US: A celebration of Africa with art, culture – Zimbabwean showcases homeland in Charlotte

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NORTH Carolina: As a man whose life is split between two cultures, Cal Ganda is determined to bridge the divide and remind people just how vast the world is.

During the height of the pandemic, Ganda founded Real African Art Gallery in Charlotte with the intent to support and showcase Zimbabwean artists, as well as educate people on the culture and heritage the art represents.

Ganda, who was born in Zimbabwe, ventured to the U.S. in 1998 to attend college at UNC Pembroke. He decided to stay after graduation and make the transition across continents permanent. After establishing a career at Continental, a global automotive manufacturing company, Ganda realized he could not see his old and new home as separate entities. He would eventually begin to connect the two through something people all over the world could appreciate: art.

In 2016, Ganda began traveling home on a more regular basis when his mother fell ill. The constant travel brought him closer to his birthplace and the deep culture he was tied to.

“But as I began to do this, I saw how challenging things back home were,” Ganda said.

“I always use my own mother as the conduit to support my community. The house that I was born and raised in never at any point in time just carried me and my siblings. My mother would raise so many other kids as part of our family.

“She had a very big heart and as I began to go home on a more frequent basis, I began to get more and more in tune with the situation on the ground.

“Unfortunately, my mom passed away in February 2017 and it was made clear to me the level of support she gave to the community. I wanted to begin to try to do a few things to make up for what she did.”

Ganda’s mother inspired him to give back to his community and reestablish his roots. During his time at home with her, he grew more aware of economic struggles in Zimbabwe. As he thought about ways to challenge those hardships, he was inspired by stone sculptures that are native to the country.

Zimbabwe, which means “house of stone,” got its name from the ancient Shona tribe, who for centuries carried out a long artisanal tradition of stone working. The stonework was typically done for construction or decoration and was never particularly well known outside the area.

Ganda knew people from his community in Zimbabwe who were in the stone-working business but also struggling.

“I began to think of ways to support them here and there,” he said. “I’d buy some stuff, bring it over to the U.S. and on the weekends, I’d do little expos online. But when it really went downhill is when the pandemic hit, because most of these guys were selling to tourists. Very few people, were visiting, so this really exposed the challenges of my people.”

Ganda gave money where he could, but it wasn’t going to be enough. He knew he would have to make an even bigger leap if he was going to help his community, so he decided to gather local sculptors together and fill an entire container with art bound for the U.S.

“It may not have made a lot of sense to open up a location with luxury goods, like a gallery, in the middle of a pandemic,” Ganda said. “It was and is a faith-based initiative, because here we are still discussing the pandemic and its effects are still lingering, but those are the core things that drove us to where we are today.”

Not only did Ganda want to support his home, he also wanted to bring aspects of Zimbabwe’s culture back to the U.S. He wanted to show Charlotte residents where he came from and connect them with his community.

He opened Real African Art Gallery to showcase African artists in his second home. He also started hosting expos on the weekends and reached out to companies to ask if he could display art in their office space.

Carrier Enterprises will display art in its cafeteria for employees to learn more about African culture. He has also donated pieces of art to organizations raising money for charity, as well as to schools and universities.

Anywhere Ganda can find to showcase the artists, he embraces the opportunity. He is desperate for the artists to be heard and seen.

The main mission for the Real African Art Gallery: to connect. Ganda is proud that he has been able to accomplish these connections in unique ways. If you go into the gallery, the art is always sold with a gold plaque that denotes the title of the art, the artists name, and where they are from.

The idea is that the buyer is not just purchasing art, but a part of the community the artists is from. If the customer is OK with it, they will also take a picture with the artwork and send it over to the artist, so they have a chance to connect with the buyer.

“You can split my mission into two parts,” he said. “The first part of course was the ability to support my people. But the second is that it also allows me to proudly showcase Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa’s art. We’ve since expanded and may receive paintings from Tanzania and Malawi.”

Ganda has worked hard to make the gallery top notch because he wants people to be wowed when they first walk through the doors. He doesn’t shy away from the challenge of connecting customers to a world they did not even know existed, so the gallery has a more intimate feel, with opportunities to build relationships that go beyond art on the wall.

“We will be integrating masks from Ghana, wooden pieces from Nigeria, so now we are able to venture into getting African art from other parts of the world,” he said. “For me, it’s a source of pride to be able to share my heritage from the African perspective while also supporting my people.”