From the artist.
I was raised on an isolated farm among the leopards and tea fields of Tanganyika (Tanzania today). Outside our homestead, Africa teemed with wildlife and expansive vistas opened out over the Great Rift Valley below.
Even though our farmhouse was without running water, power, telephone or other industrial comforts, European tradition touched my everyday life, for I was the child of German/Jewish settlers. Besides my siblings I was the only white youngster for miles around and the object of immense curiosity amid African neighbors.
Interaction with art, both European and African, came early for me. On the one hand there was my grandfather's extraordinary artwork in every room: Diana, Goddess of the Hunt carved in wood relief in the dining room; Siegfried Slaying the Dragon over the living room fireplace in cement; and portraits of relatives in the bedrooms.
On the other hand, I have memories of sitting cross-legged around a fire with young friends listening for hours to colorful ancestral fables of yore, while their mothers wove intricate designs into baskets or molded cooking vessels out of udongo (clay). Using the same clay, albeit watered down to a paint-like consistency, we would the decorate wall or other flat surfaces and sometimes even our own bodies.
Yet I believe some of my most intense artistic training took place upon the untouched beaches of a peninsular across from the historical town of Bagamoyo on the edge of the Indian ocean. I would spend hours drawing enormous herds of galloping zebra, lions and warriors until approaching waves would send me tearing up to our hut to implore my mother to drop everything she was doing and come right away to view my handiwork before the tide came in. She never failed me, and would reward me with motherly "oohs and ahs" and I in turn found daily exhilaration in trying to outsmart the ever-hungry waves to please her.
From the figurative heritage of Germanic and African lore at home, I was as a young adult, suddenly thrust into highly abstract teachings at art college in Europe. Despite pressures to conform, I continue to follow my own form of expression rooted in my African upbringing and European training.
Since an emotional visit to my childhood home in 2003, I have focused or trying to capture the strength, spirit and political complexities of Africa as I see it using oil on canvas.
- Veronika Hart