Is our waiting finally over?

A review of 8 years waiting exhibition by Cloud Chatanda
If you were on a very strict timetable, and only had the time to see one exhibition in Dar es Salaam, 8 years waiting by Cloud Chatanda that is on show at Alliance Francaise should be it. In his very touching exhibition statement, the artist introduces and acknowledges his son, Brian Chatanda, an 8 year old physically challenged boy, as his source of inspiration for this exhibition. He explains that this year marks his 8th year of waiting to see his son walk. He further explains how in this waiting, he has also come to notice other kinds of waiting a combination of which inspired him to make a series of drawings around this theme of ‘waiting’. Chatanda’s waiting in my views is intrinsically linked to our own waiting, as a community of artists, curators, and art critics (as it is for the Tanzanian public as a whole) to see some original and refreshing contemporary art produced by one of our own. It is that subconscious eye of an artist in him that might have decided to finally put us out of our misery… a very long wait! To quote a friend, and an audience amongst many that made it to the opening of this exhibition, ‘very rarely do I ever visit an art exhibition and feel like I am seeing works and themes that are in any way relevant to me, or to today’s times in general, but this exhibition is absolutely refreshing! Everyone can relate to at least one, if not all of the things that are captured here by these drawings. This gives me so much hope as to what direction our contemporary art scene might be taking, in all honesty… I was beginning to loose hope!’ these felt like words lifted right out of my thoughts!

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Cloud Chatanda, has a very long history as an illustrator. His illustrations and drawings have largely been used in Tanzanian schoolbooks, magazines, social campaign and comics. Since 2012, Chatanda’s style has slowly been evolving from his style of drawing and illustrating (that was not particularly distinguished from the other existing styles typical to textbook illustrations in the country) and he began to allow his art to take a life of its own. This has been evident in his works since; the 2013 East African biennale and on the group show City Life that took place at Nafasi Art Space in March this year; followed by his relatively smaller solo exhibition at Black Tomato in June this year. In 8 years waiting, I think we are right to say that the artist has finally broken completely free of the obligation, if ever he felt any, to stay conventional, and has dared to become truly himself… the himself that he so eloquently describes in his statement as follows; ‘I came to realize that the art I’m doing is actually an invisible religion which exists within me. These weird feelings of mine haunt me and my mind, and it makes me have day dreams and create an imaginary world. I’ve lived with this for many years.

The exhibition features a total of 46 drawings that vary in size, medium and technique. The first series are what appears to be a dedication to the artist’s son, and they portray very intimate father and son moments. I think they also portray the artist’s own struggles with this long waiting and quest for a breakthrough. The very first drawing that meets the eye right after reading the Artist’s statement carries the title Brian, and captures Chatanda’s son in his own beautiful and happy world as the artist imagines it to be. It is one of those drawings one could stare at for hours, imagining and longing for this make-believe happy place that most of us wish to (and claim to) go to whenever things get very stressful (but I don’t think any of us have ever really arrived there).

Following these first series, are other series of waiting that many of us living in this city are so familiar with… dominating scenes being; waiting for food, waiting for service, waiting your turn in the salon (and having salon day dreams of gorgeous and magical hair), waiting your turn in public toilets, waiting for customers to visit your genge, waiting for customers to stop reading news headings and purchase a newspaper (instead), waiting for transport (for a dala dala first then for a seat to be free inside the dala dala once you are in it so you may finally rest your feet), waiting for bajajis and boda bodas to one day be allowed in to town again, etc. My favorite of all the waits, one which most of the people driving in the city of Dar es salaam and on highways out of the city can identify with is that of a street kid waiting for the street lights to turn red so they can pour water on your windshield to clean it (unsolicited), and the traffic police hiding in bushes waiting with his speedometer to bust drivers that are even 1km/hr higher than the speed limit!

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Going through these drawings I also noticed some recurring symbols that intrigue me. The first being the recurring birds, that I think symbolize freedom (or the longing for it for that matter). Birds walk on earth and swim in the sea as humans do but they also have the ability to soar into the sky, their freedom of movement is limitless; unlike the artist’s son whose movement is very limited. I inquired to the artist about his use of birds in the drawings and he said, in addition to their freedom of movement, he was also very intrigued by their intelligence—their ability to recognize each other as individuals, call one another by “name,” remember and relocate thousands of hidden food caches, engage in true teamwork and purposeful play… generally they exhibit an extraordinary degree of sophistication.cloudc-001-3-626x1024

The serpent, or snake, is another recurring symbol in Chatanda’s drawings and is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols associated with some of the oldest rituals known to humankind and represent dual expression of good and evil…waiting to see people show their true self and masks to come off.

8 years waiting is on show until Friday, 31st October, 2014.