the time of broadcast the police were still to charge Maseko and Thebe. Eppel said the police were still trying to find a crime to pin on the two, saying: “So it’s the usual situation where they arrest first and find the crime.”
This latest development comes a day after a photo exhibition at Harare’s Delta Gallery, organized by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, was abandoned after police tried to confiscate the photographs on show, in defiance of a court order. They had previously seized all the photos and briefly arrested the organization’s director.
The Bulawayo exhibition was supposed to run for the whole of April but there are now fears that the police will shut it down. But Eppel said the police in Bulawayo will have a difficult time confiscating the some of the images because the artist painted on the walls of the gallery. She said one of the main features of the exhibition is that it has a lot of graffiti around the walls – all about Gukurahundi - so everyone walking past on the streets can actually look in and see through the glass walls of the gallery.
“It would also be hard for the police to shut it down because it is not just a matter of removing paintings but Owen has actually painted the entire gallery. He painted all the walls red and he has painted all this graffiti all over the walls. So it is a very difficult exhibition to shut down.”
The human rights activist said it is the first time that there has been an exhibition of this kind about this terrible period in Zimbabwe’s history, that took place shortly after independence.
Eppel said: “One of the paintings showed the installation of the late Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe signing the Unity Accord with blood pouring down Nkomo’s back as he was signing it.”
She said: “It’s a very brave exhibition and it’s high time. It is 27 years exactly since Gukurahundi. Why can’t people talk about these things, especially since we have this Ministry of Healing and Reconciliation and part of that has to be truth telling, in as many mediums as possible, including the arts.”