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The Stars Are Bright

September 27, 2020
by the gentle author

It is my delight to publish this dazzling gallery of images from THE STARS ARE BRIGHT, an exhibition of artists from Zimbabwe at The Theatre Courtyard Green Rooms, 36 Bateman’s Row, EC2A 3HH until 31st October

A revelatory collection of over six hundred paintings by young African artists of the nineteen-forties was discovered in St Michael & All Angels’ Church in Shoreditch in 1979 and seventy-five are now on display at a gallery nearby. The origin of these pictures was the Cyrene Mission School in Matabeleland, set up by Ned Paterson in 1938. He studied at the Central School of Art before joining the priesthood in Africa, where he encouraged his pupils to paint freely and create personal representations of their immediate world.

A visit from the Queen Mother in 1947 shone a light onto this work and in 1949 a show of paintings from the school opened at the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour in London to great success. The acclaimed exhibition toured internationally with works acquired by the Royal Collection and the Smithsonian. Then the Cyrene Collection of paintings were put in store in Shoreditch and forgotten until they were acquired in 2018 by the Belvedere Trust who have organised the new exhibition.

Unseen since they were first exhibited, these paintings comprise a compelling and exuberant vision of the world. As remarkable for their abstract painterly qualities as for their documentary record, they bear vivid testament to the creative potential that can be unlocked by an inspirational teacher.

Story of My Life by Basil Mazibuko, 1947

The Careless Village by Basil Mazibuko, 1947

The Bent Tree by Mhletshwa Msidazi, 1946

Artist Christopher Msindazi, 1945

Artist Simon Hlabate

The Death Of Ananias & Sapphira by Samuel Songo, 1947

The Lonely Man by Ananias Mjuru, 1946

The Draught of the Fishes by Timothy Dhlodhlo

The First Day of Spring by Lever Matiwaza, 1946

Artist Tommy Augustine

The Good Shepherd by Livingstone Sango, 1945

The Raiders by Samuel Menaisi, 1947

Artist Moses Johuma

Tree Flowers by Barnabus Chiponza

Rocks & Flowers by W Nyatti, 1945

Village Horse & Trader by unknown artist

Paintings photographed by Debbie Sears

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At St Michael & All Angels, Shoreditch

17 Responses leave one →
  1. September 27, 2020

    GA, you always shine a light. This is a remarkable collection of visual richness. The variety is astounding; a vibrant kaleidoscope. And I love the story of resurrection and rediscovery — and am so glad that these emotional works are on display once more.

    “by an unknown artist” — a notation that always crushes my spirit. How about it, world? Take a moment today to silently send kudos and encouragement to this unknown artist. Even though their work is unsigned, it is SEEN. This painting speaks with a bold confident voice. I can only hope that its maker has been uplifted and enriched by the art spirit within.

    Thank you, GA.

  2. Pauline Taylor permalink
    September 27, 2020

    It is hard to find words that are adequate to describe these so I will just say amazing, they are amazing, and thank you so much for showing them to us.

  3. September 27, 2020

    I was so moved to see and read about these paintings
    and have booked to see the exhibition next weekend.
    My grandmother grew up in Zimbabwe in the 1900s and in her late 80s lost her sight. She joined a pottery class for blind people and depicted her childhood and village life in clay. In her 90s she had a little exhibition… Seeing these paintings reminded me of her and all she must have seen. Thanks for publishing them.

  4. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    September 27, 2020

    WOW. These are stunning!!

    Your stories and photographs enrich my days more than you can possibly know — thank you for sharing these; else I would never have seen them. And I am so glad to have seen them. It is something I can carry with me and recall at times when my view is otherwise bleak.

  5. Ruth Fleming permalink
    September 27, 2020

    These paintings are a remarkable find, and they are absolutely fantastic, with their own style. Just wonderful, and would easily match many art works for sale in swanky galleries. Thanks for letting me see them.

  6. Linda Granfield permalink
    September 27, 2020

    Such beauty and movement! And so many details on the panels. The rocks are alive and ‘speak’.

    Thank you so much for introducing us to this art.

    Is there any chance the artists could be located and their stories and art included in a future Spitalfields Life book?

  7. paul loften permalink
    September 27, 2020

    Wonderful talents on display here. Have any of the young painters been traced ? maybe they were in their early teens then. I particularly like the first two paintings by Basil Mazibuko. There is a story within each one.

  8. Su C permalink
    September 27, 2020

    Wonderful. Moving. Rich. Thank you for bringing these to my attention. Having just ‘googled’ several of the artists names, there is quite a lot to be found out about how these paintings came to be, and that several of the artists became important in African modern art. I am fascinated.

  9. Pence permalink
    September 27, 2020

    It is shameful that these wonderful paintings were just tucked away and forgotten, and that there was no record made of the artists.

  10. Mary permalink
    September 27, 2020

    These paintings are stunningly beautiful and I am so pleased that they are being seen again. I wonder what has become of the artists over the years – I hope they flourished and continued with their art. It would be wonderful if some of them could be traced.

  11. September 27, 2020

    Just to add we are undertaking further research into the artists and their lives.

  12. September 27, 2020

    Astonishing, vibrant and beautiful paintings.
    Thank you so much for sharing these, so pleased they are being given the recognition they deserve.

  13. Jill Wilson permalink
    September 28, 2020

    These are great paintings – full of life and energy…

    I’m intrigued by the rocks which appear in so many of the pictures which all seem to be a similar shape which makes me wonder what their actual surrounding landscape was like?

  14. Yvonne (Buffman) Cheyney permalink
    September 29, 2020

    Remarkable pictures. Thank you so much for showing them.

  15. September 29, 2020

    An amazing collection of such talent

  16. Shani Welgens permalink
    February 6, 2021

    I work with Samuel Songo’s son, Tapiwa. So incredibly sad that he doesn’t have even one of his father’s artworks.

  17. Ticha Muvhuti permalink
    August 23, 2023


    I hope you are well.

    I wrote you an email at the end of October in 2022, asking for permission to use some of your images in my PhD thesis. I have just forwarded the same email to you again on I hope you have received it.

    I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

    Kind regards,


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