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Zimbabwean Star-ling

Get to know 2018 PPC Imaginarum Awards Zimbabwe winner Neville Starling and his stellar work


How did you take up sculpture and do you have any formal training?

I am a self-taught artist, but I apprenticed as a jeweller for a year. Initially, analogue photography had taken over my life within the visual arts sphere. Inevitably though, due to the hands-on nature of the antiquated photographic mediums I was working in, combined with the three-dimensional thinking associated with jewellery production, and the presence of conceptual thinking, sculptural forms fell quite naturally into my artistic oeuvre. 

PPC Imaginarium

What is your preferred material to sculpt with, and why?

 Building materials and equipment are quite interesting to me – they create or break a continuative narrative. Another is land: it has been highly disputed for millennia, not only in Africa but globally in terms of belonging, spiritualism, economics, displacement, weaponry, and of course, colonialism, occupation and geo-demographic segregation.

Another medium which I include into sculptural forms is photography itself: this could be in the form of projections, glass-plate negatives and positives, and even the physical or chemical mechanics of photography in order to question, within this photographically saturated era in which we live, certain implications of photography.

PPC Imaginarium

What the biggest challenge that comes with working with concrete?

Patience! Luckily though, through my 1850’s photographic techniques, I have acquired plenty of patience. Also, like with any new medium, I think it is very advantageous to sit and meditate on the concepts and historical implications of concrete.


What was the inspiration behind the piece you submitted for the 2018 PCC Imaginarium Awards Zimbabwe?

Corrupted memory, perception, notions of belonging and fighting for that belonging.

I was inspired by a photograph. Or the memory of a photograph. Or, what a poignant photograph of the evils of Apartheid could be. The important idea is that this memory could be completely untrue.

In the pits of my dubious memory, I recall seeing an image of black South Africans throwing pieces of land, in the form of stones, to fight for the land and rights which, in my mind, rightfully belonged to them. In the background were labour hostels – the concreted, physical manifestations of both colonialism’s and Apartheid’s segregationally conceived and implemented South Africa. This is what the grid-like blocks of cement and reinforcement bars represent.

The realisation that this image in my head could be corrupted by my own personal sensibilities or those taught to me, or even those I rebelled against, made me think about domestically propagated beliefs and the complicated idea of memory as truth.

The work pivots on our idea of a rock, a piece of land. It can be a weapon, a home, a belief, a suffrage, a belonging, an exploitation and an opportunity. Importantly though, the work examines domestically inherited perceptions of things, namely the disputed case of land in Southern Africa.

I do this to understand what amount of our memory is imagined in order to reveal how much of what we believe to be memory is influenced by our peers, family and history. I am questioning belief systems which are politically or domestically propagated down through generations.

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