24-year-old Progress Nyandoro was determined to prove to her community – and the world at large – that art can be built into a successful life and career choice. Now she hopes to open an art school to inspire the next generation of artists in her country.
by Lerato Mogoatlhe
Art has always been part of Progress Nyandoro’s life. Like many other children in Masvingo and Harare, where she grew up, she used to mould animals from clay. However, an early interest turned into a passion when she started experimenting with drawing, colouring, and even sewing and stitching, as she grew older.
Art also gave her the space to realise that she didn’t have to pursue an academic career. And that not being academically minded need not be an obstacle to her life.
“Being an average or even below-average student in school, I quickly realised that my future was not in academics but something to do with my love for the visual arts,” Nyandoro said when describing her journey to becoming an artist.
However, she still had to convince her father that her passion could turn into purpose – and a livelihood.
“My father didn’t want to see me doing art because he was very strict and wanted me to focus more on academics than the arts,” she explained.
Her family’s resistance simply served to fuel Nyandoro’s determination to prove that art could indeed become her life. She started by enrolling in weekend art classes in high school. While she never doubted that she was destined to become a visual artist, it was only during her final year of school that she finally won her father’s blessing.
“Surprisingly, he was the first person who came to me and told me to attend art school.”
The following year – 2017 – she registered for a one-year course in visual art and design at the National Gallery, an experience she credits with “unlocking the boundaries of thinking about what art is.”
“And now here I am, as an emerging artist,” Nyadoro added.
Art school was followed by short residencies and more workshops. The same passion and determination that led her to art school infused her career, resulting in work that has built her a reputation as a mixed media artist who uses photography, painting, and fabric as her primary mediums.
“I didn’t have enough money to buy paint, so I decided to use old clothes and magazines to create new work. That’s when I decided to use mixed media,” she said.
In a thought leadership piece called Art is Life. Life is Art, Dutch Iranian artist, writer and creative entrepreneur Sevdaliza writes:
“Art is a testimony of the human condition. It encompasses all of our hardships, emotions, questions, decisions, and perceptions. Love, hatred, life, death. Essentially the way in which we perceive our world, every aspect of humanity can be expressed through art.”
Nyandoro’s life and work are a testament to this statement. The first hardship she encountered was pursuing a career known to have financial challenges that many artists and creators get around by working a 9 – 5 job while still producing art.
In her case, it was working as a marketer at an insurance company and producing abstract paintings. The demand proved that she could finally make a leap into being a full-time artist.
“Artists in Zimbabwe, whether in the visual or performing arts, face many challenges, most of which have to do with the industry’s status in the country. Corporate sponsorship is also lacking, especially for visual artists such as myself. We even lack basic tools and materials which are crucial to our trade. Markets for our products are also non-existent since they are not regarded as essential. Artists are also not regarded as professionals and therefore are held in low esteem – unlike in the developed world.”
Then came 2020 and the coronavirus lockdown that put physical activities on hold. Art saved the day. She continued producing her work and created a series of paintings inspired by COVID-19 as a reminder and alert for people to recognise that we were in a pandemic and respect all the regulations put in place to contain the spread of the virus. It was displayed in an online group exhibition about using art as a tool for health advocacy.
2021 brought another career milestone when she was selected to participate in the Africa No Filter’s Emerging Artists Fellows program, which makes it possible for upcoming and mid-career artists to work on career-defining projects. In addition to funding, the 11 participating artists also get ongoing mentorship and opportunities for networking and collaborations.
Nyadoro is working on a mixed-media project called Rich, I am. It will see her travel across Zimbabwe to document how Mashona people live and express their culture, from what they wear to their dances and spirituality. It will culminate in her first solo exhibition.
“The ambition I have for my art is that it influences social behaviour for the better so that people learn to live in a fair, just, peaceful, and happy relationship with each other and their environments,” she says, adding, “The world today is not a happy society, and I believe that’s not how, as myself, the Almighty wished it to be when he created it. If my art could make a difference in the lives of people, my soul would be very much satisfied. Love, peace, joy, and happiness are the general subjects of my artworks.,” she explained.
She also wants to open an art school. “So that people can understand art and pursue it as a career. I want to spread art in our community.
Until then, she is reflecting on her young career with a sense of hope and satisfaction. “The most rewarding thing about being an artist is the fulfillment and satisfaction I get after completing a work of art — nothing beats that feeling of self-actualization. I feel complete and satisfied within my soul.”
bird story agency
[disclaimer: bird story agency is also funded by Africa No Filter]