Portia Zvavahera - Selected Press | David Zwirner
Portia Zvavahera: Selected Press

In little over 12 months, mega-gallery David Zwirner has announced representation of no fewer than four influential North American painters: Dana Schutz, Katherine Bernhardt, Steven Shearer, and the estate of minimalist master Robert Ryman, recently won over from Pace Gallery.

Each artist represents a uniquely different brand of their mutually preferred medium and adds to the gallery's already formidable and diverse roster of the giants of contemporary painting, including Kerry James Marshall, Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans, Chris Ofili, Mamma Andersson, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, to name but a few.

Amidst this array of high-profile artists, Zimbabwean painter Portia Zvavahera joined the gallery in April following a small solo presentation at their London gallery last autumn.

Indeed, Zvavahera's rise to mega-gallery stardom has happened somewhat more quietly, though she is now presenting her debut solo exhibition in New York at Zwirner's 19th Street gallery.

The exhibition is titled Ndakaoneswa murima, which translates from Shona to English rather ominously as 'I was made to see the dark side'. It is a fitting title for an artist whose work grapples with the nature of the human condition and spiritual revelations that appear to her through her dreams and nightmares.

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Lockdown has been a restless time for the Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera.

As an artist who draws inspiration from dreams and introspection, peace and quiet are essential to her process. The rising star’s ethereal work is filled with transcendent imagery that allows the viewer to peek beyond the veil of earthly existence. But amid the chaotic noise of the wider world this year, Zvavahera was struck by creative paralysis.

In search of inspiration, she fled her studio in Harare to seek refuge in the mountains and found herself able to pick up a brush after turning to prayer and reconnecting with the natural world. The resulting paintings are the subject of a show opening at David Zwirner in London on September 15. “Portia Zvavahera: Ndakavata pasi ndikamutswa nekuti anonditsigira” (a Shona title which translates to, “I took my rest in sleep and then I awoke for He sustained me”) includes five large-scale paintings.

We spoke to the artist about her ideal conditions for creativity and why she refuses to plan. 

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

I often have floral designs in my paintings, but recently I’ve been more inspired by the colors and shapes of coral reefs. To achieve these on the canvas, I use beeswax for batik and for color separation. I use the wax as a stencil, so I need that, and cardboard, to print.

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