Helen Lieros: A Practice Underpinned by Persistence and Perseverance

Helen Lieros’s painterly production, a continual investigation of her dual Greek-Zimbabwean heritage, was shaped by moments of political and personal crisis. In this text, Zimbabwean-born, Cape Town–based curator Tandazani Dhlakama recalls Lieros and how she fostered platforms that were conducive to artistic expression and challenged the status quo in Zimbabwe—namely the Circle collective, Gallery Delta, and Gallery magazine—vehicles she used to equip and empower her peers and the generations that followed.

Fig. 1. Installation view, Aeons, Zimbabwe National Gallery, Harare, 2005. Helen Lieros with Mandilion Day 1 and Mandilion 2, mixed-media works from 2005. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: David Brazier

Helen Lieros (1940–2021) consistently found opportunities in crises and taught multiple generations of artists in her orbit to do the same. To rural art teachers who did not have traditional art materials, she once said, “Let’s work on newspaper, with mud.”1Barbara Murray, “Helen Lieros: An Interview with Barbara Murray,” Gallery, no. 4 (June 1995): 17. Lieros taught formally at schools such as Chaplin High School and ILSA Independent College, as well as at rural teacher-training programs. Informally, for nearly four decades, she trained countless young artists on the weekends at Gallery Delta. In post-independent Zimbabwe, Lieros influenced and worked with Misheck Masamvu (born 1980), Simon Back (born 1960), Portia Zvavahera (born 1985), Virginia Chihota (born 1983), James Jali (born 1981), Keston Beaton (born 1963), Duncan Wylie (born 1975), Greg Shaw (born 1972), Lovemore Kambudzi (born 1978), Shepherd Mahufe (born 1967), and Masimba Hwati (born 1982), to name a few. She mentored them at crucial times, giving them space that other institutions were more hesitant to give. Her dual Greek-Zimbabwean identity, which underpinned her practice, was foregrounded by crisis. Her father, a merchant navy man, was shipwrecked on the coast of Cape Town coming from Europe.2Derek Huggins, “I Have a Gallery in Africa,” Gallery, no. 4 (June 1995): 6. Lieros’s father was named Paul Apostolos Lieros. Instead of waiting for the arrival of a new ship, he accepted an invitation from a friend, trekked north, and settled in what is present-day Gweru, Zimbabwe, where Lieros was born.3Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 15. Located in the center of Zimbabwe, Gweru is a small city that is well-known for its major agrarian activities. Ironically, it is also known as the City of Progress. Even though her mother ensured that she was exposed to Greek theatre and music, Lieros found her birthplace “suffocating as a little girl.”4Ibid., 13. At age fifteen, she specialized in piano compositional studies and claimed that she could “see notes in color,” and yet she yearned for more.5Undated Helen Lieros artist statement provided by Gallery Delta during a research visit in December 2021. She lamented, “I was brought up in the British colonial type of painting, which I deplored. I had to do the little butterflies, the little flowers, and the little this and the little that in watercolors.”6Ibid.

A recipient of several awards and scholarships, Lieros studied art in Switzerland and Italy between 1958 and 1963. Her world opened up as she engaged with the work of Georges Braque (1882­–1963), Honoré Daumier (1808–1879), and Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), which gave her a broader visual lexicon. Since returning to Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) was too expensive, study breaks brought about occasions to visit Greece and to trace her European heritage. But what Europe failed to give her were the rich ochers and brilliant blues that emanated from being immersed in the Zimbabwean landscape. These are the very hues that Lieros later reinserted in her work in retaliation against years of being instructed by Swiss professors to gray them out (see figs. 2, 3).7Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 16. “As I began to re-identify myself with the African environment, so my painting became broader and my color stronger, symbolic of the felt experience,” she noted in 1995.8Ibid.

