After weeks of designing, building and programming, further weeks of travel, interviews, learning about Zimbabwean history and culture, about the Tonga, the Ndebeli, the Shona and the interrelations between them and the other 13 cultures existing in Zimbabwe, hearing stories about survival, the mundane, the spiritual and the practical, after all these new ideas and influences, we reach the crux of the matter: the opening.
Being recognized as an Austrian-Australian collaboration is not usual for us. If our nationality is ever important, it might be a small byline, but somehow we have spent the last 15 years acting as and in a denationalized zone. The Tonga women were somewhat surprised by this, the fact that we did not know our traditional cultural dances and songs, that we were not rooted in a specific cultural tradition. This is understandable; Austrians have a history that includes the horrors of the mid 20th century, Australia is a melting pot that is neither European nor Asian yet both and more at the same time. Here in Zimbabwe, it became clear that at least the sharing of a post colonial heritage and a self conscious distancing from Britain was a commonality between Zim and Oz. And self-deprecating humor and a low-stress “She’ll be right” / “Passt schon” / “Pole Pole” attitude is common to all three cultures.
So when the Australian Embassy in Harare offered to sponsor the opening along with the Austrian Honorary Consul as a form of public diplomacy, we were happily surprised. The team at the embassy were friendly and helpful, the opening was delightful. Ambassador speeches were fine and the guest of honor, Penny Yon from the Book Cafe and Pamberi Trust, helped put the exhibition into a larger context of cooperation and resilience over the past decades.
It has been an honor to be welcomed by this spectrum of people, from the self-titled “peasant farmers” through theatre people, miners, the homeless, musicians, artists and other experts of every day life. We look forward to out “next time” in Zimbabwe.