Heritage in Stone: A Decade of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture, 2000–2010
Jesmael Mataga and Farai M. Chabata
IntroductionThere is a certain expectation, society- or market-driven, for contemporary art to assume a sense of social responsibility. Many pertinent questions can be appended to such a responsibility. In countries that experience social, political, or military upheavals, how is contemporary art affected and how does it respond to such vicissitudes? Is there a place for contemporary art or contemporary artists in the political landscape? Can art be used as an object, a conduit, a space, or a medium for addressing, tackling, and critiquing societal, political, and social environments? Can art move beyond the exhibition halls to the corridors of power, the street, or the villages? To whom is the artist obligated and ultimately accountable? This discussion is a reflection on the place of contemporary art in a weakening political, social, and economic environment. This contribution attempts to look at how the political and socioeconomic contexts affect the production, circulation, and promotion of contemporary art with specific reference to stone sculpture in Zimbabwe. The institutional framework for the local art in Zimbabwe and the dynamics of artists’ involvement in the local and international market against a deteriorating economic and sociopolitical background is also discussed. The focus is not so much on Zimbabwean art or the artists but more on the historical context and the environment within which the art and artists have operated. Stone sculpture is the most visible form of contemporary art in Zimbabwe. It has been so ever since the 1950s when it was “rediscovered” and promoted by the likes of Frank McEwen and the work of people like Tom Bloomfield and Roy Guthrie. Commenting on the inaugural Zimbabwean Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, the curator of the exhibition, Raphael Chikukwa, remarked: “The Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is pivotal in establishing a platform after the isolation of many years. The Zimbabwean pavilion will provide a rare opportunity to spark discussions about the role of artists in a society.”1 The exhibition was titled Seeing Ourselves: Questioning Our Geographical Landscape and the Space We Occupy from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Chikukwa further remarked: “Zimbabwe has become a Zone of Silence with little access to the platforms of exchange through which it can communicate. It is in this view that a Zimbabwean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale will break the silence.”2 The exhibition was the first time Zimbabwean artists were present at the biennial and featured the works of Berry Bickle, Calvin Dondo, Tapfuma Gutsa, and Misheck Masamvu. The commissioner of the exhibition, Doreen Ibanda, reiterated that the exhibition was an internal call to introspection and presented a window on the life of the nation of Zimbabwe through the eyes of the four selected artists3. The statements above explore the effect of local political environments on the place of contemporary art, its production, and even its fate on the local and international markets. They respond to the question of how production of contemporary art is influenced by local sociopolitical conditions and how these conditions, in turn, determine the nature and fate of contemporary art. The story of the historical development of stone sculpture as an art form and its life story on the local and international market may speak for the general development and growth of contemporary art in Africa. Stone sculpture is a home-grown art form that developed in a specific historical context but which is growing in international dimensions. As we discuss the stone sculpture movement in Zimbabwe, the following questions resonate for the development of contemporary art in an African context. What are the effects of the contexts from which art develops? What are the costs and benefits of going global or international? Do the pressures of the global demand a specific art form and lead to the obscuring of other art forms?