Fig. 2. Helen Lieros. Aegean Voyage. 2012. Mixed media on paper, 42 1/2 x 36 1/4″ (108 x 92 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: David Brazier
Fig. 3. Helen Lieros. Euripides’ Casket. 2014. Mixed media on paper, 15 x 22 1/16 x 3 15/16″ (38 x 56 x 10 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: David Brazier

From her student days until her death, Lieros’s work was fraught by the complexities of belonging to multiple geographies, a situation she described as a constant “fight between who and what I am.”9Ibid., 14. Her practice involved drawing out the similarities within Zimbabwean and Greek rituals, and depicting them repeatedly through sheep, goat, bull, and bird motifs (see figs. 4, 5). Such is the case of The Rise of the Jongwe I (1981), in which a cock is a veiled allegory for Zimbabwe’s ruling party. Ironically, she earned a President’s Award of Honour for this very serigraph soon after Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980 (see fig. 6).

Fig. 4. Helen Lieros. Wingless Victory. 1989. Aquatint. Dimensions unknown. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities
Fig. 5. Helen Lieros. The Bull. 2004. Mixed media. Dimensions unknown. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: David Brazier
Fig. 6. Helen Lieros. Rise of the Jongwe I. 1981. Serigraph, 18 15/16 x 13″ (48 × 33 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities

Moments of Kairos

Political crisis and personal tragedy had significant impact on Lieros’s practice. After her studies, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) sparked the Second Chimurenga, which lasted from 1964 to 1979.10At this time, Zimbabwe was formally known as Rhodesia. In 1965, in reaction to the British government’s push to decolonize, the white minority government of Rhodesia, led by Ian Smith, refused to heed, and instead wanted the country’s minority to continue ruling in an apartheid-like manner, independent of Britain. This sparked a civil war, which eventually led to Zimbabwe gaining independence in 1980 and to Black majority rule. Apart from grueling violence, this period of civil war was characterized by political isolation and shortages of basic commodities.11Helen Lieros and Derek Huggins, interview by Tandazani Dhlakama, Harare, 2018. Lieros and Huggins lost several close artist friends in the war. This period was a time of great angst for them. In an emerging Zimbabwe, art supplies were a luxury. Lieros’s contemporaries, such as Kingsley Sambo (1936–1979), coped by using paint so sparingly that bare canvas replaced white paint. Similarly, Lieros, like others, sought ways of making the most of a dire moment that “necessitated exploration and improvisation in creativity: making [one’s] own paint from pigments.”12Artist statement in Diary of Identity, exh. leaflet (Harare: Gallery Delta, 2017). Texture became much more evident in her work (see fig. 6).13Gemma Rodrigues, “Traditions of Abstraction: Feeling Our Way Forward,”in Five Bhobh: Painting at the End of an Era, ed. Tandazani Dhlakama and Sven Christian, exh. cat. (Cape Town: Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, 2018), 74. Rodrigues writes that Lieros’s “textured surfaces don’t just evoke specific things—dried earth, long grasses, air, fire, animal feathers—they also draw our attention [to] knowledge derived from ‘feeling the world,’ referring to our capacity to feel both with our senses and with our emotions.” Lieros later recounted, “[19]74 was the time when I really started creating . . . as late as that . . . when I explored, and I improvised, and I got hooked on trying to make materials and work with the materials that [were alien to me].”14Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 14. Several distinct painting styles within the local community emerged from this difficult era.

Fig. 6. Helen Lieros. The Creation of the Lucky Bean Tree. 1974. Mixed media. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: Luis Basto

Another defining period in Lieros’s practice involved the illness and death of her sister. She said, “There were two or three years when my work was based on the two sisters. It was very much against the doctors, a hatred, a bitterness that [my sister’s] life couldn’t be saved. She, for me, was the most precious thing in my life. The two of us were very close. [My work] became very expressionistic, although the media somehow, oil on paper, was quite soft, but the work was violent.”15Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 15.

