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b. 1985, Zimbabwe

Portia Zvavahera Biography

Primarily using oil-based printing ink and oil bars on canvas, Portia Zvavahera recreates scenes from her dreams and experiences in vibrantly coloured and expressive paintings.

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Based in Harare, Zvavahera attended the BAT Visual Arts Studio, National Gallery of Zimbabwe (2003–2005), later obtaining her Diploma in Visual Arts from Harare Polytechnic (2006). She held her solo exhibition, Under My Skin, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in 2010, and began to garner international acclaim for her participation in Zimbabwe's Pavilion, Dudziro: Interrogating the Visions of Religious Beliefs, curated by Raphael Chikukwa at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

The fantastic, dreamlike scenes in Zvavahera's paintings are mainly inhabited by women, who appear individually or as groups engaged in communal rituals. They are inspired by the artist, members of her family, or the mysterious figures she encounters in her dreams. Zvavahera has described painting as 'a healing process', saying—in an interview with Bomb Magazine in 2015—that 'I have a cycle, I should say, because my work is all about my life experiences. I paint mostly painful moments.'

Semi-autobiographical in nature, the 'painful moments' in Zvavahera's work draw on the themes of separation, anxiety, loss, and love. In 2017, for example, the artist spent three months away from her family for her residency at Gasworks, London; from this period emerged such paintings as My Spirits with You (2017), in which a maternal figure embraces two smaller bodies in undulating clouds of yellow. This is where I travelled 1, a new work included in her solo show Ndakavata pasi ndikamutswa nekuti anonditsigira at London's David Zwirner (2020), similarly references a parent's desire to protect her child. In Zvavahera's dream that inspired the painting, the artist's parents were battling a dog that looked like a bull—considered an evil spirit in the Shona culture when it appears in dreams—for her.

Zvavahera is also known for her intricate designs of veils that derive from traditional Zimbabwean patterns. In Embraced and Protected in You (2016), the figure on the right extends her white veil over the two other reclining figures; in Cleansing (2019), delicate floral motifs engulf the lone body of a dark-haired woman, with bands of white that evoke ripples. As the artist told David Zwirner in 2020, the veil 'symbolises a new life' for her, drawing from the Zimbabwean custom of putting a veil on the dead to prepare them for the passage to the other world. This imbues her paintings with a 'sense of deep timelessness', as noted by Ocula's Stephanie Bailey in 2020, collapsing the boundaries between worlds and meanings.

Portia Zvavahera Solo Exhibitions include:

Walk of Life, Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean, Port Louis, Mauritius (2020); Portia Zvavahera and Gustav Klimt: A Dialogue, De 11 Lijnen, Oudenburg, Belgium (2019); Talitha Cumi, Stevenson, Johannesburg (2019); Take Me Deeper, Stevenson, Cape Town (2017); I'm with You, Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles (2017).

Portia Zvavahera Group Exhibitions include:

This Corrosion, Modern Art, Helmet Row, London (2020); Psychic Wounds: On Art & Trauma, The Warehouse, Dallas, Texas (2020); Moshekwa Langa, Viviane Sassen, and Portia Zvavahera, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York (2019); Future Genealogies: Stories from the Equatorial Line, 6th Lubumbashi Biennale, Democratic Republic of Congo (2019); The Fabric of Felicity, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2018).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

Exhibition view: Portia Zvavahera, Ndakaoneswa murima, David Zwirner, 19th Street, New York (4 November–18 December 2021). Courtesy David Zwirner.

Portia Zvavahera Featured Artworks

Woman with owls by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting, drawing
Portia ZvavaheraWoman with owls, 2021Oil based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
209.6 x 173.4 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Zvandakaoneswa (What I was made to see) by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting, drawing
Portia ZvavaheraZvandakaoneswa (What I was made to see), 2021Oil based printing ink and oil bar on linen
209.6 x 297.8 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Whose hand? by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting, drawing
Portia ZvavaheraWhose hand?, 2021Oil based printing ink and oil bar on linen
197.8 x 186.7 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Ndirikuda kubuda (I want to come out) by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting, drawing
Portia ZvavaheraNdirikuda kubuda (I want to come out), 2021Oil based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
198.1 x 161.3 cm
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Ndakaitwei? by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting
Portia ZvavaheraNdakaitwei?, 2019Oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
202 x 114 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Contact Gallery
Tawana mhinduro by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting
Portia ZvavaheraTawana mhinduro, 2019Oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
214 x 222 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Contact Gallery
I found the answer by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting
Portia ZvavaheraI found the answer, 2019Oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
175 x 213 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Contact Gallery
Arising from the Unknown by Portia Zvavahera contemporary artwork painting
Portia ZvavaheraArising from the Unknown, 2019Oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
198 x 149 cm
Andrew Kreps Gallery Contact Gallery

Portia Zvavahera Current & Recent Exhibitions

Portia Zvavahera Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris

Portia Zvavahera In Ocula Magazine

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