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Nora Chipaumire: Redefining Art and Justice with the Body as Her Canvas

Nora©ari marcopoulosII

In a riveting episode of the MINDED podcast, artist Nora Chipaumire delved into her life, work, and philosophy, providing listeners with a profound glimpse into the mind of a woman who defies conventional labels. Born in Zimbabwe and now a self-proclaimed citizen of the world, Chipaumire’s work transcends boundaries, utilizing the body as a powerful medium of expression.

“I like to say I’m an artist because it allows for more possibilities,” Chipaumire began. “I work primarily with the body. Let’s say the body is my paintbrush, it is my pen—the tool with which I use to say many things.”

Chipaumire’s refusal to be boxed into the roles of choreographer or dancer is a testament to her belief in the expansive potential of the body. She sees herself as a thinker with the body, creating works that radiate from the physical form. This approach has roots in her upbringing in Zimbabwe, a background that informs her artistic vision and fuels her desire to share knowledge beyond traditional confines.

“Knowledge is a currency,” she emphasized. “It’s always been a currency from secret societies to cults, to churches, to universities. There’s always an exclusivity towards who knows what and when they know it. I would love to be in a position where whatever I learn, whatever I know, I can share with others outside of these prescriptions.”

Chipaumire’s dedication to disseminating knowledge resonates deeply in her work, which often tackles themes of animism, justice, and human connection. Despite the vast amount of information available at our fingertips, she laments its superficial nature and the exclusion of profound, lived knowledge from broader conversations. Her work, deeply rooted in her animist traditions, seeks to bridge this gap.

“The body is an organism, like a plant, like a tree, like the soil—living matter,” she explained. “The relationship a farmer has with the soil, with the seasons, with the animals, is the same kind of information you get when you’re sitting next to another human being.”

Chipaumire’s artistic journey began against the backdrop of a tumultuous upbringing. Raised by a single mother in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during a time of revolution, her early life was marked by resilience and tenacity. “I grew up understanding that work was important. My mother is the most courageous person I’ve known in my life. She worked extremely hard to raise four children on minimum wage labor.”

Initially pursuing law to defend the marginalized, particularly inspired by her grandmother’s experiences, Chipaumire’s path took a radical turn towards the arts. This shift was driven by her realization that law did not equate to justice and that her true calling lay in using the body to explore and communicate deeper truths. Despite the initial pride her family took in her legal studies, they eventually embraced her artistic pursuits, acknowledging the impact and importance of her work.

Chipaumire’s art is a blend of diverse influences, from Picasso to Zimbabwean literature. She believes in being a global citizen, learning from various cultures and practices to enrich her work. “There is a lot that one can learn from other cultures, from other practices,” she said. “It is important to keep an open mind and engage in South-South exchanges, thinking through how indigenous people in the Americas think about certain relationships and my part of the global South.”

Her vision extends beyond personal achievement to a broader mission of equity and justice. Chipaumire’s work is not just for herself but for the collective, aiming to create spaces where everyone can benefit. “Unless we all have, we all shouldn’t have. Unless and until we all have, then we shouldn’t have,” she asserted, reflecting her revolutionary roots and unwavering commitment to equality.

As the conversation drew to a close, Chipaumire offered recommendations that reflect her broad interests and influences. She suggested reading Dambudzo Marechera’s “House of Hunger,” watching the film “Bamako” by Abderrahmane Sissako, and inviting Koyo Kouoh, the founder of Raw Material Company in Dakar, as the next podcast guest.

Chipaumire’s insights leave a lasting impact, inspiring listeners to reflect on their own lives and the ways they can contribute to the world. Her legacy is not just in her art but in the profound questions she raises and the knowledge she generously shares, ensuring that her voice, like the radio frequencies she so eloquently described, continues to resonate long after the conversation ends.

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