Solidarity in Times of Struggle

Turbulent times continued to spark innovation in Lieros and those around her. Hard times fostered resilience. Referring to political sanctions in Zimbabwe, Lieros once said, “We achieve much by this isolation because outside influences, movements, and trends do not affect us so much and yet we have to see them to balance where we are. This stimulus helps us to go forward on our own path and challenges us to dare.”16Ibid., 17. With a greater sense of responsibility, she intentionally sought ways of forging solidarity within the arts community. By 1972 she had moved to what is present-day Harare and become a key part of the Circle, a radical multiracial artist collective that developed dynamic forms of creative articulation in a country and period rife with censorship and division.17Huggins, “I Have a Gallery in Africa,” 7. Members of the Circle included Arthur Azevedo (1935-2022), Babette Fitzgerald (born 1930), Pauline Battigelli (born c. 1930), Lesley Honeyman (born c. 1940), Ann Lindsell-Stewart (born 1923), Trevor Wood (born 1930), Manan Arnold (born c. 1930), Janine Mackenzie (born c. 1940), Mercia Desmond (born c. 1940), Helen Lieros, Derek Huggins, Joe Muli (1951–1994), Bernard Takawira (1948–1997), and Henry Thompson (1927–1997). Not only were the diverse constitution of the group and their critical sensitivity considered renegade at the time, but also the objet trouvé, painterly, print and fabric mediums they used were in themselves forms of resistance. Members of the Circle refused to yield to market pressure that, at the time and at the expense of other mediums, favored stone sculpture, which was propagated by local gallery and museum directors.18Lieros and Huggins believed that Frank McEwen, director of the Rhodes National Gallery (today the National Gallery of Zimbabwe), and Tom Blomefield, founder of Tengenenge Art Community, were erroneously promoting stone sculpture as a more authentic and more important art form.

Prior to the formation of the Circle, fate had brought Lieros and British-born Derek Huggins (1940–2021) together at a local police station.19Tinashe Mushakavanhu, “Building an art gallery in the midst of war in Zimbabwe,” University of the Witwatersrand website, July 26, 2021, https://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/opinion/2021/2021-07/building-an-art-gallery-in-the-midst-of-war-in-zimbabwe.html. When Lieros and Huggins met, Huggins was detective inspector 6016 at the police station, and she was sketching facial composites there. In 1975, Huggins resigned from his position in the police force, enabling the couple to open an art space. Gallery Delta was birthed amid armed revolution and thus had a similar ethos to the Circle—to create solidarity among artists and to go against the status quo (see fig. 7). From then on, Lieros and Huggins were artworld conspirators, and Gallery Delta, was the command center from which they instigated change.20From 1972 until 1988, Huggins also directed the National Arts Foundation, which gave both him and the gallery leverage and influence. The gallery’s name stems from the Greek alphabet, and in some ways, is a reference to Lieros’s dual heritage. Huggins and Lieros stated that the gallery was “established in an endeavour to provide a venue for the painters and the graphic, textile, and ceramic artists, and those sculptors who were doing other than “Shona” sculpture.”21Huggins, “I Have a Gallery in Africa,” 9. “Shona sculpture” is a homogenizing term used to describe a modern and contemporary stone sculpture movement in Zimbabwe. This art movement was prominent from the 1960s through to the early 2000s. The whole movement was and still is sometimes erroneously and reductively termed “Shona,” after Zimbabwe’s dominant ethnic group; however, some of the key artists of the movement did not identify as Shona. Frank McEwen, Tom Blomefield, and Roy Guthrie are often given the most credit for making space for Black sculptors to make art at a time when Black sculptors were largely invisible in cultural spaces. Among the artists who were part of the movement, the most notable include Joseph Muli (born in Kenya), Leman Moses (born c. 1921 in Malawi), Henry Munyaradzi (1931–1998), Sylvester Mubayi (born 1942), Colleen Madamombe (born 1964), Bernard Matemera (1946–2002), Agnes Nyanongo (born 1969), and Joram Mariga (1927–2000). But Gallery Delta achieved much more than that. From the outset, it defied definition. Not a commercial gallery, it promoted and developed the careers of several artists. Not a school, it nonetheless attracted students, who sprawled their portfolios across its verandas in search of Lieros’s support—an aspect lacking at both the polytechnics and the workshop schools. Not a concert hall, it hosted intimate gatherings, in which audiences could listen to Afro-jazz tunes and sit through experimental theater productions (see figs. 8–10).

