Art, Symbol and Meaning
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The majority of the images were taken in the more remote "communal lands", regions "set aside" for Africans during the colonial era. It was here that an African sense of identity, culture, and history survived colonialism and the effects of a malign dictatorship. Most of the images date from the period 1998 to 2015, during which time Duncan Wylie, the artist who took the photographs, travelled back to the country of his birth to undertake what he describes as a "work of transmission and a valuable insight for the non-African world toward a deeper appreciation of African art forms, and a wider perception of the possibilities of art, a world few have experienced."
Zimbabwe offered a unique opportunity to look back a thousand years into African symbolism via the Great Zimbabwe ruins. This medieval city, built in stone, reveals an architecture and style that is as unique to the culture as it is rich in symbols, from its enigmatic solid stone tower and massive walls, which had no defensive function, to the stone "Zimbabwe Birds" that are a symbol of the contemporary nation. A highly symbolic statement was to photograph the ancient stone birds (dating back to the height of Great Zimbabwe's power in the 1350s) outside a museum context and on the ruins where they once stood. The work represented by the images and text is the result of a partnership between the artist, who took the images over a period of 17 years, and the author, who began a life-long involvement with the arts of Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, as curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. But accolades must go to the communities themselves, the subjects of these images, for without their dedication to the project of recording their culture in the face of its increasing disappearance, this book could never have come into being.