NATIONAL Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) deputy director and chief curator, Raphael Chikukwa has hailed the support extended to the gallery by Italy through their Embassy in Harare towards the preservation of heritage and culture in Zimbabwe.

Italy, considered one of the world’s cultural heritage centres, has a long-running relationship with Zimbabwe. The restoration programme conducted by Italian restorers Benedetta Proto and Emiliano Antonelli is the latest project meant to restore some distorted artefacts at the gallery.

Some of the restored crafts were presented to the gallery in Harare last week at a ceremony attended by NGZ Conservation and Collections manager Lilian Chaonwa, NGZ executive director Doreen Sibanda, Chikukwa, artistes and Italian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Carlo Perrotta, among others.

“Getting knowledge from one of the greatest countries in the world which is known for its art, which is known for restoration and which is home of the greatest biennale in the world, is a great honour not only to the gallery, but to the nation at large,” Chikukwa said.

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“Getting those experts to come to the National Gallery of Zimbabwe to impart their knowledge to our team, I call it a free university in the sense that what they taught our team, our institutions of higher learning in this country cannot even give this kind of expertise which is powerful.”

Chikukwa said the restorers came to teach Zimbabweans how to catch a fish on how to maintain and converse the permanent collections at the gallery.

“Through the collaboration that has been existing for so many years, the Italian Embassy have continued to play their role from 2011 to present. Our first visibility was at the Venice Biennale and it was also the Italian Embassy that played the role,” he said.

“The restoration initiative that was mainly for the gallery staff members was necessary for them to get such expertise since the gallery is home to the permanent collection, so it is the staff members who understand much of the collection as they are the ones who looks after them.”

Chikukwa said the restorations to be done at the Italian Church in Masvingo and Italian church in Domboshava were something important in terms of shared history.

NGZ Conservation and Collections manager Chaonwa told NewsDay Life &Style on the sidelines of the event, that the restoration of the artefacts helps in restoring the value of the crafts.

“In Africa we do not have professionals in these fields of art restoration, so for us it’s really a very big advantage, because we relay mostly on European professional restorers. Even in our case, before we had restorers from Norway through the Norwegian Embassy and now we are having the Italian experts. We have also had restorers from England,” she said.

“This is a very expensive exercise, so we really feel privileged and we see ourselves maybe moving on and also giving a new face lift to our collections. This opportunity has really equipped the national gallery with extra training in professionalism which we have always craved to have, but because of the training opportunities and funding we could not have it. We would appreciate more collaborations of this nature.”

Chaonwa said the restoration exercise involved a lot of processes that included the general cleaning of the paintings.

Among the artworks which were restored were River Scene Moon Light by French impressionist Stanisilas Victor Edouard Lepine that was acquired by NGZ in 1965, David with Head of Goliath, a 17th century carved leaf frame by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Caracciolo and was acquired by NGZ in 1958 and the Flowers in a Vase by French painter Jacques Emile Blanche that was acquired by the NGZ in 1964.