Fig. 7. Gallery Delta, Manica Road, Harare, 1975. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities
Fig. 8. Jazz performance at Gallery Delta, Manica Road, Harare. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities
Fig. 9. Crowd gathered for a performance in the Gallery Delta Amphitheatre on Livingstone Avenue, Harare. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities
Fig. 10. Helen Lieros and Derek Huggins preparing for an exhibition with artist Cosmos Shiridzinomwa (born 1974) and delegates from the Swiss Embassy, Gallery Delta, Livingston Avenue, Harare. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities

Nurturing New Forms of Expression During Health and Economic Crises

Fig. 11. Helen Lieros. Lobola. 1994. Mixed media. 39 3/8 x 31 1/2″ (100 x 80 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities
Fig. 12. Helen Lieros. Bema Door. 1998. Mixed media and marouflage. Each panel: 68 15/16 x 34 5/8″ (175 x 88 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: Luis Basto

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, and in the two decades that followed, Gallery Delta become an important vehicle for propagating a critical art pedagogy. During this era, Lieros continued to make and promote her own work (see figs. 11, 12), however, she also became more determined to create space for young artists of color given the complex history of the country.22Ronald Muchatuta, interview with Tandazani Dhlakama, Cape Town, December 12, 2021. From early on, Lieros was associated with a brazen, no-nonsense, strict manner of teaching. She demanded individuality, depth, and dexterity, and she was known to send unsatisfactory portfolios flying into the air, to castigate the nonperforming, and to banish the lazy until they produced better results. Though this strategy may seem harsh, myriad successful artists are indebted to her today. For the likes of Ronald Muchatuta (born 1983), who engaged with Gallery Delta in the mid-2000s, Lieros offered the “ability to read art and develop visual literacy as a painter.” She was seen as a mother figure within the arts, because “she knew how to nurture individuals individually according to their needs and weaknesses.” Though the eighties and nineties were marked by great sociopolitical and economic transformation, the HIV/AIDS epidemic had a dire effect on the burgeoning art industry. The epidemic stole the lives of many young artists, a number of whom were trained by Lieros—including one of Zimbabwe’s most promising Black painters Luis Meque (1966–1998).23It is important to highlight Meque, because his style influenced a whole generation of artists in Zimbabwe. However, if he had not been mentored by Lieros, his particular style may not have emerged. Meque was a young Mozambican refugee who had failed to advance his studies because of conscription. He deserted the army at age twenty before fleeing to Zimbabwe in 1988, where he settled in Mufakose, a large township in Harare. When Meque met Lieros, he had just been expelled for a misdemeanor from the acclaimed B.A.T. Workshop School run by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. However, Lieros engaged him and pushed him, until a unique artist voice resounded within him. She gave Meque his first group show in the Students’ and Young Artists’ Exhibition of 1989, which was a watershed in his career. Such annual exhibitions at Gallery Delta were meant for scouting new talent. Meque famously said, “I am Black, I think Black, I paint Black,” which was perceived as provocative at a time when art patronage was still dominated by whiteness. In terms of style, he slapped his paint on thick, refused to smooth out his brush marks, outlined his figures in thin, dark hues, foregrounded them with gestural layers of vibrant color, and was extremely frugal with detail. Though he painted quotidian scenes of Black life, Lieros’s insistence that artists show their struggles and find their own voice seeped into his work. His expressionist style is still emulated by local artists today. Arts writer Plot Mhako has reiterated this: “[Meque’s] successful promotion was the catalyst for the beginning of an African contemporary painting movement around Gallery Delta from the late 1980s and which included his contemporaries George Churu [1964–2002] and Richard Witikani [born 1967],” both of whom were also trained by Lieros.24Plot Mhako, “Fare thee well! Helen Lieros a name deeply engraved in Zimbabwe’s creative history,” earGROUND (blog), posted July 14, 2021, https://earground.com/2021/07/14/fare-thee-well-helen-lieros-a-name-deeply-engraved-in-zimbabwes-creative-history/. Meque was regarded as “both a catalyst and cataclysmic.”25Derek Huggins, Meque, exh. cat. (Harare: Gallery Delta, 2017). He died of HIV/AIDS at age thirty-one, just after he painted a series called Journey’s End (1998) and his work was gaining more international prominence.26Derek Huggins, “Notes and writings on the life and death of Luis Meque (1966–1998),” Gallery, no. 17 (September 2008): 3, http://gallerydelta.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/gallerymag17.pdf. Part of Meque’s diptych titled Journey’s End is featured on the cover of this issue. This work was featured on the cover of issue number 17 of The Gallery (see fig. 13).

