Chicago Dzviti Remembered
Photographs by Richard Selman.and Nancy Koenig
“If the arts existed for our pleasure and enjoyment, it would be enough; but they also record our feelings, capture our emotions, and pass these along to future generations”I don't know who to attribute the above quote to. It was written out in large printed script on paper that served as a border above the chalk boards and bulletin boards on the walls of what used to be a classroom in an old school that is now Rose Center, a thriving community arts and education center in Morristown, Tennessee. I saw and heard the words for the first time as Chicago Dzviti began reading them with excitement rising is his voice with each word — spreading warm enthusiasm to a group of pre-teenage girl scouts who were about to learn about sunny Zimbabwe on a bitterly cold February day complete with snow and howling wind. The lights were about to go out for the slide projector as the words caught Chicago's eye and made his voice move forward. The words seemed as if they were written for that very moment, but I hope that everyone who sees them are strengthened by their message.
Photographer, artist, journalist, father, and husband Chicago Taona Dzviti died Friday, 2 September 1995 at his home in Glen Norah, a suburb of Harare following his release from the hospital. Chicago was born 17 September, 1961 in Shamva — located in a rural area of northern Zimbabwe. His body was taken there for burial. Chicago's immediate family includes his wife Lorraine and three children. Tatenda, the oldest, is a young boy in his first year of school. Kudzi, the oldest daughter, will be starting school soon. A younger daughter, Yeukai, was born in late January.
As an artist and photographer, Chicago Dzviti's vision was inspired by the beauty and culture of Zimbabwe. Chicago grew up in rural Zimbabwe with limited access to photographic resources and technical training. He succeeded as an artist through innovation, persistence, and encouragement from his family.
After studying photo and printing technology at Harare Polytechnic beginning in 1987, he went on to complete his courses and received a National Foundation Certificate. He received further training while working as an originator for Modus Publications and Southern Africa Printing and Publishing House.
In 1988 Chicago began a career as a freelance photojournalist. His work was published in several southern African-based periodicals including: Southern African Political, Economic Monthly, World Vision News, and Horizon. His article “Thomas Gora Wadharwa” was featured in Dandemutande 5, November 1994. In December of 1994 he spent two weeks in Brussels, Belgium working in residence as a photographer for the newspaper De Morgen, sponsored by a Belgian arts organization that selected 30 artists of varying disciplines from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Recent exhibitions in Harare include Women and Children in Rural Areas of Zimbabwe at the British Council Gallery, July, 1994, and Going Home at the John Boyne Gallery, September 1994. Going Home, a photo documentary of the repatriation of Mozmabican refugees, was in collaboration with Chicago's good friend, photographer Calvin Dondo.
In recent years Chicago worked with Kunzwana Trust, a Zimbabwean organization dedicated to promoting the performance arts of Zimbabwe, on a project documenting musicians, musical instruments, and instrument makers. His portraits and biographies of musicians and instrument makers were a major component of the exhibition Spirit Talk Mbira: Traditional Musical Instruments of Zimbabwe that opened February 2, 1995 at the Barn Gallery on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro. In preparation for his work on Spirit Talk, Chicago traveled throughout Zimbabwe collecting instruments and interviewing and photographing musicians and instrument makers who contributed work to the exhibit.
In conjunction with the Spirit Talk exhibit, Chicago came to the United States at the end of January 1995 with musician/mbira maker Chris Mhlanga, musician Chartwell Dutiro, and Canadian writer/musician Kristyan Robinson through sponsorship of the Art Department, School of Photography, and the Multi-Cultural Committee at MTSU. Based in Nashville, Tennessee during February, Chicago, Chartwell, Chris, Kristyan, and I traveled throughout Tennessee on a workshop, lecture, and performance tour of universities, community centers, and performance halls arranged through the Spirit Talk exhibition committee. As a contributor to the events of the tour, Chicago presented lectures witnessing the spirit of Zimbabwe as seen through the lens of his faithful Yashika camera.
Chicago worked from late February into March printing photos for two additional solo exhibitions opening in April of 95: at Masika Gallery in Seattle and Pamberi Studios in Hollywood, Florida.
In March, with great joy, Chicago travelled to Seattle by invitation of the Zimbabwe music community centered there. He was keen to experience the active interest in Shona music and culture so strong in the Pacific Northwest. It was a great satisfaction for him to build bridges and share efforts with the gathering of west coast artists and musicians who had made his culture a part of their own.
Chicago returned to Nashville in early April and was hospitalized two days later in serious condition with pneumonia. After a few days he began responding to medication and was released a week after admission. Following his release from the hospital he was determined to follow through with his commitments — spending two afternoons printing and mailing photographs, writing letters, and packing for the flight home that was scheduled the third day following his release.
For me Chicago's friendship is irreplaceable. I first met him in December 1993 while visiting Zimbabwe to learn more about the art of mbira making and mbira playing. He was introduced to me by his close friend, musician Chartwell Dutiro. In the two months I spent in Zimbabwe I learned much about music but I learned even more about friendship. The grace and integrity strongly personified in Chicago's work was inseparable from his being. Always thoughtful in words or action he had a way of bringing out and easing the spirit of those around him. His spirit can be seen illuminated on the faces of his profoundly beautiful, candid portraits of women, men, and children.
Tiri Chongotere, an mbira player and E.T. driver and a friend of Chicago Dzviti's, said it well in a recent letter. “We lost a good friend, Chicago, a man who was not jealous on someone. ”
Chicago left behind a large volume of work. It will someday be published.
Pamberi ne hondo!
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Instrument Icons by Lindsey Heider.