Virginia Chihota’s paintings occupy a space between reality and dream where she is able to work through responses to personal relationships. Her starting point, a blank sheet of paper, becomes the boundless world at the start of a new relationship, whether romantic, religious or professional, and she uses paint and ink to impose the limitations onto it that are always encountered as a relationship progresses. Working with screen-printing and paint on paper, these works from her series ’A Thorn in my Flesh (munzwa munyama yangu)’, explore the dichotomies of strength and weakness, the thorn being representational of turmoil in life. Positive and negative are two sides of the same coin and neither can exist without the other, an understanding of which can help us to use the negative to nurture the positive.
Having moved to Tripoli, Libya in 2012, the Zimbabwean native is inspired by her personal relationships and the reoccurring themes of isolation and cultural dislocation, which fuel her highly introspective works. Most recently, the artist’s experiences of relocation, marriage and motherhood have influenced how she moves through the world and interacts with the people in it. The body is the point of departure for these transient experiences, and she uses it with expressive force; colours are strong, white, black and red, and shapes are at once fluid and concrete.
Chihota picks up and dangles her subjects, like a puppeteer, into uncomfortable and unfamiliar blank spaces, where they are understandably vulnerable and anxious. Her work allows her to take a broken relationship where tensions have built up, and gives her the freedom to explore the possible ways to heal the wounds. She treats a relationship as a case study to research where she has gone wrong. Her subjects, in their inky corporeality, are parts of her. The two works on display here, both titled Raising Your Own (Kuero Wako), 2014 , are wrapped up in childrearing and marriage. Motifs, such as the wedding dress, are handled with delicacy.
Chihota’s bride is shrinking and silenced on her wedding day, her face and legs painted over with white so that she disappears into the paper. A black veil, more commonly associated with funerals hovers like an apparition behind her and her masked groom. We see the fruits of the marriage, juggled on stubby, foreshortened arms by a bearded, head-rolling bride. She seems at ease, despite her contortionism. The two pieces express a contradiction of the binding convention of marriage and primal maternal instinct. Through her work, Chihota lays bare her personal experiences as a woman, a mother and a wife, as she shares with us the ecstatic heights and plummeting depths of love and loneliness.
4th March 2013, by Tony Monda, The Herald, AllAfrica
SOCIAL, cultural and religious isolation can be a powerful creative stimulant for an artist.
For artist Virginia Chihota it is a form of inspiration. The Libyan-based Zimbabwean print maker and multi-media artist left her homeland to embark on a new life in Tripoli, Libya, with her husband, where she has lived since January 2012.
Undaunted by the new experiences, she has found that her isolation provides inspiration for her art production.
"I had to illustrate the isolation in my works to be able to understand myself and to accommodate the new life around me. For the first time in my life, being in Libya made me understand the full meaning of the expression 'Home is where your heart is'. It is in my work that I have the space and freedom to compliment, ask questions, give suggestions or offer solutions to life's tribulations," said Chihota.
She said her works are created from solitude and from genuinely heart-felt creative impulses. Artistic themes range from her life experiences, matrimonial expectations and cultural dislocation.
Her work is a language of invention and expression, whose power and source are closely inter-related with her. The artistry of her vision and accomplishment are inspirational. Despite her isolation, her art is not mired in the pieties of her cultural dislocation; in fact, the isolation gives it strength to acquire an independent artistic life of its own.
In years to come, this historical and social significance oeuvre of works may be more significant and have greater aesthetic value in the artist's mature life. The loneliness and sensitivity captured in her works speaks to a larger audience and should be considered a positive and honest attribute of her work. There are in the works underlying contemporary ideas of women's subjugation, yet she provides enough distance from the subject to be quietly and respectfully observed.
It is as if she has stepped out of herself, and is observing her life from a higher plain. The images also represent a sweeping critique of a young career woman's expectation of married life in a different ethnicity. Her art is her cathartic way of self-realisation. Her work exudes a quiet intensity which will appeal mostly to similarly socially isolated women trying to make sense of their lives.
Born in Chitungwiza, on March 29 1983, Virginia completed her primary and secondary education at Chitungwiza schools, from where she proceeded to study art at the BAT Visual Arts Studios under the auspices of the National Art Gallery, where she attained a Certificate in Fine Art. In 2006 she completed her Diploma in Fine Art at the Harare Polytechnic.
In 2008 Chihota was attached to Greatmore Studios, Cape Town, on a three-month residency where she perfected her printmaking and drawing skills.
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Virginia Chihota, Winner of the 2013 Prix Canson
June 2013, Canson
The 2013 Winner in a few words.
Virginia CHIHOTA (Zimbabwe) was born in 1983 in Zimbabwe. She currently lives and works in Tripoli, Libya. She studied art from 2004 to 2006 and graduated in Fine Arts from the National Art Gallery Studios in Harare.
Using techniques of engraving, painting, printing or screen printing, Virginia CHIHOTA self-imposes very strict discipline when creating her drawings. Her works from the Fruit of the Dark Womb series stage a number of different dramatic situations around a doll usually used to evoke fertility in the animistic rites in her country. Her recent exhibitions have been Isolation, Gallery Delta, Harare (2012); Idea of Self, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare (2012); Duo, Virginia and Portia, Gallery Delta, Harare (2012); Une terrible beauté est née, Lyon Biennale, Lyon (2011).
Stéphane Hamelin, Chairman of the Fonds Canson® pour l’Art et le Papier explains: “We are happy to welcome Virginia Chihota into “our family” of winners after Fabien Mérelle and Ronald Cornelissen. Canson® has always forged strong ties with artists by supplying them with high quality papers and even creating bespoke paper, the way we did for Ingres and Maillol. This award is the perfect illustration of an age-old link between Canson® and artists, and of our commitment to defending the place of art in society, investing heavily by their sides to provide support and visibility.”
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