The FocusWhy Zimbabwe? Why stone sculpture? Why the period 2000 to 2010? Zimbabwe makes a unique and interesting study not only because of its unique art, but because compared to other countries on the continent, it is one of the few African countries with a long history of art galleries and museums. The first art galleries in Rhodesia were created in the 1950s as catalysts for the presentation of the colony’s artistic production. The National Gallery in Harare was opened in 1957 under the directorship of Frank McEwen. However, the first museums, focusing on natural history, settler history, and ethnology were developed by the settler society as memorials to their British heritage. The first museum was created in 1901 in Salisbury (now Harare) in memory of Queen Victoria and accordingly named Queen Victoria Memorial. At the same time, the Rhodesian National Museum was developed in Bulawayo through support and encouragement of Cecil J. Rhodes. As symbols of colonial modernity, the legacy of museums and galleries still exists today and, compared to other countries, makes the story and the context of the development of art different. From the late 1990s to 2009, Zimbabwe experienced political and economic instability of an unprecedented level thereby subjecting art to complex and unusual circumstances characterized by eight-digit inflation figures coupled with high levels of poverty, malnutrition, and unemployment; contested election results; a draconian crackdown on opposition activists and civil society, which led to human rights abuses; a literal death of political morality; and a governance crisis. Therefore, a lot can be learnt about art economics and politics under pressure through a careful study of events on the art market in Zimbabwe during these ten years. Here, our aim is to share our thoughts and open a debate on this complex but important issue, which obviously calls for more in-depth research and analysis. Thus, this study is a conscious attempt to examine and analyze the effects of a highly volatile and dynamic environment on art and the artists. The focus on stone sculpture is premised on the fact that stone sculpture is almost synonymous with the Zimbabwean art market. Notwithstanding the existence of other forms of art, stone sculpture is the most familiar and developed art with an interesting and unique history. It is a form of art born out of elaborate, if not systematic production and relatively well-established institutions, and it is also the art form that has been present on the local and international market the longest. Since the modern National Gallery’s foundation in 1957, its ethos and motives have been almost global in outlook. Birthed by the motives of the settler community and pushed forward by the efforts of Frank McEwen, the creation of the National Gallery sought to establish an institution that would preserve and promote local art and art of the empire4. This became what one could regard as a crucial tipping point for the visual arts industry. For within this framework, the emergence of what many have seen as a “new” art form in stone sculpture flourished and immediately caught the attention of the international art market. Interestingly, or rather ironically, Zimbabwean sculpture thrived on the international market but there was little consumption on the domestic market; this discrepancy led critics to view it as a foreign-influenced art form.
Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture: A Global ArtZimbabwean stone sculpture is probably one of the most well-known forms of African contemporary art in the world today. As its fame spread in the region and beyond, it has become one of the most collected forms of African contemporary art. Stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are in the collections of major contemporary art museums, including the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Today numerous galleries exist in many Western countries that sell and trade in Zimbabwean stone sculpture. However, like people, all sculpture craves its own space, an environment at one with its meaning and the intentions of the sculptor. Space and place, as noted by Celia Winter-Irving5, are much the same thing, and both have a relationship with time. One could argue that space and place therefore play a crucial role in carving out what could be referred to as contextual spaces for the stone sculptures. Thus, much of what is known as traditional African art, if denied its surrounding space, and the wider social space embracing its public, loses its meaning. Traditionally, sculpture has been part of people’s social or real space. The tradition of stone has been traced to Zimbabwe’s prehistoric past. The name of the country is in fact inspired by the tradition of building of dry stone settlements, such as the Great Zimbabwe (1100–1500), and the stone sculpting culture that produced the iconic Zimbabwe Bird, which is the most significant of the three Zimbabwe Birds on pedestals and two monoliths that were found by James Theodore Bent in 1891 at this world heritage site. Zimbabwe literary translates to “great house of stone.” Thus the name Zimbabwe itself is a celebration of stone buildings and sculpture that the earliest inhabitants of the country are believed to have been experts in. Today, Zimbabwe’s stone sculpture has become renowned worldwide for its rare originality and unique artistic touches. Zimbabwean sculpture has produced internationally celebrated artists, such as the late Joram Mariga, the late Nicholas Mukomberanwa, and Dominic Benhura, whose impact on the global art scene remains unmatched in the country. Thus, since the 1950s, Zimbabwe’s stone sculpture has become a commercial success, symbolizing a national cultural identity and promoted as such by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and many others (figs. 1, 2).
