Artist Spotlight: Mostaff Muchawaya

May 23, 2022
Artist Spotlight: Mostaff Muchawaya

Happy birthday Mostaff ! One of the stars of Unsettled. We are very grateful to be able to show his stunning portraits and landscapes for the first time ever in Europe.

Muchawaya (b. 1981, Zimbabwe) is one of the most innovative painters of his generation. Through the medium of paint, Muchawaya creates multi-layered landscapes and portraits of people drawn from memories of his upbringing in the mountainous Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Muchawaya’s portraits are a complex confluence of portraiture and self-portraiture, autobiography, and fiction. In his work, the artist expresses a deep connection to his memories and experiences, which are inseparable from ‘his people’ and surroundings. He continuously refers to his rural upbringing; his art serves as a safe space, a home he reverts to.



Portrait of the artist.


While the paintings are new in their material form, to Muchawaya they are deep-rooted, remembered renderings. His portraits are a combination of memories, a dream-like flash of faces that shape an impression of a half-remembered experience. As with memories, the works encompass all embellishments and subjectivities layered on top of one another. Muchawaya’s method of eroding the surface mirrors the natural process of forgetting. His unsettling, faceless portraits make way for recognition.



Muchawaya’s energetic signature style involves the application and erasure of multiple layers of vividly coloured paint. Once dry, each generous application of paint is then scraped in parts or removed from the canvas. Household cleaning agents and paint chips from derelict walls are also used to give the impression of erosion. Paint chips from prior works are added to the richly textured surface. Each new piece is thus also part of an old one, creating a very personal sense of continuity throughout his work.

This cycle of application and eradication – almost like an exorcism - continues until each portrait reflects the shifting and uncontrollable nature of memory itself, where the processes of remembering and forgetting converge to form abstract impressions of the women in his life. Once finished, the portrait he presents is one that eerily reminds one of a haunting - a haunting by places, by people and by what used to be or could have been.



Mostaff Muchawaya, Dhaina (2022). Mixed media on canvas. 366 x 215,5 cm


Born 1981 in Nyazura, Manicaland, Mostaff Muchawaya works in Harare, Zimbabwe. A 2003 graduate of Zimbabwe’s National Gallery School of Visual Art and Design, he joined the artist’s collective Village Unhu art studio in 2012 when it was run by Misheck Masamvu, Georgina Maxim and Gareth Nyandoro. Muchawaya presented his first solo exhibition in South Africa “Memory/Ndangariro” at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town in 2017. This exhibition concluded his 2017 residency at Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, South Africa. Earlier solo exhibitions include his debut show, titled “My Entire People and Place”s, in association with Village Unhu and Alliance Française at the Old Mutual Theatre in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2013. In 2018, Muchawaya was included in the exhibition “Five Bhobh – Painting at the End of an Era”, curated by Tandazani Dhlakama and featuring twenty-nine artists from Zimbabwe, at the Zeitz MOCAA. The artist had a second solo exhibition at SMAC Gallery in 2018 (“Zviso Zvangu - My Faces”) and participated at the 22nd Sydney Biennale in 2020.

About the author

Bruno Claessens

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