Tengenenge is a typical African village in the North of Zimbabwe, at the foot of the Great Dyke. The difference with other villages is the occupation of the inhabitants: they all make a living from sculpting.
The village is an open-air gallery. More than 11.000 sculptures are exhibited, made by over 300 different sculptors, each having their own style, performance and stand. About a hundred sculptor families live in Tengenenge. Some families, like the family of Josiah and Janet Manzi, consist of 3 generations of sculptors.
Tom Blomefield was the founder and director of Tengenenge until 2007, since then he has been succeeded by Dominic Benhura, also a well-known international sculptor. Blomefield came in 1946 to Zimbabwe to become a tobacco farmer and chrome miner and founded Tengenenge Art Community in 1966 so that he and his farm workers could make a living as both tobacco and chrome had become the target of sanctions. Tengenenge means “the beginning of the beginning” and managed to survive the struggles to independence in 1980, despite the difficulties and lack of tourists.
Shona stone sculpture is not "traditional", although much of its subject matter has traditional roots. Around 1957 the first director of the Rhodes National Gallery (now National Gallery of Zimbabwe), Frank McEwen, encouraged local artists through workshops to work in soapstone and to find inspiration from Shona mythology. The art developed slowly, but gained great impetus after 1966 when Tom Blomefield opened up his farm as a community of working artists. Early talented sculptors included Thomas Mukarobgwa, Joram Mariga, Bernard Matemera, Sylvester Mubayi, Henry Mukarobgwa, Henry Munyaradzi, Joseph Ndandarika, Richard Mteki, Colleen Madamombe (the best-known female sculptor) Bernard Takawira and his brother John Takawira and the Mukomberanwa family. Some of the first generation artists, such as Bhiriyo Ferenando and Josiah Manzi are still producing stone sculptures.
Thanks to the efforts and contacts of Frank McEwen, their work was shown in many international exhibitions and began to become known for its vitality and originality. At independence in 1980, there was a boom in demand for the carvings at both Tengenenge and Chapungu Sculpture Park, but government policies since 2000 have not favoured tourism to Zimbabwe and with the drop in international visitors the sales of sculpture have suffered accordingly.
Zimbabwe has been blessed with an outstanding medium of stones through which Shona stone sculpture speaks about fundamental human experiences such as grief, happiness, humour, anxiety, motherhood and spiritual search - and communicate these in a profoundly simple and direct way that is both rare and extremely refreshing.
Buying sculptures in Tengenenge
All sales are concluded by the sales department. The sculptors receive the stone for free and have free living in Tengenenge. On sale, they pay 35% commission to Tengenenge for mining and other common expenses. Prices can be negotiated with the sculptors. If a sculptor is not around somebody from the sales department will represent him. In case one wants to buy several sculptures it is wise to stick stickers with the buyer's name on the sculptures. Tengenenge can take care of packing, transport to Harare and if requested also to the customer's home country (by an international transport company in Harare).
- , ZimFieldGuide, Accessed: 28 August, 2020