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare, sculpture garden
Stone sculpture in Zimbabwe has risen to international prominence in a fairly short period of existence. Oliver Sultan talks of two distinct periods or generations of stone sculpting, “the Shona spiritual period” from 1956 to 1973, and the “contemporary period” from the time of independence6, while more recent publications refer to three fairly distinct generations of the sculpture movement; namely, the first generation from 1966 to 1978, the second generation from 1981 to 1988, and the third generation from 1988 to the present. The sculpture movement was facilitated by the availability of suitable stone in the vicinity of Harare, such as opal stone and spring stone. Other stones used by the sculptors include serpentine, lepidolite, verdite, and Nyanga stone. The simplicity of the hand tools used (a hammer, a range of chisels and punches, as well as a large variety of rasps and files) and the minimal exposure of most of the sculptors to formal art schooling have in no way compromised the quality. Frank McEwen’s comment in connection with the “Shona art” display at the Commonwealth Festival of the Arts in London in 1971 clearly illuminates this point: “[…] true indisputable creative virility based into being with a wealth of simplicity and strength: […] a school of great originality, but purely African spirit has arisen. Its work is not degenerating from quality into quantity. On the contrary, together with its increase in quantity, quality and variety are more and more manifest […].”7 The sculptor Mike Munyaradzi also made an interesting remark on the apparent lack of formal art education: “[…] some people are good at things for no explicable reason. Italians are very good at singing, Greeks at dancing, these things go as denoting some kind of national culture. So it is in Zimbabwe with carving stone, we do it naturally and we do it so much that it has become part of our national culture to carve stone, to make sculpture.”8 So fast has the reputation of Zimbabwean stone sculpture grown that currently one can find in Harare and surrounding areas hundreds of sculptors working in stone.
Fig. 2 The National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare, sculpture garden
Zimbabwe: A Myriad of CrisesEvents in Zimbabwe in the period 2000–2010 ironically stood in stark contrast to previous remarks by the man at the helm of leadership, Robert Mugabe, then Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. In his preface to Ferdinand Mor’s book Shona Sculpture, Mugabe remarked that “[…] after independence, our people were given the opportunity to assert themselves freely and openly, expressing the best of their souls.”9 Perhaps, Marion I. Arnold’s observation that “the contemporary sculpture is the product of a society in transition”10 is, in this context, rather illuminating. Depending upon what one reads, the prevailing situation in Zimbabwe provoked numerous and varied responses, from South Africa’s—specifically, Thabo Mbeki’s—denials that there was a problem to extreme condemnations and the portrayal of a failed pariah state where everything went from bad to worse by some sections of the local and international media. The problems that Zimbabwe faced from the late 1990s on were multifaceted and multidimensional, both economically and socially, with increasing unemployment, rising food prices, and recurring droughts. Since 2000, an increasing influence of politics on the arts could be detected. This was a period during which the harsh economic and political climate took its toll on the level of art production; according to Doreen Sibanda and Irene Staunton the number of platforms available to the artists diminished and sales were reduced because of the decreasing spending power among the buying public in the country; additionally, several sources of funding from both embassies and other agencies began to dry up11. As most European governments labeled the state as an unsafe tourist destination, tourist numbers continued to decline unabated and the pressure on the arts scene increased. At the same time, the art scene and the creative industries came under heavy pressure from the state, which—by legal and other means—increasingly sought to gag and censor the arts. A few artists and performers were harangued in courts, and a number of plays and acts were banned as they were seen as inciting the populace. The political polarization between the ruling and the opposition parties spilled over onto a scene of ideas, debate, and culture affecting the creation and reception of art. Yet there was, notwithstanding all these constraints, a voice discrete and subtle: faint and loud, as well as candid which spoke through art in general and sculptures in particular. Marion I. Arnold has noted that artists are not politicians and they do not legislate changes or take decisions that affect the daily existence of millions of people; but they do have the power to change people’s vision and alter their consciousness12. In 2005 Raphael Chikukwa mounted an exhibition entitled Visions of Zimbabwe at the Manchester Art Gallery and stated in his introductory essay that “when words fail, art speaks,”13 