Nearly forty years have passed since Zimbabwe gained their hard-won independence in 1980. In that time, citizens of the southern African state endured the mercurial weather of a fierce, authoritarian leader who only recently ceded the presidency following a successful coup d'état, complicating the already turbulent aftermath of colonial occupation that preceded Robert Mugabe's term.
Within this framework, the task of organizing a Zimbabwean cultural identity does, indeed, present a unique set of challenges that range from recovering lost and forgotten texts that survived tectonic shifts in power, to situating these materials in critical contexts that yield more possibilities and questions than they do answers. And that's where Black Chalk & Co. comes in, an art collective of two working to centralize the country's intellectual production throughout time in a collaborative, publicly-accessible archive called "Reading Zimbabwe."
Much of what should populate the archive, co-founders of Black Chalk and Co. Tinashe Mushakavanhu and Nontsikelelo Mutiti told the NEW INC STREAM, has either been destroyed or is simply nonexistent, leaving considerable gaps in cultural memory that mire attempts at developing narrative continuities. What's more, Mushakavanhu says the literature and media that are available tend to frame Zimbabwean legacies from perspectives that rarely reflect the people's integrity and experiences. This absence, he explains, is a telling indication of the project's importance.
At its prime, Mushakavanhu and Mutiti would have Reading Zimbabwe take on a life of its own, running on the contributions of scholars, artists, and researchers like themselves to expand and deepen its scope and reach. In fact, the founders even imagine this model as a working-template that, in time and with more refinement, other groups can adopt for their own cultural agendas.
In their interview with the NEW INC STREAM, Black Chalk & Co. describe the privilege and precarity of constructing a historical foundation for generations of Zimbabweans worldwide, and emphasize the urgency of cultivating such an archive as a shared responsibility.
Read the full interview on NEW INC STREAM.