Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Is Local Art Safe On the Internet?

 By Tony Monda
Gone are the halcyon days of contemporary Zimbabwean stone sculpture of the 1980s and 1990s, when over 1 860 cultural visitors per season chose Zimbabwe as a prime tourist destination.

Art galleries could boast of having a minimum (at the least), of 20 visitors per month each. International art patrons, scholars, business people and cultural tourists marvelled at our rich local culture immortalised in stone sculpture. They bought and bartered the art and carried out research of our culture. Zimbabwean artists lived well, fed and educated their families and contributed meaningfully to their respective communities - as is the norm in Shona tradition.

Some of the top artists even invested in real estate, agricultural projects and small-holder farming enterprises.

A good example of philanthropy was Springstone International Art Gallery of Avondale, which opened in the early 1990s, run by a local interior design consultant, art collector and cultural activist Michelina Andreucci. It was a trail blazing art gallery with an archival collection of stone sculpture dating back to its beginnings in 1956.

History of Cyber Marketing of Zimbabwean Art;

The gallery introduced the first Zimbabwean sculpture cyber marketing concept in the early 1990s, with Zimtrade. It boasted of the best designed websites of monumental and cabinet sculpture produced in Zimbabwe to date.

Chronological categories of art and artists were collated with cutting edge academic cultural research and analysis of the works, state of the art analogue and digital photography and captivating biographer that recorded the essence of the work and their artists. The gallery advocated for local connoisseurship of the arts and introduced fair international pricing for sculpture. It also offered education and scholarships for the artists and upheld the protection of the artist's rights.

Outstanding "new signatures" emerging artists were promoted and nurtured to ensure a continuity of the genre. As a result many top sculptors such as Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Lazarus Takawira, Sylvester Mubayi, Fanizani Akuda , Henry Munyaradzi, Boira and Richard Mteki, Peter Mandala, Joram Mariga, Joseph Ndandarika, Zachariah Njobo, Bernard Matemera, Edward Chiwawa and sons, Maxwell Gochera, Albert Mamvura, Anderson Mukomberanwa, victor Mtongwizo, Dereck Macheka, Bernard and John Takawira, Paul Gwichiri, Stanford Derere, Harry Mutasa, Moses Masaya, and others supported the enterprise and had their works flighted on the internet for the first time. The images on the net were internationally protected and copyrighted which was an adequate measure for the time.

Website Art Alert

Fifteen years on, the gallery ran its course and tourism slumped and many veteran artists passed on. Today, young Zimbabwean artists are creating their own websites as information and publicity mechanisms for self-promotion. But how safe are the images and information from hackers, conmen and most of all the Chinese, American, Belgian and Dutch forgers who have made the Internet a new frontier for the exploitation, replication, colonisation and ownership of Indigenous African culture and art?

This writer has been approached by several prominent Zimbabwean artists with complaints of seeing replicas of their work on the Internet on Euro-American websites. My work on the net is being widely plagiarised and forged. I have since vowed never to have an image of my art on the Internet.

e-Commerce and Colonisation

Is this reaction to the Internet not the same as the proverbial "ostrich burying its head in the sand"? Yes, but as the world shrinks to the size of an iPhone, smaller than the palm of one's hand, even the sand is not deep enough to protect one from the cyber gaze and fraud.

Western and Eastern computer technology can steal, plunder, re-credit and subsume indigenous intellectual property at the click of a button. What mechanisms do we have at our disposal for the defence and protection of our intellectual property?

This new ramification calls for our immediate attention. Can Zimbabwean artists tender a protective body to safeguard their works of art on the Internet? Have the local legislation, patent and copyright laws been amend to include the international protection of Zimbabwean cyber-images on the Internet? Who will monitor or marshal these international cyber felons and the colonial looters? What punishment can be meted out to these invisible, virtual, foreign gorgons?

These new implications call for national intervention. If we as artists and Zimbabweans can dare to dream and create world-class-word-coveted art, then we must have the self-determination to protect it. We need to protect our artistic innovations from colonial cyber domination and neo-colonisation. We need to be vigilant and guard our Post-Colonial heritage from potential ethnocide. The fourth Chimurenga should be protecting the arts, indigenous intelligence, tangible and intangible heritage, and re-claiming our rightful space in the International Cyber World.

Icho Chimurenga che dande mutande ne chi vitiviti - computer wars!

l Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a Doctorate in business Administration (DBA) in PostColonial Heritage Studies. He is an author, art critic and practising visual artist.


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