Despite the hardship suffered in Zimbabwe, the country is fertile breeding ground for young talented artists. In this short blog-series, I will introduce you to the stories of some of Zim’s top-talents as a platform to share their art.
Successful photographer Steven Chikosi (34) is on a mission to give marginalized Zimbabweans a voice. “What makes Zimbabwe great is its people, but Zimbabwean people are associated with a few politicians who constantly make the news. There are brilliant minds doing great things here, but we don’t get to hear their voices.” People around the globe have responded to Steven’s storytelling. He now has 87.000 Instagram followers, has done reports for the NY Times and BBC and has been casted in a CNN series on “African voices”.
Part of Steven’s mission is to travel to remote areas in Zimbabwe and record the lives of individuals there. He has photographed people in villages, on farms and in city suburbs. “I engage them in conversation and that is how I pick up stories. Often people don’t know they have a story to tell. For them, it seems too mundane.” Steven explains that when someone like him comes in “from the outside” it can be easier to see the importance and beauty in someone’s everyday life. “One of my biggest lessons has been to ask a lot of questions. I believe that is something we should do more as Africans generally.” He explains that simply asking questions can be a very empowering exercise, because it gives people a chance to reflect and challenges old traditions which sometimes no longer make sense.
Steven grew up in the Eastern city of Mutare and lived there until he was 17, when he moved to Harare to go to high school. He was a self-described “brainy child”. “I was always interested in art, but I gravitated toward academia more. When I moved to Harare that was a turning point.” He started exploring his creative side, became a pianist in a jazz band at school and drew sketches. “But it was never very profound. It was only later, through photography, that I really found my voice.” Steven explains that he has always been a bit of a loner. “The only time I come out in public is with my camera. But I do make friends easily, which is good for my work.”
At 21, after Highschool, Steven moved to Sheffield, England to study Graphic Design. “I left Zimbabwe for 8 years, but I missed home. That is when I started searching for information about Zimbabwe. I mainly found negative news items and couldn’t find any good images or positive, everyday stories.” He decided to go home and started working as a graphic designer. Because he couldn’t find the right images for his work, he bought a camera and started playing around with it. He was surprised by the strong reactions he got to his photographs, more than to his designs. That is what triggered the process of self-discovery that eventually led him to documentary photography.
One of the projects of which he is most proud is called “photo voices” and involved around 8 girls from a high-density suburb ofHarare. “We gave them cameras and they documented their day-to-day lives. It showed us what their lives looked like, which was very eye-opening.” Steven explains: “Girls are not given much priority. A boy may be sent to school, while his sister stays home to do the dishes. Girls are not considered as people who have dreams and a life plan. Yet there are so many focused young girls out there who have something to add to society.” Steven says the most worthwhile part of the project was that it gave the girls the feeling that they were valuable in their own right. Their work was showcased at the Dutch Embassy at the end of the project. “They all got dressed up and the smiles on their faces were just priceless.”
Steven forms a collective with photographer Tariro Washe (31) called Meso-Maviri, which means “two perspectives”. Early 2017, they organized an exhibition in the National Art Gallery documenting the lives of two female firefighters in Harare. “Our projects are all self-funded from out photography. I am very proud of Meso-Maviri, because it is all passion driven.” The newest project focuses on African Parents, who are known to be overbearing. In a series of Youtube interviews, Tariro and Steven ask young people about their experiences with their parents. In the course of these interviews, stereotypes like “African parents are not loving” are debunked. Steven says: “They just show their love in a different way.” Importantly, the project also demonstrates how progressive young people in Zimbabwe often are, for example in the way they openly support the emancipation of women.
Asked about the future, Steven says he would like to travel more. “Traveling around makes you ask more questions, because everything is new and you don’t want to leave anything up to chance. This results in better storytelling.” He also hopes to one day establish a credible educational program in Zimbabwe for aspiring documentary photographers. “We don’t have many established institutions in Zimbabwe that give access to experienced teachers in documentary photography. So, Zimbabwean photographers have to learn along the way. Our stories could be sharper, we could be asking better questions.” But most importantly, he wants to use his voice for a good cause. “I hope to bring about positive change through photography. One person at a time.”
Watch episode 1 of “My African Parents” by Meso-Maviri here: