By Marcus Gora
A creativity hub
First Floor Gallery Harare (FFGH) had a humble birth as the idea was struck through a conversation between Marcus Gora and Valerie Kabov. On 4 December 2009, Marcus was cleaning up a small space in a tailor’s workshop on the first floor Abbey House in George Silundika Avenue to display some artworks where part of the conversation began.
Valerie was an art critic and educator visiting Harare and Marcus a music manager and promoter, with an ambitious and optimistic vision to share Zimbabwe’s emerging talents with the world. It was the tail end of hyperinflation and the idea of an art gallery working with very young artists becoming a successful international project was highly unlikely. Yet over the past 11 years what began as a tiny experimental initiative, has become one of Zimbabwe’s leading art spaces, an educational initiative and a meeting place for creatives across all disciplines – hosting film screenings, poetry events, musical performances, artist residencies as well as a dynamic programme of local and international exhibitions. First Floor Gallery Harare artists have exhibited across the world – from Los Angeles to New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, Brussels, Berlin, Perth, Marrakech, Lagos, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
In 2018 FFGH took a new step up and opened its first purpose-built gallery space at the famed Karigamombe Centre, where it occupies a space on the second floor opening up on an expansive terrace with impressive views of Harare city centre, which instantly made gallery openings a hit with Harare fashionable crowd.
Undeterred by the challenges of 2020, FFGH used the time of lockdown to expand its online presence, hosting Instagram live openings as well as collaborating with international colleagues on online events. While travel was restricted, the lockdown became an opportunity to grow in other ways and to push forward on some goals that have been part of its mission since the start.
“We have always been about supporting emerging artists in Zimbabwe and not just Harare,” said the gallery executive director and co-founder Marcus Gora, “over the past few years we have made efforts to bring artists from outside of Harare on residency with us to be mentored and supported. We now felt it was important to take the next step of creating exhibition and audience engagement opportunities as well.”
“As one of Zimbabwe’s fastest-growing, multicultural and internationally engaged cities, Victoria Falls was a natural choice for a new space.”
In December 2020, First Floor Victoria Falls launched a major new space in the famous Elephant Walk complex with an exhibition titled ‘Level Mosi oa Tunya’, with a plan to present a programme of solo and group exhibitions, community-based workshops as well as developing an artist residency project. “Our plan for First Floor Gallery Vic Falls is to help mentor art managers and artists in the region from Binga to Bulawayo and create local and international visibility to our best talents,” said Gora.
One of the artists presented in ‘Level Mosi oa Tunya’ is Amanda Mushate. At only 25, Bulawayo born, Mushate is one of the most dynamic young painters in Zimbabwe, with a growing international reputation. At an early age, Mushate developed a very personal approach to both painting and iconography which is based on multiple ethereal layers floating seamlessly in and out of figuration. She draws her inspiration from people around her in conversation with her happiness and burdens and how relationships between people affect society. As a young person, she is keenly aware of her quest for self and asserting a personal vision and ideas, not manipulated by social and peer group pressure. Mushate’s exceptional and sophisticated engagement with colour and its narrative properties has attracted critical and collector support in Zimbabwe, USA, UK, South Africa, France and Australia. Amanda was a finalist in the Emerging Painting Invitational 2019 the pan-African emerging painting prize and was selected to present a solo exhibition as part of Tomorrows/Today – a curated project of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, 2020.
Harare audiences can enjoy a major new solo exhibition from Amanda by making an appointment to visit First Floor Gallery Harare, which will open at the end of March.