Insight News - December 25, 2002 - Mhiripiri Gallery Presents Africa’s Great Arts Tradition
By Dwight Hobbes

Mhiripiri Art Gallery is a cultural oasis, and aesthetic feast with rows and rows of surreal beauty upon which to gaze. As thought turn to Christmas and Kwanzaa, this is an ideal place to go for thoughtful gift-giving. There are masks and wooden statues form Cameroon, Nigeria and Mali, Gabon and the Ivory Coast. The emphasis is Shona sculpture in serpentine and verdite stone by artists who are form and who live in Zimbabwe. Some of them have achieved worldwide fame. The Institute of Contemporary Art in London and New York’s Museum of Modern Art are among he internationally prominent spaces which show Shona sculptures.

Owner and proprietor Rex Mhiripiri, himself a painter, ahs in this gallery, one of the largest collections of Zimbabwe sculpture in the world outside Zimbabwe, including an exquisite sampling of semi-precious, very rare verdite serpentine stone. Exhibiting at the gallery through Dec. 31 is “Gallery Artists with Paintings by Rex Mhiripiri”. Upcoming is “The Works of David Mushonga” which opens Jan. 1 and is expected to last for months. Mhiripiri describes Mushonga’s work as “very unique. He’s very stark, very strong.” Rex Mhiripiri took time from his day to speak with Insight News at his shop.

What do you feel is important for Insight readers to know about the Mhiripiri Gallery?

Black people talk of pride all the time. They want to be proud of themselves. You would think that Black Americans would wake up to the fact that we are here with this gallery, which when they look, they can feel proud that Africa has fine things to offer. And that this is one of the most unique galleries in the world, not just in the Twin Cities.

Not everyone can afford art though.

Buying is not everything. People come to this gallery and see there’s some fine art in Zimbabwe. Not 500 years ago, but today. Right now. And it’s right here in your backyard.

So, you are not only an entrepreneur. You also make a cultural and social investment?

I am a kind of bridge. My gallery is none place where Black Americans will come and find their history. Part of their history is fine art. {This gallery} reaches into the past. It’s good to know where we are coming form if we’re going to make up our minds where we are headed, where we are going. Many people don’t know where they’re coming from and a lot of Black Americans are ashamed of where they think they came from: that Africa has nothing to be proud of, that Africa has everything to be ashamed of. Zimbabwe, for instance, has a history of stone sculpture that dates back centuries. And {Mhiripiri} is proof of that. Black men and/or Black women can come into my gallery and stand tall. It is good to know.

How do you choose the artists who exhibit at Mhiripiri?

I like some styles of some artists better than styles of other artists. So, when I go to Zimbabwe to buy {pieces}, I will look for Colleen Madamombe or for Wilson Mugambi or some of the artists I know. {I} also look for what I think people will like. Work that’s nicely done. Work that is fine sculpture, rather than stuff that’s just hacked. Some do a better job than others. The fact that I know a fair amount about art and have a well-informed eye helps me {to make selections}.

How did Mhiripiri Art Gallery come about?

I did not actually look to go into business with an art gallery. It was an accidental happenstance. I went to Butler Square 15, 16 years ago to check the place out. I asked if I could show my paintings in an empty space for a month or so. It went so well that management asked me to just stay there and make a gallery of it. We negotiated a deal. I opened an art gallery and I continue to have an art gallery today.



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