Grace Chaka is a Zimbabwean HIV-positive mother-of-six whose husband refused to use birth control. She left him, and restarted her family’s old homestead (her parents died when she was in the 10th grade), where she grows her own food, treats her disease with retrovirals, and started an HIV support group. All of this is possible because of her art, embroidery and applique, which she sells to a tiny NPO in Portland: the Zimbabwe Artists Project. This two-person organization financially sustains and provides health care for 98 Zimbabweans, in a country that is such an inflationary disaster that if you purchase more than $100.00 worth of art from ZAP, they’ll send you an actual trillion dollar Zimbabwean note (which is no longer worth anything, they stopped using their own currency).
Women have always been ZAP’s focus. International organizations (especially microloan banks) have found again and again that women are more responsible with money than men, who, as it’s been put: ‘spend it on beer instead of school fees’. In fact, ZAP stopped taking on new male artists in 2005. It’s apparent from looking through their library that men generally produce better work, but this is attributed to the fact that, in Zimbabwe, women are responsible for the vast bulk of domestic work, so men have more free time to hone their craft. This decision may hurt ZAP’s bottom line, but their first priority is always philanthropy.
Their two-person, two-year old office, sitting in the industrial district, (107 SE Washington St. Suite 162, a very nice office building in the middle of an area that *actually* contains a few things-of-interest beside Montage) doubles as an archive of hundreds of pieces of colorful art, with a gallery that spills out into the lobby. They were founded by Executive Director Dick Adams, a calm, but enthusiastic, retired Lewis & Clark professor, who travels frequently to Zimbabwe to connect with his artists. Heather Mackenzie (Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator), a trained fiber artist, just finished a trip there, teaching basic artistic techniques to women who only possess raw talents cultivated from family tradition. Their pieces aren’t always polished enough to sell to a picky American audience.
They are helped by John Vekris, a Greek emigrant (with a white South African mother) who acts as ZAP’s point man with the artists: bringing them art supplies, shipping the pieces back to the states, etc.
They are also frequently assisted by volunteers, whose labor is needed to display the pieces. Though the pieces are all hand-made in Zimbabwe, the shipping process can be rough. New hands are needed to iron out wrinkles, insert dowels for hanging, assemble artist cards, etc. Hands on Portland helps to organize these events (Sigrid Boyer, also an artist, is one of their volunteer leaders). There are two more events at the office this month … and both are full.
Here is a comprehensive list of their upcoming shows. Elsewhere on the web site you can find more info on Dick and Heather, the artists, volunteer info, and even a documentary.