Stone Sculptures in Zimbabwe
A Stone sculpture is an object made of stone which has been shaped, usually by carving, or assembled to form a visually interesting three-dimensional shape. Stone is more durable than most alternative materials, making it especially important in architectural sculpture on the outside of buildings. Stone sculpture is an art for which Zimbabwe is well known around the world.
Modern African stone sculpture is not "traditional", although much of its subject matter has traditional roots. During the precolonial era, local inhabitants were already artistically predisposed, fashioning works from various natural materials such as fibres, wood, clay, and stone for functional, aesthetic, and ritual purposes. The world renowned artist Bryn Taurai Mteki, a.k.a. Sekurutau, set a mark with his large sculpture titled “Chippi”, which was unveiled during the sixth All-Africa Games, hosted in Zimbabwe in September 1995. This sculpture also served as the games mascot. It is 2.5 meters high and is now displayed at the National Sports Stadium alongside the Games' Flame, as a part of the permanent collection.
In 1996 young Mteki, earned several great honors. In Germany, in town of Oelsnitz, he was awarded a silver medal, being the first ever African to receive this honor, for his work in bringing the art of sculpture to the town. This medal was one of a limited production of 100 pieces to be given as honors to the “World’s Rich and Famous” who visit that town. In 1997 Bryn went on a “Historic European Tour”, where he attended some sculpture workshops in Germany and London. Again in Germany he was honored with silver medals in the towns of Auerbach and Adorf.
Numerous stone artifacts such as the Zimbabwe bird from the Great Zimbabwe state of the late Iron Age bear testament to this. Prior to the opening in 1957 of the Rhodes National Gallery in Salisbury, its first Director, Frank McEwen, met with Thomas Mukarobgwa, a young native steeped in rural knowledge and spirituality, and offered him an opportunity to pursue a career in art. Mukarobgwa became "the perfect mentor to guide the director of the new gallery into the ways and mores of the African people." It was an introduction to local artist Joram Mariga and his early soft stone carvings that prompted McEwen to encourage early soapstone carvers to create works that reflected their culture. The Workshop School established by the gallery soon attracted more artists, many of whom had already been exposed to some form of art training from early mission schools and were established art practitioners. These include John Takawira and Kingsley Sambo.
The budding art movement was relatively slow to develop but was given massive impetus in 1966 by Tom Blomefield, a white South-African-born farmer of tobacco whose farm at Tengenenge near Guruve had extensive deposits of serpentine stone suitable for carving. A sculptor in stone himself, Blomefield wanted to diversify the use of his land and welcomed new sculptors onto it to form a community of working artists. This was in part because at that time there were international sanctions against Rhodesia’s white government, then led by Ian Smith, who had declared Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, and tobacco was no longer able to generate sufficient income. Appropriately, Tengenenge means "The Beginning of the Beginning" – in this case of a significant new enterprise that continues to grow and thrive.
Economic Contribution in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe could benefit from exporting its unique Shona Stone Sculptures, one of the most important art forms to emerge from Africa. Shona stone sculpture is highly valued and appreciated beyond our borders. Due to its quality and superior aesthetics, the product has appealed to gallery owners, art collectors, exhibitors, park and house decorators as well as tourists.
Mr. Tamer Taskin, a Turkish businessman who visited Zimbabwe early 2016 and purchased stone sculpture from Chitungwiza Arts Centre that he used to host African Sculpture Exhibition at Izmir International Fair (in Turkey) was so impressed with the response from visitors at the show.
“The interest of the families, peoples and children was fabulous. Over 100,000 visitors came to see the exhibition, and more than million photos and selfies were taken. I am very happy to introduce Zimbabwe with positive energy in terms of sculpture to the Turkish community,” said Mr. Tamer Taskin.
According to ZimStat, Zimbabwe’s exports of original sculptures and statuary products averaged just above US$2.5 million between 2012 and 2015. World imports were over US$4.7 billion in 2015, having steadily grown from US$3 billion, registered in 2012. The export figures for Zimbabwe are probably not reflective of the true value of the products. It is likely that a lot more products are being exported informally by traders and tourists hence they are not being recorded. Furthermore, many artists and sculptors could be selling at very low prices as they might not be very conversant with the international market value and trends.
According to Trade Map, the major buying markets of Zimbabwe’s arts are South Africa and developed markets such as the EU, USA and Japan. These markets offer duty free access to products traded under preferential arrangements such as the SADC Trade Protocol, the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) and the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
It is important for sculptors/artists to understand the international market through gathering market intelligence as well as to participate and exhibit in major international art shows such as Ambiente Craft Fair , Internationale Handwerksmesse and Tendances Créatives.