Fig. 13. Cover of Gallery, no. 17 (September 2008). Luis Meque. Journey’s End (diptych), 1998. Mixed media, 90 9/16 x 73 1/4″ (230 x 186 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: Tom Haartsen

Documenting the Times

In 1994 Gallery Delta launched Gallery, a critical art magazine, because Lieros and Huggins believed that “despite the problems, the fact remains that the arts in Zimbabwe, in Africa, need publications to record, review, criticize, and publicize the activities and work of creative individuals.”27Barbara Murray, “Art notes,” Gallery, no. 5 (September 1994): 2 The magazine highlighted debates around the value of the Thapong, Pachipamwe, and Mbile workshops in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia;28These were short, two-to-three-week-long workshops that brought together a diverse range of artists, enabling them to deliberate and experiment with new ideas, mediums, and methods. it also featured commentary on international events, such as the Johannesburg Biennales; scathing reviews about local programs at the National Gallery and other spaces; impassioned letters from the public as well as important art listings; and features on the practices of acclaimed artists such as Marlene Dumas (born 1953), and the writing of young curators such as Riason Naidoo and Doreen Sibanda.29Ibid. Lieros and Huggins, along with editors Barbara Murray and Murray McCartney, captured the art historical pulse of the time and aimed to share the publication widely. When distributed to local schools, it was accompanied by activity sheets. The publication was discontinued in 2002.30Derek Huggins, “The magazine: A History,” Gallery Delta website, https://gallerydelta.com/magazine/. By looking at the second page of each issue, one can sadly note the gradual decline in sponsorship of the publication. Each year after 1995, there are fewer diplomatic and commercial logos listed. However, the publication set a standard for other local publications, including the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s Artlife and the independently run online magazine Zim Artist, both ofwhich were short-lived.

Art as Part of a Calling

Fig. 14. Interior view of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Maputo, Mozambique, with Derek Huggins looking on. Full back wall, right section: Helen Lieros. The Dormition of the Holy Mother. 1997. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities
Fig. 15. Helen Lieros. Sketch for the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Maputo, Mozambique. Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities

Lieros never stopped working, even in her golden years, when she could barely see.31During the last few years of her life, Lieros suffered from macular degeneration. Though she also produced sculptures, she often said, “Ah, I’m a painter. I mean I’ve always tried other mediums. I’ve loved etching. I’ve worked with relief. I love paper. I’ve been recycling, making paper.”32Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 16. The fact she was a devout Greek Orthodox Christian occasionally manifested thematically in her practice. Because of her faith, she felt a call to duty when she was commissioned to paint murals in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Harare in 1967, and later, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Maputo, Mozambique. She painted the latter in the periods from 1996 to 2002 and 2008 to 2009, and in 2013. She was seventy years old by the time she completed the commission (see figs. 14, 15). During this time, at points of exhaustion, she experienced “severe attacks by strong, demonic forces” but was also “lifted spiritually, and given the strength and courage to continue.”33Derek Huggins, Eleni Lierou/Helen Lieros Mural Paintings: The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel at Maputo, Mozambique, 1996–2002 (Bath: CBC Publishing, 2015), 38. Art historian Tony Monda describes the frescoes, which are almost thirty-three feet across and more than twenty-six feet high, as “prayers in billowing infernal primaries; blues, reds, yellows and secondary ochres.”34Dr. Tony Monda, “The divine calling of a Zim master artist: Part Two . . . Afrocentrism in art,” The Patriot (blog), posted February 28, 2019, https://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/the-divine-calling-of-a-zim-master-artist-part-two-afrocentrism-in-art/.  Just like Lieros’s life, the cathedral in Maputo is a testament to overcoming crisis since it was spared state nationalization.

Fig. 16. Helen Lieros. Untitled (Nike of Samothrace). 2021 Mixed media and collage, 39 3/8 x 35 7/16″ (100 x 90 cm). Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Photo: David Brazier. This was Lieros’s last artwork.

