Is there such a thing as a common “human experience”? From the biology of our bodies, to our communities’ social structures, to our minds philosophical ideologies, and even the metaphysical stirs of our spirts – all these constitute the human experience. While we encounter these differently, the question whether or not there is something relatable to each one of us remains. Beyond that, is there an African human experience?

Simba Chakauya is a Zimbabwean born artist who paints the human experience as he lives it. Through his work and his process, he uses ‘avatars’ – human-like figures that explore the human condition. His avatars while abstract, are vibrant and they show the artist’s view of what it means to be human while celebrating contemporary African living.

Simba Chakauya in his Studio.
Image courtesy of the artist

Chakauya says that his art highlights the complex reality of being a modern African – something that is neither wholly good nor bad, but simply real. When asked about his avatars, Chakauya says they show that “The truth is dual. Both good and bad always coexist. People are flawed and the beauty in those flaws is what I try to explore.” His philosophy on the human existence is not only embodied in the final product, but in the process as well as Chakauya combines movement and loud blasting music every time he paints. Mobility and motion are central to the human experience; from the evolution of our societies, to the growth of our bodies, and even the shift of our minds – movement is what connects us all. Chakauya’s process may grow from the abstract expressionist painters, such as Jackson Pollock and Frank Avray Wilson of the ‘action painting’ era that began in the 40s, but his movement and music have deeper African spiritual connotations.

He practices West African Vodou and dance in Voudou is a physical manifestation of spirituality and a connection to divinity and the spirit world. In moving whilst painting, Chakauya’s pieces thus become a window into his physical and spiritual experience. Once we exceed the physical, all things become connected in voudou, and if all things are connected, we then connect to the human experience by seeing it as Chakauya lives it and expresses it in his art. To further highlight the interconnectedness of the human experience, Chakauya uses the term canvas loosely to include everyday objects anyone can relate to. He paints on everything: wooden panels, guitars, old televisions, shoes, poster boards, and actual canvas.

Chakauya’s exploration of contemporary African reality will be on show at his first solo exhibition titled; “To Hell and Back” on the 21st of July 2018 in New York City. His show will look at his growth as an artist, and he hopes to bring together a diverse group of interesting individuals around his work – something he says compliments summer time in New York City.

For more information on the show or to RSVP visit his Instagram page @simbachakauyaart

Written by Rutendo Chabikwa
Rutendo Chabikwa is a Zimbabwean writer. When she is not writing, she is a student, a digital content creater, and a spoken word artist.