Zimbabwe

Zim photographer uncovers inspiring story of paralysed artist

2015-05-18 11:44
Ismael Mhike. (Via Facebook)

Ismael Mhike. (Via Facebook)

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Harare - A chance question from a photographer to a paralysed Zimbabwean wire artist uncovered a story of hope and courage that has touched the hearts of hundreds of people.

Lesanne Dunlop, 29, was looking for an entrepreneur she could photograph for an international competition last year when someone mentioned a wire artist who sold his intricately-fashioned sculptures in a shopping mall in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe's prime tourist resort.

When she met Ismael Mhike, Dunlop was struck not only by the brilliance of his work but by the fact that he was in a wheelchair.

So Dunlop, a professional photographer, asked him what had happened.

Mhike, 35, told her how he'd been shot during a house robbery while working as a successful wire artist around 11 years ago in Cape Town.

He'd been reluctant to hand over a SIM card that had all his business contacts on.

Amazing story

The shot entered his arm and travelled through his spine, leaving him paralysed.

He spent four years in a public hospital in the city before being moved back to the remote village in Masvingo province where he came from. There, he spent another three years on his back "praying he would die", Dunlop says.

And then a couple of years ago, he found faith in himself again. Mhike moved to Victoria Falls, rented the corner of a room and began his wire-art again, collecting tin cans from rubbish dumps and hotels to use in his sculptures.

He sells them at the Elephant Walk shopping centre in the heart of the town.

Since he moved to Victoria Falls he has made enough money to import a car from Japan, which he has been able to convert so that he can drive it.

Dunlop told News24 she spent "about a week" photographing Mhike and his work, and then submitted her entry. She heard nothing from the organisers and knew she hadn't won a prize.

Then last Thursday, she decided to post a short piece about Mhike and some photos of him on her Facebook page.

"I thought: I've just got such an amazing story that I haven't shared with anyone," Dunlop said.

Proper business

The response was immediate and overwhelming.

In four days, her story has been shared more than 1 000 times. Readers have offered to exhibit Mhike's work for him in galleries, have suggested ways he can market his work on the internet and have asked Dunlop how they can buy Mhike's work.

Most of all, many of them have said how much they have been moved by Mhike's courage and what it says about Zimbabweans' perseverance in the face of what can seem like overwhelming difficulty.

"It's been amazing," Dunlop said. "Ismael has definitely not had any kind of interest before. He'd told his story to a couple of friends. That was all."

"He's very unassuming."

What Dunlop dreams of now, she says, is for Mhike to "get a proper business going."

"People from overseas would love his work," she says. "It's about recycling, which is such an important thing. I want to see him expand his business."

For now, Mhike knows nothing about the interest his story has sparked.

"I'm going to see him this week and he's going to be overwhelmed," said Dunlop, who is Zimbabwean herself.

She still marvels at his resilience.

"The more he went into his story, I couldn't believe his courage," she told News24. "He told it with such nonchalance, just the bare facts."

"Ismael was bitter for a long time. He did lose the will to live. But now he's found peace."

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  southern africa

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