The sad tale of Workers Day, abused artists

PATIENCE MUSA

Artists!

Workers’ day!

Artists!

Can we honestly say that efforts put into the work of artists are regarded as work in Zimbabwe?

When we walk past and admire or look twice at sculptures, paintings or other types of art pieces, do we look at it as work done?

Switching on the television or radio and becoming an audience to whatever programming, do you think of the people behind all that and does it come as work to you?

The way we think and talk about all these things betrays the value we put in the art pieces and the people who put their time, passion and expertise in them.

The ‘starving artist, is a label that has for some reason been romanticised over time and all over the world.

Personally, I do not understand what is so ‘romantic’ about being perpetually hungry and forever struggling to roof, feed and clothes oneself and family.

It comes off more pathetic and impractical in today’s world.

There are art circles where some artists who make obscene amounts of money are scorned upon by others for ‘selling out’. Art was never supposed to be about the money.

It is really a messed-up thought because the measure of success in this world is defined by money.

If clients are not clamouring for your art and very few even know you are an artist, what then defines your success?

I digress; this is a topic for another day. Today we talk about work in art.

How seriously is art taken in this country as work?

The fact is art is work. It is a job and one that signifies a quantifiable share of the nation’s wealth if the nation could just look, listen and do what needs to be done.

Graphic designers are artists and that is a job and they work hard and yet it’s one of the most disrespected sectors.

But, which ministry represents the sector, speaking for them and fighting for their rights?

Every day their work is trivialised

“Just put that there and that at the bottom and that will do,” clients say as if it’s the simplest thing.

It is not!

Year in, year out, advertising companies have their ideas ‘stolen’. And there is nothing they can do.

You pitch something one day after weeks of brainstorming research and sleepless nights of putting animation and all sorts of fresh ideas together.

The pitch is rejected, but months or years later the same company changes a few things and goes ahead and uses the idea without paying the artists behind all the work.

What would we do without graphic designers; they designed the nation’s flag, our political parties’ logos, and parastatal logos – all the logos of our favourite local brands’.

Graphic designers are behind every rebranding or advertising campaign.

From the time we wake up and then go to sleep, the art of graphic design is everywhere, yet our graphic designers are some of the worst paid workers.

We see no value in their work because we think it’s too ‘simple’ to pay for, but is it really simple?

If we could do it ourselves then why don’t we?

Do you ever have clients walk into your offices and demand to pay very little because all you’re doing is adding numbers, arguing a point, sitting in an office and just responding to emails, supervising others?

Voice artist is another sector that is yet to be defined.

We all have a voice, don’t we?

For that reason most of us doubt it being an art and even more of us doubt it being a piece of work.

Tune into something, go onto some media platform and you will be hit by voices that have no business representing brands.

Voices that have no business in adverts or documentaries, voices that make audiences tune out and tune off and yet some ‘genius’ decided that the voice would do just to cut costs, at a cost!

Year in and out voice artists record adverts that are played for months and at times years with no royalties for the artist.

Zimbabwe doesn’t pay royalties for adverts, but the rest of the world does.

Hosting, moderating, presenting, or emceeing is an art.

The success of a function, webinar, seminar is mostly in the hands of that fabulous person who greets, makes sure everyone is seated and ready and drives the program and yet very few have knowledge of this and what it takes.

There is a blend of skills and qualities that one needs to be aware of and have for one to be a success, sadly most of those that hire have no care of this and just hire the cheapest.

A lot has to be considered when charging for instance for a video presentation, like time that will be spent, wardrobe, make up and of course whether there is a script or  the presenter has to come up with one, which is a job on its own.

One also has to consider where the video will be broadcast and for how long a time.

There is a failure to put into account that it is one’s work and there is nothing as heartbreaking as a piece of work you got paid peanuts for being in use on multiple platforms and for years after.

That is a form of abuse of one and one’s work.

Having spent a greater part of my young adult life active in the music industry, I can say I have endured the best and worst of that world.

The working environment of entertainers locally can be quite hellish especially when it involves travel out of town and far away from one’s home.

If allowed, some promoters and event planners can treat performers horridly starting with the way they travel.

Even with a budget that may allow artistes to fly, some promoters and planners just refuse to treat artistes decently.

When it comes to accommodation, they would rather have their performers staying at the worst of lodges whilst there is room where the rest of the events team is staying.

It can get worse with no table at the actual event for the artists. You find that when it’s time to eat, there is nowhere for the band to sit and no cutlery to use.

Once performances are done the artistes are then sent in circles for payment and at times even stuck out of town with no transport back.

It’s only when one travels out of the country that one realizes that art is appreciated and respected everywhere else.

Issues to do with music rights, contracts and royalties are the sad order of the day.

Fine art, as a job in the country, is undergoing change with the government stepping into the sector and working hand in hand with the National Gallery to uplift local artists.

It must be a tough job though working at it, making all sorts of pieces of art that you know most of your own people will not even bother to appreciate or purchase.

With most art purchasers being tourists and Covid-19 freezing travelling everywhere in the world, Zimbabweans fine artists’ workspaces are going through the most.

With few exhibitions around the world due to the pandemic, these are all lost opportunities.

What a turn-around the sector would have if all Zimbabwean homes purchased at least one art piece. For that to be possible the economy would have to get better.

As it is who can afford a sculpture when rent and school fees are yet to be paid.

The Literature Bureau was shut down in 1999.

It was at the time the only platform that local writers could use to help publish works in Shona and Ndebele.

The Literature Bureau also trained budding writers. Since then, most writers are self-publishing which has its own pitfalls. 

The few publishing houses cannot afford to print anything else but textbooks.

Is there anything being done to make publishing easier?

There is a lot that needs to be sorted in the arts industry for it to be indeed a hearty Workers Day.

Changes need to be made and the major one is for some generations to realise that the industry has a lot of potential and they need to switch to a contemporary view of the arts.

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