Charlotte Art Gallery Owner Showcases African Culture And His Mission To Improve The Lives Of His Fellow People

Calstain Ganda’s journey to open the Real African Art gallery began with the untimely death of his mother in his home country of Zimbabwe in Africa.

Her mother, Chido Theodora, was known to take care of others in their hometown of Chitungwiza. Ganda, who came to the United States in the ’90s to study at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, regularly sent her mother money that she hardly used to splurge. So when she passed away in February 2017 from cervical cancer, Ganda really felt what her loss meant to the community.

“His passing really exposed the shortcomings,” he said. “Initially, I sent resources through the church and my brothers and sisters to try to continue serving the community as I knew it was. But it became very clear that it didn’t work that way.

When he thought of other ways to contribute to the people of Chitungwiza, he concluded that there was no easier way than to put people to work. He would set up a business to pay Zimbabwean artists for their work to support their families.

Behind the meaning

Although the direct translation varies, Ganda says that “Zimbabwe” is a Shona name which means “stone houses”. He wanted to share the rich Zimbabwean culture with the world.

Stone carvings with intricate detail and vividly colored paintings are wall to wall inside the True African Art gallery in University City, which opened on February 1.

Ganda, 43, tells me that he personally knows the majority of the 72 artists featured in the gallery representing Zimbabwe and other African countries.

“We know their families, we know their children, we know their situations,” he explained.

The gallery’s central mission is to improve the lives of the artists represented, he added.

One of Ganda’s favorite pieces is artist Morgan Chijumani’s stone sculpture “Under the Angelic Wings”, which depicts a mother and her child. Photo: QCity metro

His appreciation of art comes from seeing craftsmen in his childhood. He knew their level of artistry and also the uniqueness of Zimbabwean stones.

“Stone sculptures, we grew up with that,” he said. “You walk down the street, the guys sell it. On another street, the guys are getting by.

He described Chitungwiza – a town about 20 miles southeast of the capital, Harare – as a high density area with “houses on top of each other in the poor to middle part of Africa”.

In “Chi Town,” as it’s called, Ganda says most people are self-employed, earning about the US equivalent of $ 200 a month. He says it is sufficient for accommodation and food.

Launch of the gallery

He registered Real African Art LLC in late 2018 and had the first shipment of art arrive in mid-2019. Most of the artwork is themed around family and nature.

“Nature is important for our survival and for Africans family is everything,” Ganda said.

Before entering the gallery space, he attended exhibitions and organized small events to showcase artists’ works. Simultaneously, he’s created an online marketplace to sell smaller coins – he says he maintains a small presence on Etsy.

“But I also knew that for larger parts, with the logistics and the fragility of these parts, I needed a better avenue to go to the market. It really pushed us into the gallery, ”he explained.

One of her younger brothers in Zimbabwe – the eldest of five siblings from Ganda – handles negotiations with the artists. There is a core of around 35 artists that they have partnered with to purchase a number of items.

Ganda and her brother are using informal focus groups to gauge what American consumers will like. But sometimes he says that the selections are based on his “instinct”.

About 50% of the pieces presented are selected based on artist comments and knowledge of consumer tastes. Ganda’s preferences represent around 25%. The remaining 25% are experiments where the team says, “We don’t know how this will work, but let’s try. “

For now, Ganda divides his time between the position of curator of the gallery and his daily work at Continental, a global supplier of auto parts where he leads several teams in the aftermarket division.

Prices for gallery art start around $ 20 with larger pieces going up to $ 5,000. Ganda says the average price is $ 100 to $ 125.

Paintings and stone sculptures created by more than 70 African artists are displayed in the Real African Art Gallery in University City. Photo: QCity metro

Economic impact in his homeland

The artists shared with Ganda the impact the sales had on their livelihoods – which mainly depend on tourism – a major aid during the pandemic when international travel was hit hard.

He witnessed the toll of the pandemic on his compatriots during a visit last August.

“I knew things were bad, but I didn’t know things would be as bad as I had seen them,” he recalls. “I have seen people who, in the past, were doing well, suddenly had no food to eat or water to drink. “

During her one-month stay, Ganda said they didn’t have running water in their homes, which meant they had to fetch water with buckets every morning. Zimbabwe is also experiencing blackouts or progressive power cuts, which last 18 hours a day.

“If you get a full seven days without ‘load shedding,’ that’s a blessing. Simply receiving your basic equipment, running water and electricity, is not a given, ”he said.

Additionally, he reflected on opening the gallery during the pandemic. Ganda says he understands his company, founded to provide better lives for workers on another continent, also sells luxury goods while countless people in the United States are struggling as well.

He turns to his faith to make sense of it.

“I have no desire to make a fortune in this place,” he said. “If this place works well enough to support these artists, feed their families, put food on their tables, bring their children to school, clothes on their backs, I will have won.

Ganda plans to expand the brand to other major cities. He then ogles the Atlanta market.

When he sits in moments of silence during his daily prayers, he asks God to lead his way on this path. He also thinks of his late mother. She was his biggest inspiration for the company. And all he can say is, “Mom, are you happy?”

The Real African Art Gallery is located at 440 E. McCullough Dr., Suite A-111.

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