isaac zavale: carving out a blueprint for freedom

December 1, 2018
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Isaac Zavale’s hands mesmerize as he carefully works at a piece of wood, carving an image of resistance into the surface with such care, you’d think it was a blueprint for our collective liberation. In a way, it is.

As a child of Mozambique and South Africa, Zavale’s family escaped the civil clashes between Renamo and Frelimo, only to enter the unrest shaped by warring factions of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) at the peak of apartheid. Struggle. Power. Unity.

As a multi-disciplinary artist, fashioning works of fine and street art,  Zavale turned to his primary love of print-making to revive an image that serves as a Black liberation stalwart across the globe. The Revolutionary Fist.

As AFROPUNK prepares to take over Joburg for our 2018 festival, it was important for us to remind the world of the power of resistance, especially in the streets of South Africa.

Our theme for 2018 is #THEPEOPLERESIST. Let’s get prepared for the revolution.

Photos and video by Mobile Media Mob for AFROPUNK

When did you start creating?

I started to draw in 1993. Then, when I was in school, I used to draw in my exercise books then I used to draw and do art projects. Then I started to take art seriously and practice it professionally in 2010 until now.

You’re a Mozambiquan-born, South African bred artist who lived through civil unrest in both countries. How have those two contexts influenced you as an artist?

My parents came to SA in 1989. The social issues in South Africa influenced my art more. It feels more ahead here in SA then it does in other countries in Africa. The civil wars also had a large impact. My parents left Mozambique because of them. So for me, I had to fuse those elements into my work. For instance, the AK47: in my childhood, I always saw people walking around with those kinds of weapons like it was nothing.

You speak a lot about your work relating to your identity. How has it helped build your own version of liberated identity?

When I got to Mozambique and when I observe other African countries, we embrace Western culture more without noticing how much. Sometimes even down to the fabrics, we wear like Shweshwe and Masaya, which I noticed because my mom is a seamstress. I wanted to fuse that in my work so I found a different angle where I turned the image of an AK47 into fabric that it is produced here in Africa by Africans. The image of the gun represents our own struggles but it also represents the Western legacy of violence instead of the influence on clothing. So the AK was a tool for us to engage with their way of thinking instead of just being influenced by it.

Why print-making as your medium?

When I started practicing art, I wanted to do print so I played around with stencil art. With print, I did it so I could produce en mass and that way more people would have access to my art.

The struggle for liberation across the board is still ongoing but the fight and the fighters look different than they did 24 years ago. Why do you think that the imagery of the Revolutionary fist still persists as a continued symbol of a transforming movement?

Because the fight continues… This symbol is also one of hope and hope can allow a person to wait forever. That is the motive of the fist for me. It cools us down as a Black people, reminding us of that hope. As Black people, with everything that we have been through, we could have been worse to [them] but we chose another way; instead, we console ourselves on how far we have come and remind ourselves of the fight ahead.

Your project with AFROPUNK entails stenciling the fist: what kind of transformation are you hoping for through the transformation of the CBD with that imagery?

Speaking from the point-of-view of a South African, it’s a sort of rallying cry for us to stick up for ourselves and believe in ourselves. To not rely on other people because that is how we have been shaped. If we can also find a way to change our education system so we can focus on our own culture and history, our people would be better South Africans. It’s only a few of us who realize the Western influence in our education but we have millions of our brothers and sisters who don’t know that.

Placing stamps of resistance also evokes imagery of territory. Does that act speak to the land debate and the African ownership of African land?

Yeah, it is commentary on that. It goes back to standing up for ourselves as a society. We can’t always wait for the government to make decisions for us so we need to be more vocal and present.

Can you speak to your vision for the way forward?

My vision is a world that doesn’t revolve around black and white. I hate it. There are other things in the world that need our attention besides that. That’s why AFROPUNK exists. You get to decide what kind of punk you. Are you an Afro-punk? Are you an Asian-punk? Because when you think of punk, you think of white people.

What do you think the role of the artist is now?

I think our role is to keep pushing the positive message and to educate each other so our people are not caught by surprise.

What does a platform like AFROPUNK mean to you?

We live in a country with a lot of homophobia and racism and sexual violence; there are a lot of “isms” we deal with. A platform like AFROPUNK also provides safe spaces to get educated on those things, so they become less taboo. People are starting to understand what it means to be gay. Five years ago, it wasn’t like that. There’s a long way to go but it’s better now.

Would you mind sharing a departing thought?

Keep positive. Keep pushing. Stick it to the man.

Buy tickets now for the 2018 AFROPUNK Joburg festival.