Meet Wycliffe Mundopa, winner of the 2021 FNB Art Prize

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  • The FNB Art Prize is one of the most coveted visual art prizes on the African continent. 
  • Wycliffe Mundopa's works consistently speak to social and political upheavals of life in urban Zimbabwe. 
  • With photography and photo manipulation overwhelming the arts, Mundopa's lifeblood is invested in prioritising the medium. 

Born in Rusape, Zimbabwe Mundopa now lives and works in Harare. Since the age of 15, Mundopa has dedicated his life to painting. From 2005 to 2007, he attended the National Gallery Zimbabwe Visual Arts Studios.  

Committed to bearing witness to the lives of the most vulnerable in his community, his works consistently speak to social and political upheavals of life in urban Zimbabwe. In this context, the lives of women in particular frame his practice and social commentary. “I paint women mainly, not in the literal sense, but as a metaphor reflecting what happens in my society,” he explains. The result is imagery that is audacious and unapologetic, bridging vernacular visual metaphor or Harare street slang with classical genre painting compositions of Dutch masters and post-impressionistic verve in line and colour. 

“I’m very honoured to win the prize this year, especially because I have exhibited in South Africa for a number of years now. This really solidifies my ties with the country and the many people who support my work here,” says Mundopa. As the winner of this year’s prize, Mundopa will open his solo exhibition on the 31 October 2021 at Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). “It’s also important to show in museums and galleries in Africa because most of our work is exhibited abroad. As an artist who’s living and working on the continent, I think it’s important to have such platforms.” 

The FNB Art Prize has become one of the most coveted visual art prizes on the African continent ensuring home based recognition for artists on the continent. “With FNB Art Joburg being the first art fair in Africa, it has always been our agenda for the FNB Art Prize to be reflective of the entire scope of the best of the best of art that comes from the continent,” says Mandla Sibeko, director of FNB Art Joburg. “It’s exciting to see the evolution of the prize as it celebrates various genres and this year we’re celebrating a painter and even more exciting is the fact that he’s from Zimbabwe. A lot of focus has been placed on the political unrest with very little being said about the creativity of the Zimbabweans so for us it’s important that we keep highlighting the excellence that comes from that region,” he adds. 

This year’s winner was selected by a committee including Ashraf Jamal (a research associate in the Art and Design Research Centre at the University of Johannesburg), Nicole Siegenthaler (fair manager at FNB Art Joburg) and Musha Neluheni (curator of contemporary collections at Johannesburg Art Gallery). “Wycliffe Mundopa is a vivacious, upbeat, whacky colourist. His vision of Africa is life-affirming. This is evident in his convivial pleasure-loving vision, which twists provocatively into the macabre,” says Jamal. 

As the 11th FNB Art Prize recipient, Mundopa joins a prestigious list of previous winners since the launch of the prize in 2011. In addition to the solo exhibition, he receives a cash prize. Bonga Sebesho, Head of Sponsorships at FNB adds, “We remain committed to supporting and growing the arts and creative economy in South Africa and the rest of Africa... At FNB we pride ourselves to be the bank of #TheChangeables and believe that art plays a crucial role in how we can contribute to society.” 

For his first solo exhibition with JAG, Wycliffe Mundopa will present Zva_nyadza a body of work, dedicated to the memory of his mother. A suite of more than fifteen monumental new canvases, the show elevates and celebrates the drama and exaltation of Zimbabwean women.   In so doing he reflects the fate of all women of Zimbabwe who thrive in the unlivable, who are fierce, beautiful, resilient and courageous enough to claim joy and happiness despite what life and the world serves them. 

With photography and photo manipulation overwhelming the field of figuration the value of the painter speaking to a direct lived experience has been deprioritised. Mundopa’s lifeblood, his works, are invested in speaking otherwise. 

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