Rocks and Flowers by William Nyatti, 1945. Photograph: Debbie Sears

Rare early paintings by Zimbabwean artists, lost for 70 years in the basement of a Shoreditch church, are on display in a new exhibition just a few minutes’ walk from where they were found.

The collection was discovered last year in the bowels of St Michael & All Angels’ church, having not been seen in public since it was stored there in 1949.

Now the artworks are on display to the public in a free exhibition, The Stars are Bright: Zimbabwe through the eyes of its young painters from Cyrene (1940-1947), at the Theatre Courtyard Green Rooms on Bateman’s Row.

The show, which runs until 30 September and requires visitors to book in advance, features paintings and drawings created by more than 40 young artists, including Samuel Songo, Kingsley Sambo, Timothy Dhlodhlo and others who went on to become the precursors to Zimbabwean Modern Art.

Untitled artwork by Moses Johuma, date unknown. Photograph: Debbie Sears

Co-curators Georgia Ward, Chiedza Mhondoro and Jessica Ihejatoh, said: “When we began organising The Stars are Bright, which takes its title from a work in the exhibition by Musa Nyahwa dated 1945, we could never have imagined just how much the world would change around us.

“It is a critical time to share the work of Black artists past and present. We encourage viewers to let their imagination take inspiration from the environment in which the artworks were made.”

The 25 large paintings and more than 50 smaller works on show, selected from a substantial collection, were created while the artists were students aged between 10 and 20 at Cyrene, a boys’ mission school founded in 1940 near Bulawayo in colonial Zimbabwe – then known as Southern Rhodesia – by Edward “Ned” Paterson, a Scottish clergyman.

Paterson, passionate about the visual arts, had the pupils take part in weekly classes, making it one of the first African schools to incorporate art into the curriculum.

Tree Flowers by Barnabus Chiponza, 1945. Photograph: Debbie Sears

The co-curators added: “The Cyrene paintings remind us that there is no single story of African Art. This exhibition is an exploration of life, the natural world, spirituality and change, all guided by Zimbabwe’s bright young stars.”

The organisers believe these works offer an insight, through the eyes of the young artists, into Zimbabwe’s life and culture under colonial rule.

When the exhibition ends, the collection will tour Zimbabwe to be shown there for the first time since the 1940s.

Organisers have put in place a one-way system and social distancing reminders.
Photograph: courtesy Theatre Courtyard

The Theatre Courtyard and exhibition organisers have put in place various measures to safeguard visitors, including a requirement to pre-book a slot, a one-way viewing system and social distancing reminders.

Children are welcome and will find activities throughout the exhibition.

The Stars are Bright: Zimbabwe through the eyes of its young painters from Cyrene (1940-1947) runs until 30 September at the Theatre Courtyard Green Rooms, Bateman’s Row, EC2A 3HH.

For more information, including how to book a visit, head to thestarsarebright.com

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