Despite war, grief, and economic decline, Lieros refused to capitulate.35To keep the space open, in 2008, Gallery Delta was turned into a trust and renamed the Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Lieros held benefit exhibitions such as Diary of Identity (2017), which involved putting up for sale five decades’ worth of her own drawings and prints in order to keep the space open. Throughout this period, Lieros continued to train young artists and organize exhibitions.  Through Gallery Delta, she pioneered a school of thought underpinned by the idea of inner struggle and resisted the futility of the market. Mentee Richard Mudariki (born 1985) has described her as “a master teacher, great artist, a great mother in the area of arts because she showed much passion and care and was very much about the artists and their work.”36Richard Mudariki (born 1985), interview with Tandazani Dhlakama, Cape Town, December 12, 2021. Lieros was cautious about how the commercial world could taint artistic practice. Mudariki recalled in late 2021 how fiercely she felt about this: “Whenever she saw that there was influence into your work from somewhere else, she would be . . . very aggressively angry. That is the sort of passion that she had. She would be angry when she thought you had lost your voice and must find it.” Mudariki studied with Lieros for seven years, beginning at the age of fourteen. He continued to connect with Gallery Delta from 1999 until Lieros’s death in 2021. At the same time, she propelled the careers of her peers through repeated solo and group exhibitions at Gallery Delta.37Lieros helped to promote the work of Rashid Jogee (born 1951), Berry Bickle (born 1959), Arthur Azevedo (born 1935), Thakor Patel (born 1932), Stephen Williams (1949–1996), and Henry Thompson, to name a few. Lieros died on July 13, 2021. The last artwork that she made, Untitled (Nike of Samothrace) (2021), was inspired by the ancient winged Greek victory monument (see fig. 16). Like this final work and the sculpture it references, Lieros embodied victory as she overcame countless battles. Her legacy lives on through the numerous artists far and wide whose own practices have been impacted by her tenacity.




