Artist in Residence: Heather Chontos

It’s a balmy evening in Stone Town, August 2017, and I meet Heather Chontos, an artist from the USA, and her 2 daughters for the first time. They are incredibly friendly, open and excited to be here.

Hamad (Director of CACZ) and I had been to Nafasi Arts Space, in Dar es Salaam, earlier in the year and discussed with their team that we are eager to welcome artists from not only East Africa, but across the globe, to share their arts experiences and meet up with Zanzibari artists.

detail: trying it outWithin a few weeks – Heather had contacted me asking if she and her daughters (ages 19 and 9 yrs) could come over and meet some of the artists. She was going to be an Artist in Residence with Nafasi for a few weeks. Artists do residencies because it gives them time and space to really focus on their work, and to develop their artistic practice. During her time in Tanzania, visiting Zanzibar and meeting its arts community was an opportunity not to be missed.

Hamad and I were glad to welcome them – they arrived by ferry and were soon meeting up with and talking to a number of artists – both women and men. As always happens when artists meet, they wanted to share ideas, thoughts about each other’s work, and techniques. This was no different.
As an Abstract Artist, Heather offered to share her ideas about abstract art, her uses of colour and emotion. For artists, it has to be practical, and everyone had to join in, of course.

Heather with the group of artists during her techniques workshop; they create a stunning abstract piece of art.

After several hours of collaboration at the Cultural Arts Gallery, all the artists felt they’d learnt and shared some new ideas or techniques, which could be developed, used in different contexts or stored away for future application when moved. Also a bit about the life and motivations of a woman artist from a different place, with very different, and some similar, influences.

Another thing that Heather, as an artist, asked – curious about our work at SEA and different people and places in Zanzibar – was to visit JMJV – the Vikokotoni Environment Society.
After seeing the efforts made to keep the market area and housing beyond clean, the amazing public toilets built and the plants being grown using compost made from the organic waste, Heather offered to paint a mural in the JMJV office.
Khamis and his team were actually very pleased – possibly the abstract quality fits well for them with their own aesthetic – but I was worried about the time it might take. Kodie, Heather’s 19 yr old daughter, laughed. “You haven’t seen my Mum in action yet – just wait – she’ll be done in no time!”

Mural painting 1

Kodie caught the moments beautifully – it was true, after only about 3 hours of painting, three panels of wall emerged with Heather’s distinctive shapes and symbols.

Sharing and discussing ideas for artists is invaluable – CACZ and SEA have long been debating about opportunities for Zanzibari artists to develop and expand their practices and following.

JMJV staff were amazed and enthusiastic – and even the gate was painted (thanks to Kodie and a spare brush)!

Much of the livelihood of an artist in Zanzibar comes from sales to visitors. This is an extremely seasonal market. Like artists everywhere, they find many diverse ways of making a living and promoting and developing their work – exhibitions are a well-known and vital part of this, teaching others and running creative projects, as well as receiving commissions. So networking with artists from other walks of life – debating ideas – is a way of not only increasing contact with a range of arts practices, but also a way of broadening global knowledge about what is going on in the Zanzibar arts scene. Heather’s visit was much appreciated by us all – her energy, artwork and generous spirit are inspiring. She said on leaving that she had been deeply affected by her visit – as much by the visually intriguing and fascinating urban landscape of Stone Town and the wider city, as by the realities of life and the dedication of people within it.

Heather thanked us for the warm welcome and amazing and unexpected opportunities to contribute, and her opportunity to learn so much and to share too. Heather – we hope you’ll visit again!

Next month CACZ and SEA will be following one of Zanzibar’s young contemporary artists, Dullah Wise, for 24 hours, as he moves about from morning to night, sketching, painting, and other activities – the extra-ordinary and the mundane. Join us on Facebook (@culturalartscentrezanzibar) or Instagram (@culturalartscentre_zanzibar) for 15-16 November!

Completed collaboration

Hamad and Akhlam from Cultural Arts Centre proudly present: the finished piece of art done by Zanzibari Artists working with Heather’s techniques.