06 Aug The Art of following your Heart
Lawrence Nyemba is an unassuming young man with big dreams. He was born and raised in Marondera, a small Zimbabwean city several kilometres to the east of the capital Harare. He grew up in a very humble environment and didn’t think much about what he would want to do or be when he grew up. His childhood years were mostly spent just playing, having fun, and only worrying about the most immediate needs like food, clothes, and shelter.
There were glimpses of artistic talent from when he was a young boy, but nothing prodigious. Hardly anyone paid attention so he didn’t get any encouragement from those around him. It wasn’t entirely their fault; the value of art is negligible in places like where Lawrence grew up. Despite having produced some incredible talent over the years, Zimbabwe isn’t exactly known for a thriving visual art scene where gifted local artists live comfortably from their artwork. So, Lawrence understandably never thought of art as anything worth taking seriously. Even if he had wanted to, there wasn’t any place in Marondera to get formally trained. It’s not uncommon for parents in Zimbabwe, and perhaps, many other African countries, to discourage their children from pursuing art or sports as the career or income prospects locally are not very encouraging. It’s considered much safer to just go to school, work hard, and hope to get a decent job afterwards. Even with that formal education, there are no guarantees.
By the time Lawrence finished high school, life in Zimbabwe was incredibly difficult for the average person. Many people his age where either being sent abroad by their parents for further education or they were relocating to the capital for better opportunities. However, even in Harare, the capital, life wasn’t easy. The political and economic situation was deteriorating fast and job opportunities were increasingly scarce. So, in January 2008 at the young age of 17, Lawrence decided to move to Kenya in pursuit of gainful employment. He had developed an interest in physical fitness, so he hoped to train as a fitness coach. This turned out to be a nightmare. Not only was he not cut out to be a fitness trainer, but he was also struggling to make ends meet and pay the fitness training course fees. So, he had no option but to quit and look elsewhere for something that offered more immediate returns.
After several months of trying but failing to find alternative work in Kenya, Lawrence found himself in Cape Town, South Africa in October of 2008. At this point, he was desperately looking for any job that he could get. He landed one at a car workshop as a mechanic’s assistant, his main responsibility being to clean and wash cars. He mundanely went on about his duties until one day, he was asked to clear some rubbish from a car that was to be worked on. Among the stuff to be thrown away, was a plastic shopping bag that contained used paintbrushes, oil paints, and other accessories. Lawrence checked with the car owner who confirmed they no longer had any interest; everything was to be disposed of. Out of curiosity, Lawrence decided to keep the art supplies for himself even though he had never painted before.
Discovering Hidden Talent
As a way to kill boredom and distract his mind from worrying too much survival, Lawrence started teaching himself how to paint and would practice whenever he had a chance. Surprisingly, this new hobby seemed to come naturally to him, he found it therapeutic.
The more he practiced, the better he seemed to get, and people started to notice. By 2013, he had graduated from being a mechanic’s assistant to a fully-fledged car mechanic. He would customise some of his customers’ cars with some fancy artwork and word started to get around. Soon, he had more clients coming for his artwork than for the auto services.
The positive feedback and growing demand gave Lawrence confidence that art could be a viable pathway towards a decent living. For the first time in his life, he realised that he had a unique gift. He felt motivated and was bold enough to quit his job as a mechanic so that he could focus on his newfound passion.
He decided to return home to be closer to his family and to try his luck on the local art scene. But life had become increasingly difficult in Zimbabwe. His wife was pregnant, so he now had the added pressure of looking after her and preparing for the arrival of his first child. He worried about how he would support his family with the little income he was getting as an emerging artist. He noticed that despite the economy performing poorly and life being very hard for the average Zimbabwean, tourism had remained one of the few sectors that were thriving. So, Lawrence decided to take French classes at an institution in Harare with hopes that he could work as a tour guide to French tourists. Zimbabwe has a very high literacy rate and as a former British colony, English is spoken widely across the country. Lawrence, therefore, hoped to set himself apart as one of the few multi-lingual guides in the country.
After completing his French classes, he decided to relocate to Victoria Falls, a bustling tourist destination in the north-western part of Zimbabwe.Upon arrival, he quickly learned that the environment was highly competitive with many other established local guides that spoke French much more fluently than he did. He found Victoria Falls teeming with creatives, artists, hustlers, traders, and travellers. It’s a place with a constant inflow of tourists from all over the world. Business is hardly affected by the prevailing political or economic climate in the rest of the country. After the frustration of trying to be a French-speaking tour guide, Lawrence saw an opportunity to try his hand at art again. He’d observed many other artists from different parts of the country that had relocated to Vic Falls and seemed to be doing well. There and then, he decided that art is what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
Resilience And Determination
He found it hard breaking into the industry at first as he was considered an outsider and some of the established artists felt threatened. However, Lawrence persisted, and his dedication and resilience soon paid off. His vivid and impressive paintings started to attract both local and international customers. He also started showcasing his work on social media which exposed him to a wider audience thus expanding his market. After a few years of hard work, Lawrence is now firmly established in Victoria Falls and is in the process of building his own gallery so that he can showcase his works. He dreams of taking part in international exhibitions and running workshops to inspire youths from deprived backgrounds to pursue their passions even if they lack formal training.
Today, Lawrence is now one of the well-known and highly respected artists in Victoria Falls. He went from a disillusioned young man with just hopes and dreams to a consummate professional now with the ways and means to support others.
Far from his wildest dreams as a boy, his amazing artwork now hangs on walls in homes and galleries in Zimbabwe and other parts of the world. Though varied, his work consists mainly of portraits, he is particularly interested in painting portraits of women. He feels that women, particularly African women, are not valued enough and are often misrepresented in contemporary African art. He recognises the important role that African women play in keeping families together and supporting communities, so his mission is to convey this through his art.
The Best Is Yet To Come
Lawrence considers himself a self-taught contemporary African artist and is not afraid to stand next to formally trained artists with all kinds of accolades or qualifications from prestigious institutions. He also feels that his journey has only just begun as half his story is yet to be told.
To view some of Lawrence’s work, here is a link to his Instagram profile.