|COURTESY OF CAL GANDA|
|Cal Ganda, originally from Zimbabwe, is the founder of the Real African Art Gallery.|
As a man whose life is split between two cultures, Cal Ganda is determined to bridge the gap and remind people how big the world is.
At the height of the pandemic, Ganda founded the Real African Art Gallery in Charlotte with the aim of supporting and showcasing Zimbabwean artists, as well as educating people about the culture and heritage that art represents.
Ganda, who was born in Zimbabwe, ventured to the United States in 1998 to attend college at UNC Pembroke. He decided to stay after graduation and make the transition between continents permanent. After a career at Continental, a global automotive manufacturing company, Ganda realized he couldn’t see his old and new home as separate entities. He would eventually begin to connect the two through something that people around the world could appreciate: art.
In 2016, Ganda began returning home more regularly when his mother fell ill. The constant travels brought him closer to his birthplace and the deep culture to which he was linked.
“But when I started doing it, I saw how difficult things were at home,” Ganda said. “I always use my own mother as a conduit to support my community. The house I was born in and grew up in never carried me and my siblings. My mother would raise so many more children as part of our family. She had a very big heart and as I started to come home more often, I started to be more and more in tune with the situation on the ground.” Unfortunately, my mother passed away in February 2017 and the level of support she gave to the community was made clear to me. I wanted to start trying 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. While at home with her, he became more aware of the economic struggles in Zimbabwe. As he pondered ways to challenge these difficulties, he was inspired by stone carvings native to the country.
Zimbabwe, which means “house of stone”, takes its name from the ancient Shona tribe, which for centuries has had a long tradition of stone-working craftsmanship. Masonry was generally for building or decoration and was never particularly known outside the region.
Ganda knew people from his community in Zimbabwe who worked in the stone industry but were also struggling.
“I started thinking about ways to support them here and there,” he said. “I was buying stuff, bringing it to the States, and on the weekends doing little online exhibits. But when it really got bad was when the pandemic hit, because most of these guys were selling to tourists. Very few people were visiting, so it really exposed the challenges for my people.
Ganda donated money where he could, but it wasn’t going to be enough. He knew he would have to take an even bigger leap if he wanted to help his community, so he decided to round up local sculptors and fill an entire container with art bound for the United States.
“It might not have made much sense to open a place 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 linger, but those are the essentials that got 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 United States. He wanted to show the people of Charlotte where he came from and connect them with his community.
He opened the Real African Art Gallery to showcase African artists in his second home. He also began to organize exhibitions on weekends and contacted companies to ask if he could display works of art in their offices.
Carrier Enterprises will display artwork in its cafeteria for employees to learn about African culture. He has also donated artwork to organizations raising funds for charity, as well as schools and universities.
Wherever Ganda can find to present the artists, he seizes the opportunity. He desperately wants artists to be heard and seen.
The main mission for the Real African Art Gallery: to connect. Ganda is proud to have been able to accomplish these connections in a unique way. If you enter the gallery, the art is always sold with a gold plate indicating the title of the art, the name of the artist and its origin.
The idea is that the buyer is not just buying art, but part of the community from which the artists come. If the customer agrees with this, he will also take a photo with the artwork and send it to the artist, so he has a chance to connect with the buyer.
“You can divide 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 present Zimbabwe and the rest of African art. Since then, we have expanded and can 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 didn’t even know existed.
“We are going to incorporate masks from Ghana, wooden pieces from Nigeria, so now we can venture to get African art from other parts of the world,” he said. “For me, it is a source of pride to be able to share my heritage from an African perspective while supporting my people.”