Meet Zimbabwean Artist Mostaff Muchawaya and His Expressions of Ubuntu

“Coming Back of My Darling” by Mostaff Muchawaya

Mostaff Muchawaya, a Zimbabwean artist born on this day May 23, 1981 in Nyazura, Manicaland, is known for his innovative and multi-layered portraits that draw inspiration from his upbringing in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Currently living and working in Harare, Muchawaya has gained recognition for his unique artistic style, which combines autobiography, fiction, portraiture, and self-portraiture to create a deeply personal connection with his audience. In this comprehensive overview, we will explore the life and work of this talented artist, his creative process, and the impact of his art on the global stage.

Early Life and Education

Growing up in the mountainous Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, Mostaff Muchawaya developed a deep connection to his surroundings and the people he encountered. His family was part of the workforce on a white-owned farm, and it was here that Muchawaya first discovered his love for art. He would spend his time making clay toys and sketching the farmers’ dogs, ultimately discovering his passion for painting.

Muchawaya attended the National Gallery of Zimbabwe School of Visual Arts and Design from 2002 to 2003, where he further honed his artistic skills and began to develop his signature style.

Artistic Style and Technique

Mostaff Muchawaya’s artistic style is characterized by his use of paint to create multi-layered, often faceless, portraits of people. He draws from memories of his upbringing in Zimbabwe, and the ever-shifting nature of memory itself, to form abstract impressions of those closest to him.

The Process

Muchawaya begins by generously applying paint to the canvas, and once it is dry, he scrapes away parts of the surface or removes entire sections. He also incorporates household cleaning agents and paint chips from derelict walls to give his work an impression of erosion. This cycle continues until each portrait reflects the shifting and uncontrollable nature of memory, where the processes of remembering and forgetting converge.

Portraiture and Self-Portraiture

One of the most striking aspects of Mostaff Muchawaya’s artwork is his complex blend of portraiture and self-portraiture, which blurs the lines between autobiography and fiction. His portraits serve as a safe space, a home he reverts to, and a reflection of his memories and experiences.

He continuously refers to his rural upbringing and the people and places that shaped him, stating, “My work is centered on portraits of my loved ones. It’s all about Nyazura where I come from, and the people and places in that area.”

His unsettling, faceless portraits not only invite the viewer to recognize and connect with the subjects but also to find their own faces within the artwork. As Mostaff Muchawaya puts it, “I don’t put faces, but you can find your face. It’s all about perspective.”

Exhibitions and Recognition

Mostaff Muchawaya has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions, both locally and internationally, showcasing his remarkable talent and gaining recognition for his unique artistic voice.

Solo Exhibitions

Some notable solo exhibitions featuring Mostaff Muchawaya’s artwork include:

  • Solo Show at Duende Art Projects at Zwartzusters Monastery, Antwerp, Belgium (2022)
  • Where I come from / Kwandinobva at SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa (2020)
  • My Faces / Zviso Zvangu at SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa (2018)
  • Memory / Ndangariro at SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa (2017)
  • My Entire People and Places at Alliance Française, in collaboration with Village Unhu in Harare, Zimbabwe (2013)

Group Exhibitions

Mostaff Muchawaya has also been featured in various group exhibitions, such as:

  • Forever etched on my mind – Duo show at Tiwani Contemporary Gallery, London, UK (2022)
  • Shanduko – curated by Richard Mudariki at Osart Gallery, Milan, Italy (2022)
  • UNSETTLED – group exhibition curated by Duende Art Projects at Zwartzusters Monastery, Antwerp, Belgium (2022)
  • In Your Shadow – Masking Realities at SMAC Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2021)
  • A Show of Solidarity at SMAC Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2020)
  • Holding still: Psychology and Portraiture at SMAC Gallery, Johannesburg (2019)

Art Fairs and Biennials

Mostaff Muchawaya has also participated in various art fairs and biennials, including:

  • artHARARE Contemporary Art Fair 2021, Harare, Zimbabwe
  • ARCOlisboa 2020 Online (SMAC Gallery)
  • FNB Art Joburg 2019 (SMAC Gallery)
  • Nirin, the 22nd Biennale of Sidney (2020, curated by Brook Andrew)

Museums and Collections

Muchawaya’s artwork is featured in several prestigious museums and collections, such as:

  • Zeitz MOCAA Museum (Cape Town, South Africa)
  • National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare

Collaboration with Other Artists and Institutions

Throughout his career, Mostaff Muchawaya has collaborated with other artists and institutions, resulting in diverse and enriching experiences for both the artist and his audience. Some notable collaborations include:

  • Village Unhu, an artist-run space founded by Misheck Masamvu, Georgina Maxim, and Gareth Nyandoro, in Harare, Zimbabwe. Muchawaya has participated in several group exhibitions at Village Unhu.
  • Alliance Française, where he had a solo exhibition titled “My Entire People and Places,” held in collaboration with Village Unhu in Harare, Zimbabwe (2013).


Mostaff Muchawaya is represented by several prominent galleries and organizations, including SMAC Gallery, DUENDE Art Projects, and TIWANY Contemporary. Additionally, he is a featured artist at Mbare Art Space, further highlighting his impact on the art world.

Social Media Presence

For those interested in following Mostaff Muchawaya’s artistic journey, he can be found on Instagram under the handle @babamostaff. Here, he shares updates on his artwork, exhibitions, and insights into his creative process.

Legacy and Impact

Mostaff Muchawaya’s unique approach to art and his exploration of memory, identity, and the human experience have resonated with audiences worldwide. His thought-provoking portraits and landscapes challenge viewers to confront their own perspectives and seek out their own faces within his work.

As a prominent Zimbabwean artist, Muchawaya has not only made a significant impact on the local art scene but has also contributed to the growing recognition of African artists on the global stage. His talent and dedication to his craft continue to inspire and influence the next generation of artists, ensuring his lasting legacy in the world of art.

“As an artist, whose practice embraces expressions of Ubuntu – an ideology that encompasses compassion and the practice of kinship toward humanity, regardless of perceived differences – my work is deeply rooted within the cultural discourses suggested by NIRIN. Ubuntu originates from Southern Africa and is considered an integral part of society, both pre- and post-colonisation.”

-Mostaff Muchawaya

Curated by Jennifer