5 April 2012
Last updated at 00:48
A visually stunning exhibition of paintings, appliques and embroidery – telling stories of village life, water shortages, marriage rituals and other cultural practices – is on display at Zimbabwe’s National Gallery. The style, called Weya art, was developed by village women from a co-operative in the east of the country.
The lines between craft and art are becoming increasingly blurred in Zimbabwe. The work of the Weya artists is normally sold along the roadside or at tourist attractions, but this exhibition brings their work to the country's most prestigious setting at the gallery in the capital, Harare.
Weya art began in Weya village in the 1980s. A German volunteer, Ilse Noy, encouraged the women to move away from using broken sewing machines and to focus on new techniques, such as batik fabric painting – using sadza (a maize porridge and Zimbabwe’s staple food) - and embroidery that often resembles tapestry.
Weya art addresses social themes. This painting by Pam Rinomhota tells the story of the day that an elephant invaded a rural village. The relationship between rural communities and wildlife can be difficult in Zimbabwe.
Milcah Mashonganyika (above) was one of the first women to work with Ms Noy. “The art helps us in life, and to pay for our children's school fees. Our work is often abstract and we want people to work out the message,” she says.
This painting shows a traditional ceremony where the ancestors are asked to bring rain and beer is brewed for them.
Many of the artists migrated to the urban areas during Zimbabwe's decade-long economic crisis of the 2000s. The migration has led to the spread of the art form, and some of the themes now relate to city life, such as this depiction of traffic chaos in Harare.
Some men have now also become involved in Weya art, often working with their wives. The artists who remained in Weya village now divide their time between tobacco farming and art. Sales of their work dropped significantly during the early 2000s as fewer tourists visited Zimbabwe, and they found tobacco farming to be more profitable.
Some of the women spent time with primary school children after the opening of the exhibition in Harare. Here, Melania Mazinyani, demonstrates embroidery. “We were taught not to copy things from books, so that our minds are creative,” she says.
The intricate stitching in this work shows the different hairstyles popular with women in Zimbabwe. "This reminds me of the barber shop boards from West Africa - but the technique takes Weya art to another level," exhibition curator Raphael Chikukwa told the BBC. (Gallery by BBC's Steve Vickers, some photos courtesy National Gallery of Zimbabwe)