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African Feelings - Gift of God exhibition features a unique collection of 27 African masks crafted with natural vegetation
Taurai Maduna, Kubatana.net
April 06, 2006

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Brother Oscar Melendres explains why he used natural vegetation in making his masks
Brother Oscar Melendres explains why he used natural vegetation in making his masks

Everyday, Mpilo Hospital located in Bulawayo Zimbabwe's second largest city, attends to hundreds of patients seeking medical attention. The doctors are few, medical supplies are in short supply and the cost of medication is beyond the reach of many. If you take the time to look at the faces of the patients milling around Mpilo Hospital, you'll see both joy and sadness reflected in their expressions.

Brother Oscar Melendres the chaplain at Mpilo Hospital has used his interaction with patients as inspiration to produce a collection of masks called African Feelings - Gift of God.

The African Feelings - Gift of God exhibition opened at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on March 23rd. The exhibition features a unique collection of 27 African masks that are crafted with natural vegetation.

While some people associate masks with witchcraft and voodoo rituals, Brother Melendres argues that masks have a deeper meaning that does not necessarily reflect bad spirits. The artist says that people can interpret his masks in any way they like. "I am using the mask with an open imagination. Through the mask I can express the customs of the people, their beliefs and rituals," says the Argentinean artist who has lived in Zimbabwe since 1987.

My Rainbow, is a well-crafted mask alive with bright colours symbolic of unity, harmony and peace
My Rainbow, is a well-crafted mask alive with bright colours symbolic of unity, harmony and peace

Entry into the exhibition hall is covered with a cloth that creates the impression of entering a holy and sacred environment. My Rainbow is a mask that captures your attention the moment you walk into the exhibition. It is a well-crafted mask alive with bright colours, which according to the artist, is symbolic of unity, harmony and peace. listen to audio file

Another captivating and inspiring mask is called Disharmony. Apparently this mask is the story of what the people are really saying. "I am talking on behalf of the people that I deal with daily. I have seen certain disharmony in their lives, sadness and joy," reflects Brother Melendres. listen to audio file

But not all the masks tell a sad story. There is optimism in Hope in the Dark, a face divided in half. One side is dark reflecting the hardships that people are going through, while the other side is white, expressing hope and of life overcoming death.

Brother Oscar Melendres says he began making masks as a hobby but later decided to create a collection for an exhibition in August 2005. The collections of masks by this vibrant artist are symbolic of his religious and medical work in Zimbabwe The artist attributes the use of natural vegetation to Genesis in the bible, which outlines the goodness of creativity.

One of the masks from African Feelings - Gift of God exhibition

He says that by using vegetation it shows that what God created is good. "When branches and leaves die and become compost, the process of life begins. I'm using this vegetation to let God speak." listen to audio file

The African masks by Brother Oscar Melendres go a long way in giving a voice to the majority of Zimbabweans who are suffering in silence. Chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo calls this kukuvarira mukati (suffering in silence).

The proceeds from the sale of the masks will be given to people who are in need of assistance, the people who speak to Brother Oscar Melendres on a daily basis outlining their problems in life.

African Feelings - Gift of God is currently showing at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. The exhibition ends on April 24, 2006.

*Brother Oscar Melendres SVD can be contacted via email at oscar@svdbotswana.com

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