Mashavi is a series of photographic images that developed out of the continuation of an ongoing project of analysis and investigation into what it means to be a practising black artist in the western art world. My heritage is Zimbabwean. I belong to the largest ethnic or tribal group in Zimbabwe, Shona. In Shona culture ideas of consciousness are underpinned by the concept of spirit. Wondering spirits of people who died far from home are referred to as ‘shavi’. These spirits are neither good nor bad but are able to possess the living and can influence their lives in a positive or negative way.
Shavi Reschizungu refers to a white person’s spirit, when one is possessed by such a spirit the host imitates a European way of life. The word ‘Mashavi’ is the plural of shavi and indicates the presence of more than one spirit or points to a duality within the individual psyche. My undergraduate dissertation titled Blackness in Contemporary Art questioned whether blackness is a hindering factor in the creative process of artists of colour. Mashavi illustrates this question visually with the shavi (or spirit) representing a splitting of the psyche in reference to W.E.B Dubois’s notion of double consciousness.
This first installment of this ongoing series was made in collaboration with artist Bryndis Blackadder who helped me to capture the images and software engineer/designer Antanas Budvytis who helped to composit them.