Review of Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture: A Retrospective - Laura Chiweshe

Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture: A Retrospective
1957–2004
compiled by Doreen Sibanda
2005: (pp: 148) 230 x 210 mm
ISBN: 1779220308


Sunday Mirror
25 September 2005
Reviewer: Laura Chiweshe Celebrating Zim culture in stone


Sculpture is probably the most befitting art that celebrates a true Zimbabwean culture. The name Zimbabwe itself is a celebration of stone buildings and sculpture that the earliest inhabitants of this country are believed to have been experts in. Dzimba dzemabwe 'houses of stone' is a celebration of the artistic urge that drew the forebears of this country to the call of stone and gives meaning and significance to this ancient country's rich history in stonework.

Today, approved Zimbabwe's stone sculpture has become renowned worldwide for its rare originality and unique artistic touches. Zimbabwean sculpture has produced internationally celebrated artists, such the late Joram Mariga, the late Nicholas Mukomberanwa and Dominic Benhura, whose impact on the global arts scene remains unmatched.

The growth of the sculpture industry in the country needs proper documentation to ensure that this rich history is not lost to future generations. As such, Doreen Sibanda, the Executive Director of the National Arts Gallery has aptly compiled a book on the growth and development of sculpture in Zimbabwe. The book, Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture: A Retrospective 1957–2004 is a distinctive book that traces the history of the fine art form in the country in the last 50 years. The book brings together all the elements that influenced the birth, development and flourishing of the art.

'In this book, we have attempted to outline the history and importance of sculpture in the past five years. It's not a story of individual sculptors but a story of Zimbabwe', said Sibanda.

Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture recognises the importance of Shona spirituality that is at the centre of stonework among the Shona people. The Great Zimbabwe bird, one of the early stone carvings by the Shona people which has been incorporated into the country's flag represents a profound and deeply rooted spiritual meaning of the people we have to know as 'Shona people' today.

Sculpture in Zimbabwe had remained relatively uncommercialised until the 1950s when the first Director of the National Gallery, Frank McEwen, took it upon himself to develop and blend local creativity in the arts with modern advancements. Hence, a commercially viable sculpture industry in the then Federation of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland was as a result of a historic cross cultural union between European interests in Africa and the discovery of individual creativity in the indigenous people.

Realising that he could earn a living from carving stones, the Zimbabwean sculptor braced himself for the challenges that face every commercial business. The exuberance of the work, the vast varieties of stone, and the great skill and imagination of the sculptors has led to many years of major exhibitions worldwide; which have been greeted by extraordinary critical acclaim.

However, it has not been an easy road for the sculptor who finds himself ripped off by unscrupulous people who buy his works for a meager price only to multiply it a thousand fold when selling the sculptures overseas. This has led sculptors to engage in a unity of purpose and set up websites to exhibit their works.

'As the world becomes more and more technologically advanced, sculptors and artistes alike have to be abreast with these advancements if they are to survive,' Sibanda observed.

Whereas previous works on sculpture only traced the history of sculpture in the country, Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture goes deep into the psyche of the artist to take into cognisance the individual sculpture's feelings and their thought processes.

'The psychological processes of those who actually physically and mentally engage themselves in the carving of the stone is very important and should never be ignored,' said Biggie Samwanda, lecturer in sculpture at Harare Polytechnic and Chinhoyi University, responding to the paper by Celia Winter at an Art Forum recently.

With an array of pictures of Zimbabwe's finest and supreme sculpture work, the book Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture is set to contribute immensely to the sculpture industry in the country. Sculptures in this book have created the most amazing pieces of art that has impressed art collectors and dealers worldwide. Zimbabwean stone sculpture, despite everything, remains a truly contemporary force, combining successfully with an ancient cultural heritage. The art is direct, powerfully humane and is extremely beautiful and stunning.

© The author/publisher