Photographer connects mothers to art and childcare

A photographic exhibition celebrating the unique African tradition of using a strap to carry babies on the mother’s back comes to an end in Harare this week.

“We should encourage our children to develop their gifts.” – Sylvia Phiri.
“We should encourage our children to develop their gifts.” – Sylvia Phiri.

The month-long solo exhibition by photographer Nancy Mteki at the National Art Gallery is called Mbereko, the Shona word for a baby strap. As part of the exhibition, Mteki last week hosted what a mothers and toddlers day.

“I got this idea when I was doing my residency in Scotland. My baby was still very little then but I didn’t have a mbereko to carry her around with,” she explained in an interview with The Zimbabwean. “One day, she started crying because she wanted to sleep, so I bought a small towel to use as a mbereko. She quickly quietened down and went to sleep.”

Mteki said the people who saw this were amazed and, with the director at Deveron Arts where she was doing her residency, they raised the idea of having a mothers and toddlers day.

“The whole idea was to exchange cultural ideas from my experiences as a Zimbabwean mother and they were also sharing theirs,” she said.

“It was then that I conceived the dream of doing something similar in Zimbabwe. The idea is not just to share experiences as mothers but also to take time to appreciate art and discuss the role of photography in our lives, the lives of our families and in the lives of our children”.

She said that, as an example, they discussed the importance of toys and local environment to help stimulate children’s minds. “The kind of designs in a child’s room influences how the child shapes and uses his or her imagination,” said Mteki.

“These people come from my neighbourhood and most of them have never been in an art gallery before, so it’s an opportunity for them to learn about art,” she explained.

She added that the mothers and toddlers concept was an on-going programme that she wanted to take to other countries too.

“I appreciate all the help I am getting from the gallery in allowing us to bring young children inside. It’s very rare to have children in such an environment. It’s a privilege they extended to me to have the mothers in here and talk,” said Mteki.

She expressed satisfaction with her exhibition, saying it was bringing her work closer to her community.

Sylvia Phiri, who Mteki credits, together with her own sculptor father Richard Mteki, for supporting her desire to be an artist since she was a child, described the exhibition as an eye-opener.

“It’s insightful and opening us up to the world of art. We are learning about Nancy’s experiences in the United Kingdom and her encounters with other cultures,” Phiri said.

“She always wanted to be an artist and I supported that dream from the time she was a child, and I am very proud of her. We should encourage our children to develop their interests and gifts.”

Phiri added that, through the discussions, she had learnt the importance of capturing and preserving milestones in the lives of her children using photography.

Priscilla Gweje said the exhibition presented a learning opportunity for both the younger and older women.

“Sharing experiences as mothers and exchangingdifferent cultural practices is important because even us, the older women, are sometimes wrong in the way we bring up children,” she said.

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