Biennale of Sydney

Misheck Masamvu

Misheck Masamvu, Therapy Lounge, 2019, oil on canvas, 180 x 400 cm. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery

Misheck Masamvu

Born 1980 Mutare, Zimbabwe
Lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, South Africa


Working predominantly as a painter and sculptor, Misheck Masamvu describes his works as ‘mutants’ that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. Masamvu’s practice is a battle against the forced ideology of government and the breakdown of the pursuit of humanity. His works are understood as marks of existence, pointing not only to the realities of his lived experience but also to mental and psychological space, where each layer of paint, or brush stroke on the canvas proposes a search to resolve conflicted experiences or decisions.

Working predominantly as a painter and sculptor, Misheck Masamvu describes his works as ‘mutants’ that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. Masamvu’s practice is a battle against the forced ideology of government and the breakdown of the pursuit of humanity. His works are understood as marks of existence, pointing not only to the realities of his lived experience but also to mental and psychological space, where each layer of paint, or brush stroke on the canvas proposes a search to resolve conflicted experiences or decisions.

The paintings, drawings and poetry which Misheck Masamvu has produced for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney deal with the struggle against social conditioning, existing as a space where the artist can move beyond the responses which have been forced upon him by systems of oppression and governance.

Masamvu produced the works in different parts of the world, including Kenya, South Africa and Germany, and they form part of his nomadic project. For Masamvu, the true self can only be found by placing oneself in the unfamiliar. In purposely becoming a foreigner, the artist is able to gain new perspectives and self-knowledge, adding to his understanding of the world. These new perspectives inform the works, which become markers of the search for the self.

Masamvu is constantly battling the automated, socially conditioned response and he achieves this through continually moving, not only physically, but psychologically too. In searching for a different way of being in the world and though actively seeking out a state of alienation, Masamvu is able to denounce the oppressive systems which categorise people and enforce particular ways of behaving and being in the world.

His nomadic journey and the constant power struggle between a stagnant state and the desire for a multiplicity of being results in works which appear to convulse and change, as if they have been caught in the act of mutation. The works are not only documents of Masamvu’s physical journey but of his psychological one too.

Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery

Exhibited Artwork

Misheck Masamvu, Pink Gorillas in Hell are Gods, 2019, oil on canvas, 280 x 550 cm. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg / London

Photograph: Misheck Masamvu, Pink Gorillas in Hell are Gods, 2019, installation view, 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2020, oil on canvas, image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia © the artist, p

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia