The Minister of Education



The Minister of Education

by Kudzanai Chiurai

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The Minister of Education is a disconcerting collage of mixed messages; it uses iconography gleaned from advertising to play with our assumptions. Who is this man, and what is he teaching? Striking an optimistic, straight-backed, eyes-to-the-horizon pose, he cuts an aspirational figure. The photograph could almost be drawn from a publicity campaign for a business school, but everything is too bright, too neat. The whole setup is disturbingly robotic, manipulated, fake. This ideal citizen appears to us as an unthinking automaton, pursuing the twin goals of wealth and knowledge without question.

As pristine and spotless as anything else represented here, a pistol juts out of his belt accusingly, urging us to be suspicious of this surfeit of perfection. He is not to be trusted; we do not know how his status was attained. The image reminds us that all education is ideologically driven towards certain, biased goals, chosen by those who hold power. Is pushing these aspirations upon the impressionable and the young a form of violence in itself? The metallic shine of the gun, like the neat appearance of its owner, distracts from the sense of authority it seeks to project.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

A smart, bespectacled man stands tall before us, looking assertively into the distance. He does not seem to be a model, but his presentation is so crisp and elegant – red bow tie, briefcase in hand – that he could well be part of a fashion shoot. Behind him, boldly patterned wallpaper adds to the chic composition. The figure is crowned by the golden glow of his backdrop; it is clear that he was made for the spotlight. He owns the camera so effortlessly that, at first, we may not notice the gun tucked into his waistband.

This shiny accessory is inserted as casually as the books held under the arm, adding an unexpected aggression. Its presence is ripe with political connotations, but the exact message is ambiguous. This may be a minister of our time, in an era when weapons are commonplace and glorified. Or perhaps he embodies a sense of unease, fear of conflict in the classroom. There is a strong sense of parody or mockery, but the butt of the joke is unknown. The viewer is thrown off, attracted to the glossy, magazine-cover portrait, but aware that it hides more than it lets on.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

More to discover

View images of all artworks in Kudzanai Chiurai's 'Dying to be men' series on the Goodman Gallery website. Laura Barnett has interviewed the artist for The Guardian, as has Andrew Harding for the BBC.

Question of the day

Are educational curricula a form of violence? Share your thoughts on FacebookPatreon, or Twitter.

Anything that imposes is a form of violence: giving birth to someone can be as violent as murdering them. Why singling out education then?

– Yiyun Li, author (The Vagrants, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers) (via The Brief →)

If they exclude, silence, or ignore certain histories, people, or cultural products then they certainly can be. Down with canons!

– Emma McKinlay, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)

Read more: Photography