Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai’s three Popular Mechanics linocuts are based on a series of large-format portrait photographs, developed by the artist in 2009 and shown in an exhibition titled Dying to be men. The linocuts attest to Chiurai’s on-going interest in propaganda aesthetics and in the representation of power.
The artist left Zimbabwe in 2008 to live in exile in South Africa, and against the backdrop of important political elections in South Africa, Zimbabwe and the USA, Chiurai created a fictitious African government with eight political figure stereotypes. Depicted in large-scale portraits, the figures are exaggerated and facetious. Chiurai creates a mischievous parody of the traditional genre of heroic stories, portraying political leaders as smart actors moving between populism and the misuse of power. Three of these figures are then reappropriated in high-contrast depictions for the Popular Mechanics series: The Minister of Enterprise lights his fat cigar using dollar bills, an action accompanied in Popular Mechanics III with the headline “Big Dick Style.” The Minister of Education carries textbooks on democracy under his arm, but there is a pistol in his trousers – a reference to the fact that teachers in South Africa often take weapons to work. The figures appear not only heroic but also ridiculous in their eccentricity, prompting viewers to rethink African masculinity, which here is represented by a man prepared to die a hero’s death to conform to a constrained ideal.