Step inside Cal Ganda’s University City art gallery and you enter into a colorful world of African culture and heritage.
Bright oranges, yellows, and reds pop from paintings lining the walls—elephants and zebras, leopards and lions. Smooth stone sculptures depicting women, children, and families fill the shelves.
More than just art, though, for Ganda, the gallery is personal. He opened Real African Art on East McCullough Drive as a way to provide opportunities, exposure, and financial stability to artists from his hometown in Zimbabwe, a south African country of roughly 15 million.
“I know every single artist who has made every single piece in the gallery,” Ganda said. “The majority of the pieces are coming from five miles from where I was born and raised. Knowing that I am giving my own people a chance to take care of their families is fulfilling.”
Ganda, now 45, was born in Harare and moved to the small town of Chitungwiza, about 20 miles south of Zimbabwe’s capital, when he was 12.
“Upon graduating from high school, I went into an apprenticeship to be a mechanic,” he said. That never panned out. In 1998, his aunt and uncle helped him find an opportunity to study at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. While at Pembroke, he played soccer and majored in business with a concentration in management and marketing.
The lure of the big city brought Ganda to Charlotte, where he eventually landed in University City. “I love the area and have seen it grow,” he said. “The fusion of academia and the growing businesses and now linkable with the light rail—it’s one of the best areas in the city.”
By day, Ganda heads up the Americas automotive aftermarket division for ContiTech Power Transmission Group, a subsidiary of Continental Tire, a job that has afforded him the financial ability to support his dream of opening the gallery.
Real African Art opened its doors on February 1, 2021, in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was a faith-based move,” Ganda said. “Here people are, struggling, and I’m considering selling art—a true luxury. But giving these people that otherwise would not have had the opportunity, a chance to use their hands, to take their hard work and be able to feed their families–that was convincing enough.”
Today he estimates that he’s sent “tens of thousands of dollars” back home to Africa.
Ganda still travels to Africa once or twice a year, most recently visiting in May 2022. “Life is tough, and most people survive on informal employment,” he said. “Not many people are going to work for a factory or company. Most are self employed in arts and crafts, or they sell tomatoes or firewood or repair furniture.”
Here’s how it works: the artists create their work, and Ganda’s colleagues crate the pieces and ship them to the U.S.
Most of the sculptures in the gallery are Shona, the majority tribe in Zimbabwe. “Some people may not know that Zimbabwe, the name of the country, actually means ‘house of stone,’” he said.
One of his core artists is Taurai Mutigwa, a Nyanga-born artist known known for his family-focused sculpture, which he carves from opal, fruit serpentine, springstone and many others.
“It is not only about selling the art,” he said. “I have a very high desire to share my culture, share my heritage, through art, and to introduce people to African art, and be able to educate them about Zimbabwe and its people.”
To learn more about the gallery and Ganda, visit the gallery, which is open daily, or go to realafricanart.com. Stop by Friday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. for the weekly Sip & See event. The $10 admission fee includes two glasses of wine.