A college town mall that houses a FedEx, IHOP, and Qdoba printing press may be an unlikely location for an art gallery, but it’s not a conventional gallery. It is a way for Calstain Ganda to support the people of his native Zimbabwe.
“The truth is,” Ganda said, “the pandemic has opened this gallery.”
Ganda, who goes by the name Cal, talks about the two-story, 2,000-square-foot Real African Art Gallery located in McCullough Commons, across Harris Boulevard from UNC Charlotte, which he opened in February. . Ganda, who moved to the United States in the late 1990s for his university education, now works full time as an executive for an aftermarket automotive subsidiary.
“I had no intention of opening a gallery,” Ganda said. “I did shows on weekends. I had a small gallery at home. But when I returned to Zimbabwe last August, I have never seen this country on my knees in my life like I have. It broke my heart. “
Zimbabwe, the landlocked country formerly known as Rhodesia, sits between Botswana and Mozambique. It is also a country known for its stone sculptures.
“The stone sculptures are the cornerstone of my gallery,” Ganda said. “Zimbabwe has the best stone carvers around the world. “
In the pre-COVID era, tourists bought them as souvenirs. But tourists stopped coming last year.
“Look where (Zimbabwe is) right now,” Ganda said. “No one comes to this place. No one to sell to. No jobs. Tourism is an important part of the economy in a country that has experienced economic decline since the authoritarian rule of former Prime Minister and President Robert Mugabe.
A village hero
Ganda came to the United States for college in 1998 and has lived there ever since. He will tell you repeatedly how blessed he has been and how his late mother shared the money he sent home with her neighbors.
It seemed natural to make “small loans” to the sculptors back home, $ 100 here, $ 200 there. “People have started to pay their bills, to feed their families,” Ganda said. Word spread, and soon everyone wanted a loan.
“I don’t have enough to lend my whole village,” he said.
So he decided to put them back to work. “Soon, yours truly has an inventory that wasn’t really planned,” Ganda said. With three full storage units containing $ 80,000 worth of artwork, he needed another plan and a bigger place.
‘Coming to America’
Ganda’s story, which he calls “my story of coming to America”, is as improbable as his gallery.
He said his aunt and uncle, Ruth and Robert Thornton, are the reason he’s here in the United States. “My aunt married a white man from Texas in the 1970s. It was thanks to them that I had the opportunity to leave Africa and have the chance to come to school here.
It was 1998, and the Thorntons’ son Robert Jr. was heading to Davidson College, his father’s alma mater. The Thorntons suggested that Ganda look at colleges in North Carolina as well.
Ganda’s response: “This is America. Just sign me up! He sent out nominations and UNC Pembroke was the first to respond.
The future gallery owner, specializing in business, graduated in less than three years. And he immediately got to work.
With a full-time job as the head of Continental’s Automotive Aftermarket Americas division, Ganda can’t run a gallery either. So he hired Trey Bailey, a college friend, as his manager. A nephew also works part-time in the gallery and Ganda’s 16-year-old daughter works there for up to 12 hours a week.
Everything in the gallery is handmade, he said. There are paintings and ceramics in addition to stonework.
With the exception of a small portion of the work of unknown artisans he buys in a Cape Town market, he can tell you the artist name of every work in the gallery. He probably even knows them.
Share the wealth
He seems amazed at his success.
“The vast majority of Africans live in poverty,” Ganda said. “It’s a difficult life. Half the time there is no running water. Parts of the country are supplied from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., others from 2 p.m. to 8 a.m. Last year, I was back home from August 18 to September 12, and there was not a day that I had 24 hours of running water and electricity.
If Ganda had stayed in Zimbabwe, he might have become a stone carver himself: “When I was growing up, that was part of what we did every day.
Zimbabwe, he said, “literally means ‘stone houses’. “
The Shona, an ethnic group from southern Africa, have been working stone since the 11th century. Family and nature are the themes most frequently explored in Shona art.
“If you are a young Zimbabwean, you know that stone carving is in our blood,” he said. “You pick up a piece of stone with a nice coloring, and it’s inevitable. You will get a hammer and a chisel.
There is no formal training. “No one is going to say, ‘Sit down, son, and get to work,’” he said. “Your own curiosity drives you. Then established artists will say, “Great, young man. So, do you want to be in the business? I finished this piece here. Polish it for me. This is how most guys start. You prove your worth.
It’s tedious and physically demanding, Ganda said, and almost all stone carvers are men.
Ganda is as interested in bringing Zimbabwean sculpture into homes as in helping sculptors returning to Africa. Coins start at around $ 20 and go up to $ 5,000. The average price is around $ 100 to $ 125.
He made customers feel drawn to a piece they couldn’t afford to buy locally. It will allow them to make a deposit and pay in installments.
The gallery is not a way for Ganda to get rich. He just wants people back home to earn a living.
“That’s not what a poor African child was supposed to accomplish,” he said. “But God has been merciful, and with that comes a responsibility.”
What: True gallery of African art
Or: 440 E. McCullough Dr. Suite A-111, Charlotte.
Learn more: realafricanart.com or follow the gallery on Facebook at facebook.com/realafricanart.
This story is part of an Observer fundraising project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, which supports arts journalism in Charlotte.
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