Virginia Chihota

The Constant Search for Self

2013

Not on display
Artist
Virginia Chihota born 1983
Original title
Kudzokorodza Kuzvitsvagal
Medium
Monoprint, oil stick and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 1210 x 1450 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Guaranty Trust Bank plc 2015
Reference
T14350

Summary

The Constant Search for Self 2013 is an uneditioned monoprint on paper that depicts five rounded, sac-like forms arranged around a horizontal oval shape against a background of translucent blocks of grey-blue and stone colour. Each of the five ‘sacs’ contains at least one mask-like face notable for its hatched striations – an important aspect of the artist’s evocation of texture in her printmaking technique. The same face is repeated in two of the sacs. Each face is obscured to varying degrees: one in the top centre of the sheet is almost entirely concealed by a grey wash; the others by repetitions of lines and loops in a blood-red hue. The overall shape itself bears strong allusions to fertility: the placement of the human figure within deep red sacs makes them appear womb-like, while the arrangement of circular forms clearly resembles the head of a flower – its reproductive organ.

Chihota’s work across drawing, painting and printmaking is deeply introspective, characterised by a use of symbolism, rich colour and graphic forms to convey her perspective on personal experiences. Born in Zimbabwe, and having lived for a brief period in Libya, Chihota divides her time between Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Austria. In The Constant Search for Self she addresses the fraught issue of maintaining a sense of identity in the midst of such change, a concern she has described as the defining element of her practice: ‘My work is a reflection on the search for one’s self (and the perenniality of the self) in changing circumstances. Displacement creates uncertainty but the imperative to survive and the continuity one manages to maintain despite changing conditions inspires me’ (Chihota in Kinsmann 2015, accessed 15 September 2015).

In her more recent screenprints Chihota has drawn on a number of changes in circumstance, in particular her experiences of becoming a wife and mother and her temporary relocation to Tripoli with her family in 2012. In both content and title, her works from this period onward are rich in symbolic reference to fertility, loneliness and female subjectivities associated with traditional gender roles. She uses the placement of the figure to convey nuances of dislocation, isolation and loneliness. The motif of the inverted body or head – as in Receiving Life (Kugamuchira Hupenyu) 2013 and Raising Your Own (Kurera Wako) 2014 – is one such example. Another is the singular female figure placed within a block of colour or pattern surrounded by an expanse of blank space, as in the series The Root of the Flower We Do Not Know (Mudzi Weruva Ratisingazive) 2014. When multiple figures do appear in the same image, Chihota tends to signify disconnection by depicting them turned away from one another, or segregated into different shapes, such as in Kuna Muvambi Wehupenyu 2013 and the series Trust and Obey (Kuvimba Nekuterera) 2013.

In her earlier work, Chihota employed representational forms to present these subjects, but more recently she has experimented with less figurative elements, exploring the possibilities offered by abstraction. Although more distinctly abstract than her earlier screenprints, The Constant Search for Self shares many of their compositional techniques and symbolic references (and in the distinctive blue-grey and blood-red colour palette, it connects especially with the Trust and Obey series). Enclosed in separate, bulbous forms, there is a clear sense of the women’s isolation or entrapment, while the gesture of obscuring them with washes of colour or densely applied marks further suggests loss of visibility, voice and agency. The nurture and safety associated with the womb seem antithetical to such aloneness, yet it is precisely because of this that they hold special significance for Chihota’s reading and representation of isolation. Reflecting on the meaning behind her symbolic use of the womb, she has said that it is ‘an all-encompassing symbol for fertility, for a woman’s gift for gestation and the creation of life, a woman’s intuition and psychic abilities, and the subconscious … No one is excluded from being fruit of the womb and all that that encompasses. It yields to the human condition’ (Chihota in Kinsmann 2015, accessed 15 September 2015).

Further reading
Portia Zvavahera, Voti Thebe, Virginia Chihota and others, Dudziro: Interrogating the Visions of Religious Beliefs, exhibition catalogue, Zimbabwe Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice 2013.
Houghton Kinsmann, ‘Depiciting Thorns in Virginia Chihota’s Flesh’, AnotherAfrica.net, 28 January 2015, http://www.anotherafrica.net/art-culture/depicting-thorns-in-virginia-chihotas-flesh, accessed 15 September 2015.

Emma Lewis and Zoe Whitley
September 2015

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