  • 1
    Barbara Murray, “Helen Lieros: An Interview with Barbara Murray,” Gallery, no. 4 (June 1995): 17. Lieros taught formally at schools such as Chaplin High School and ILSA Independent College, as well as at rural teacher-training programs. Informally, for nearly four decades, she trained countless young artists on the weekends at Gallery Delta. In post-independent Zimbabwe, Lieros influenced and worked with Misheck Masamvu (born 1980), Simon Back (born 1960), Portia Zvavahera (born 1985), Virginia Chihota (born 1983), James Jali (born 1981), Keston Beaton (born 1963), Duncan Wylie (born 1975), Greg Shaw (born 1972), Lovemore Kambudzi (born 1978), Shepherd Mahufe (born 1967), and Masimba Hwati (born 1982), to name a few. She mentored them at crucial times, giving them space that other institutions were more hesitant to give.
  • 2
    Derek Huggins, “I Have a Gallery in Africa,” Gallery, no. 4 (June 1995): 6. Lieros’s father was named Paul Apostolos Lieros.
  • 3
    Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 15. Located in the center of Zimbabwe, Gweru is a small city that is well-known for its major agrarian activities. Ironically, it is also known as the City of Progress.
  • 4
    Ibid., 13.
  • 5
    Undated Helen Lieros artist statement provided by Gallery Delta during a research visit in December 2021.
  • 6
    Ibid.
  • 7
    Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 16.
  • 8
    Ibid.
  • 9
    Ibid., 14.
  • 10
    At this time, Zimbabwe was formally known as Rhodesia. In 1965, in reaction to the British government’s push to decolonize, the white minority government of Rhodesia, led by Ian Smith, refused to heed, and instead wanted the country’s minority to continue ruling in an apartheid-like manner, independent of Britain. This sparked a civil war, which eventually led to Zimbabwe gaining independence in 1980 and to Black majority rule.
  • 11
    Helen Lieros and Derek Huggins, interview by Tandazani Dhlakama, Harare, 2018. Lieros and Huggins lost several close artist friends in the war. This period was a time of great angst for them.
  • 12
    Artist statement in Diary of Identity, exh. leaflet (Harare: Gallery Delta, 2017).
  • 13
    Gemma Rodrigues, “Traditions of Abstraction: Feeling Our Way Forward,”in Five Bhobh: Painting at the End of an Era, ed. Tandazani Dhlakama and Sven Christian, exh. cat. (Cape Town: Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, 2018), 74. Rodrigues writes that Lieros’s “textured surfaces don’t just evoke specific things—dried earth, long grasses, air, fire, animal feathers—they also draw our attention [to] knowledge derived from ‘feeling the world,’ referring to our capacity to feel both with our senses and with our emotions.”
  • 14
    Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 14. Several distinct painting styles within the local community emerged from this difficult era.
  • 15
    Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 15.
  • 16
    Ibid., 17.
  • 17
    Huggins, “I Have a Gallery in Africa,” 7. Members of the Circle included Arthur Azevedo (1935-2022), Babette Fitzgerald (born 1930), Pauline Battigelli (born c. 1930), Lesley Honeyman (born c. 1940), Ann Lindsell-Stewart (born 1923), Trevor Wood (born 1930), Manan Arnold (born c. 1930), Janine Mackenzie (born c. 1940), Mercia Desmond (born c. 1940), Helen Lieros, Derek Huggins, Joe Muli (1951–1994), Bernard Takawira (1948–1997), and Henry Thompson (1927–1997).
  • 18
    Lieros and Huggins believed that Frank McEwen, director of the Rhodes National Gallery (today the National Gallery of Zimbabwe), and Tom Blomefield, founder of Tengenenge Art Community, were erroneously promoting stone sculpture as a more authentic and more important art form.
  • 19
    Tinashe Mushakavanhu, “Building an art gallery in the midst of war in Zimbabwe,” University of the Witwatersrand website, July 26, 2021, https://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/opinion/2021/2021-07/building-an-art-gallery-in-the-midst-of-war-in-zimbabwe.html. When Lieros and Huggins met, Huggins was detective inspector 6016 at the police station, and she was sketching facial composites there.
  • 20
    From 1972 until 1988, Huggins also directed the National Arts Foundation, which gave both him and the gallery leverage and influence. The gallery’s name stems from the Greek alphabet, and in some ways, is a reference to Lieros’s dual heritage.
  • 21
    Huggins, “I Have a Gallery in Africa,” 9. “Shona sculpture” is a homogenizing term used to describe a modern and contemporary stone sculpture movement in Zimbabwe. This art movement was prominent from the 1960s through to the early 2000s. The whole movement was and still is sometimes erroneously and reductively termed “Shona,” after Zimbabwe’s dominant ethnic group; however, some of the key artists of the movement did not identify as Shona. Frank McEwen, Tom Blomefield, and Roy Guthrie are often given the most credit for making space for Black sculptors to make art at a time when Black sculptors were largely invisible in cultural spaces. Among the artists who were part of the movement, the most notable include Joseph Muli (born in Kenya), Leman Moses (born c. 1921 in Malawi), Henry Munyaradzi (1931–1998), Sylvester Mubayi (born 1942), Colleen Madamombe (born 1964), Bernard Matemera (1946–2002), Agnes Nyanongo (born 1969), and Joram Mariga (1927–2000).
  • 22
