Background - Zimbabwean Sculpture
 
Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture can be traced back to the early 1960s when the country was still called Rhodesia. The particular rapport between the artists and the stone is a major characteristic of this movement. The artist first selects a piece of rock whose shape talks to him, one with which he feels an affinity. Most artists work on more than one piece simultaneously, moving between the raw pieces of stone and establishing a true rapport with the emerging forms. Unlike their western counterparts, most Zimbabwean sculptors directly work onto the stone without producing paper sketches beforehand, although they will occasionally draw directly onto the stone before carving it. They see their role as revealing the spirit, the living force inherent within each stone.
The artists who emerged from the early days of this movement were totally untrained in the Western sense. Their subject matters were expressions of their (mainly Shona) culture interspersed with myths and legends. This led to the term Shona Sculptures. Artists explored the relationship between the physical world and the spiritual world, the here and now and the world of their ancestors. These sculptors are generally referred to as first generation artists.
Since Independence in 1980, these traditional themes are more and more giving way to every-day concerns of a universal nature, produced by the so-called second and third generation artists. It has also become apparent that the term Shona Sculpture - although originally a useful marketing tool vis-à-vis a Western clientele - is inappropriate. Not all of the sculptors belong to the Shona people but are from other ethnic groups. Furthermore, their work is never used in traditional or religious rituals; it is art for art's sake.
Artists often find that they need to raise awareness of the value of their work amongst their own community, village or family although their success is much admired as a way of earning a living at a time of national economic hardship. Paradoxically this may be the very reason for the continuing success of Zimbabwe Sculpture. The greatest art has often been produced under the most difficult of circumstances. It is powerfully human - the work depicting messages in both figurative and abstract manner that convey feelings and experiences basic to humankind, whatever their cultural background. This together with the artists' formidable technical know-how, understanding of the stone and great spiritual respect for this natural resource ensures that art lovers and connoisseurs of stone sculpture the world over continue to hold this work in the high esteem it deserves.


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email: renate@AfricArt.uk.com