Diaspora in dialogue: Zimbabwean artists in South Africa

DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2018.1537225
Author(s): Vulindlela P. E. NyoniDepartment of Visual Arts, South Africa


In the last two decades, a continuous migration of people into South Africa from Zimbabwe has increasingly foregrounded intractable philosophical questions concerning the complexities of “displacement”, and “place”, inherent to which are notions of “national identity” (the autochthonous and different peoples) and “home”. Neatly distanced academic reflections often reduce the Zimbabwean migration story to measurable motivations and statistics, and disturbingly, do little to check violently xenophobic associations between émigrés and malignant tropes of societal decay. In this paper, I propose an alternative view, based on the belief that personal narrative and self-reflexive dialogue regarding art-making and its exigencies hold the potential to produce a deeper philosophical insight into the increasingly diasporic human condition, which is needed both to undo malicious stereotyping and to validate the contributions made by migrant identities to the decolonial project. The article engages with three Zimbabwean artists living and working in post-apartheid South Africa, Ronald Muchatuta, Gerald Machona and Vulindlela Nyoni. Just as our artworks act as invitations to enter into difficult, heterotopic spaces, I invite you into a self-reflective textual space that enacts the ambivalence and uncertainty at the beginning of an investigation in which questions are generated. My aim is not to offer neatly packaged answers, but to open the reader, through the text as artwork, to an experience of the dialogical fissures, gaps, silences and contradictions that (in a way foreclosed to any coherent account) reveal the traumatic ambivalence of diaspora experiences in the moment of “being unspoken”.

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