Sculpture in Zimbabwe

Many of Zimbabwe 's sculptors rank among the most acclaimed in the world. Stone sculpture in Zimbabwe has risen to fame in a fairly short period of existence. One of the recent writers on stone sculpture in Zimbabwe, Oliver Sultan, talks of two distinct periods, “the Shona spiritual period” 1956-1973, and the “contemporary period” from the time of independence, with the war period being too difficult to make art in. He points out the paradox that, while the early sculptors with Frank McEwen's initiative and encouragement were looking for Shona mythology for inspiration, they were always sculpting for people outside Zimbabwe , where the buyers were.*

There is ongoing debate on the identity of sculpture art and artists in Zimbabwe . While some say, like Dominic Benhura, that they are certainly not making Shona art, others maintain that the concept “Shona sculpture” is a generic term for all stone sculpture in Zimbabwe, as maintained by Regis Ziteya here. Others, like Celia Winter Irving, see a movement from rural to urban, with less accent on spirituality. She also points out that the Tengenenge sculpture village, which has been a home for a great number of scuptors, was mainly recruited from refugees from Mozambique, Angola, and Zambia, and thus did not relate to Shona mythology. Still others, like Tapfuma Gutsa, one of Zimbabwe's most original sculptors, reject the ethnicity-based indentity discussion and bluntly declare that “My art is not African” (in a conversation in Bulawayo 21.11.2002).

The sculpture movement was facilitated by the availability in the vicinity of Harare of suitable stone, such as opal stone and springstone. So fast did the reputation of Zimbabwe stone sculpture grow that we can find in Harare and surrounding areas there are hundreds or thousands of sculptors working with stone.

There are also in Zimbabwe renowned sculptors working in multimedia, for example with stone, textile and wood, such as Tapfuma Gutsa and Richard Jack. And Bulawayo, far from the stone mines, has its own breed of metal sculptors, such as Adam Madebe and Danisile Ncube, who got their formal training in the Mzilikazi Crafts and Arts Centre. It is one of the sad consequences of Zimbabwe's crisis that the educational and training institutions, such as this, are finding themselves drained of resources, as Dominic Mkosi, principal of the centre tells us.

Interviews with:

Winter Irving, Celia

Ziteya, Regis

Benhura, Dominic

Madebe, Adam

Jack, Richard

*Oliver Sultan, Life in Stone, Zimbabwean sculpture. Birth of a contemporary form. Baobab Books, Harare 1992. McEwen had arrived in Rhodesia in 1952, as an art curator and educator from Europe with good connections with contemporary artists, and was looking for “primary forms” in Africa. He later became the director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Salisbury (Harare).