    Ronald Muchatuta, interview with Tandazani Dhlakama, Cape Town, December 12, 2021. From early on, Lieros was associated with a brazen, no-nonsense, strict manner of teaching. She demanded individuality, depth, and dexterity, and she was known to send unsatisfactory portfolios flying into the air, to castigate the nonperforming, and to banish the lazy until they produced better results. Though this strategy may seem harsh, myriad successful artists are indebted to her today. For the likes of Ronald Muchatuta (born 1983), who engaged with Gallery Delta in the mid-2000s, Lieros offered the “ability to read art and develop visual literacy as a painter.” She was seen as a mother figure within the arts, because “she knew how to nurture individuals individually according to their needs and weaknesses.”
  • 23
    It is important to highlight Meque, because his style influenced a whole generation of artists in Zimbabwe. However, if he had not been mentored by Lieros, his particular style may not have emerged. Meque was a young Mozambican refugee who had failed to advance his studies because of conscription. He deserted the army at age twenty before fleeing to Zimbabwe in 1988, where he settled in Mufakose, a large township in Harare. When Meque met Lieros, he had just been expelled for a misdemeanor from the acclaimed B.A.T. Workshop School run by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. However, Lieros engaged him and pushed him, until a unique artist voice resounded within him. She gave Meque his first group show in the Students’ and Young Artists’ Exhibition of 1989, which was a watershed in his career. Such annual exhibitions at Gallery Delta were meant for scouting new talent. Meque famously said, “I am Black, I think Black, I paint Black,” which was perceived as provocative at a time when art patronage was still dominated by whiteness. In terms of style, he slapped his paint on thick, refused to smooth out his brush marks, outlined his figures in thin, dark hues, foregrounded them with gestural layers of vibrant color, and was extremely frugal with detail. Though he painted quotidian scenes of Black life, Lieros’s insistence that artists show their struggles and find their own voice seeped into his work. His expressionist style is still emulated by local artists today.
  • 24
    Plot Mhako, “Fare thee well! Helen Lieros a name deeply engraved in Zimbabwe’s creative history,” earGROUND (blog), posted July 14, 2021, https://earground.com/2021/07/14/fare-thee-well-helen-lieros-a-name-deeply-engraved-in-zimbabwes-creative-history/.
  • 25
    Derek Huggins, Meque, exh. cat. (Harare: Gallery Delta, 2017).
  • 26
    Derek Huggins, “Notes and writings on the life and death of Luis Meque (1966–1998),” Gallery, no. 17 (September 2008): 3, http://gallerydelta.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/gallerymag17.pdf. Part of Meque’s diptych titled Journey’s End is featured on the cover of this issue.
  • 27
    Barbara Murray, “Art notes,” Gallery, no. 5 (September 1994): 2
  • 28
    These were short, two-to-three-week-long workshops that brought together a diverse range of artists, enabling them to deliberate and experiment with new ideas, mediums, and methods.
  • 29
    Ibid.
  • 30
    Derek Huggins, “The magazine: A History,” Gallery Delta website, https://gallerydelta.com/magazine/. By looking at the second page of each issue, one can sadly note the gradual decline in sponsorship of the publication. Each year after 1995, there are fewer diplomatic and commercial logos listed. However, the publication set a standard for other local publications, including the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s Artlife and the independently run online magazine Zim Artist, both ofwhich were short-lived.
  • 31
    During the last few years of her life, Lieros suffered from macular degeneration.
  • 32
    Murray, “Helen Lieros,” 16.
  • 33
    Derek Huggins, Eleni Lierou/Helen Lieros Mural Paintings: The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel at Maputo, Mozambique, 1996–2002 (Bath: CBC Publishing, 2015), 38.
  • 34
    Dr. Tony Monda, “The divine calling of a Zim master artist: Part Two . . . Afrocentrism in art,” The Patriot (blog), posted February 28, 2019, https://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/the-divine-calling-of-a-zim-master-artist-part-two-afrocentrism-in-art/.  
  • 35
    To keep the space open, in 2008, Gallery Delta was turned into a trust and renamed the Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. Lieros held benefit exhibitions such as Diary of Identity (2017), which involved putting up for sale five decades’ worth of her own drawings and prints in order to keep the space open. Throughout this period, Lieros continued to train young artists and organize exhibitions. 
  • 36
    Richard Mudariki (born 1985), interview with Tandazani Dhlakama, Cape Town, December 12, 2021. Lieros was cautious about how the commercial world could taint artistic practice. Mudariki recalled in late 2021 how fiercely she felt about this: “Whenever she saw that there was influence into your work from somewhere else, she would be . . . very aggressively angry. That is the sort of passion that she had. She would be angry when she thought you had lost your voice and must find it.” Mudariki studied with Lieros for seven years, beginning at the age of fourteen. He continued to connect with Gallery Delta from 1999 until Lieros’s death in 2021.
  • 37
    Lieros helped to promote the work of Rashid Jogee (born 1951), Berry Bickle (born 1959), Arthur Azevedo (born 1935), Thakor Patel (born 1932), Stephen Williams (1949–1996), and Henry Thompson, to name a few.

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