and that his exhibition had a political agenda. Visions of Zimbabwe showcased thirteen of Zimbabwe’s most prestigious and provocative artists and writers at a critical time in the country’s history. The exhibition focused on key issues facing Zimbabwe, including land rights, HIV/AIDS, human rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law. It included photography, video, installation, sculpture, and graphic design. Through efforts like these, the political agenda for art was to present an alternative space or platform for the self-critique of a country undergoing difficult circumstances. The context of the period under discussion was such that stone sculpture began to share the local scene and institutional space with other forms of visual art, notably paintings and photographs that were collectively interrogating the local social and political environment. Lovemore Kambudzi’s art was endorsed by Anthony Chennell for being “a socially committed art that reminds us that what we have begun to take for granted in our public life is what we should find unacceptable”14 which “makes us reconsider our habitual reality.”15 Contemporary visual art challenges the old social system and even pervades its moral fabric. In Zimbabwe, this was evident in the mid-1990s, by which time gay rights had become a cultural and political zone of conflict. Bulelwa Madekurozwa’s prize-winning painting Sunday Afternoon depicting a covert homosexual relationship between two Zimbabwean policemen was premiered at the 1997 Zimbabwe Heritage Exhibition. The then director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe was credited for showing his firm conviction in the moral right of the artist to unfettered expression when he did not exercise his prerogative to withdraw the controversial painting16. One could view this as a “controversy sells scenario” whereby global trends dictate what sells, given the outright and unequivocal condemnation that homosexuality was receiving from a combined chorus of politicians, church leaders, and traditional leaders. In 2000, again, the gallery opened its main exhibition hall to photographers at a time that coincided with the constitutional referendum, the controversial land reform, and highly contested parliamentary elections. Many of the photographs displayed were politically charged. One interesting observation has been that in response to the problems and challenges, some sculptures have had changing meanings that derive from a changing environment. Some of the meanings are at times neither intended nor implied by the creators of art; for example, Joseph Muzondo’s Nuclear Catastrophe (1986) can be interpreted now as making a satirical reference to the controversial “Operation Restore Order” (“Operation Murambatsvina”) that was carried out in Zimbabwe in 2005 purportedly to destroy slums, which left many people in cities and towns homeless, as well as pointing to other problems affecting Zimbabwe at that time17. One collector described the piece thus: “Nuclear Catastrophe, with its obvious embodiment of the artist’s experience of war, depicts in no gentle manner the hostility of man. […] Despair emanates from the sculpture and the cold, weighty stones are a fitting medium with which to describe such a concept.”18 Although the sculptors made and still make sculpture that deals with traditional spiritual values, they have also addressed other pertinent social issues such as poverty, violence, gender, Christianity (especially at the Serima Mission), and HIV/AIDS, all of which affect the sculptors directly. The meaning of life is coming to the surface of people’s preoccupations now, and sculptors are no exception. Leading sculptor Dominic Benhura, among many others, has also explored and tackled contemporary problems like HIV and AIDS through his pieces. Mike Munyaradzi’s works reveal his rigorous questioning of the values inherent in African traditions, as well as his deep and provocative thoughts about Christianity. His sculptures tackle contemporary issues such as abortion, the Anglican Church’s acceptance of the ordination of women, and human rights issues. Generally, Zimbabwean stone sculpture has approached gender issues head on and in multiple ways. Women have not only been portrayed in stone, for instance with their children, some women sculptors against all the odds now play a definitive role in the art industry. Through female human figures, the interesting and world-famous work of Colleen Madamombe addresses various issues pertaining to women and gender in a changing society (fig. 3). According to Clive and Maricarol Kileff19, many tourists inquire about female sculptors, and galleries often respond by presenting carved works of women; yet, the novelty of a female sculptor is very often a selling point. Colleen Madamombe, a Harare-based female artist, defied gender and the challenges of an ailing economy to win the first prize of the inaugural Agio International Sculptors Symposium in 2004, ahead of seasoned male counterparts. Her piece Women at Work was the best of about hundred sculptures that were submitted from around the country, including Mike Munyaradzi’s Mother and Child. Thus, stone sculpting during this period not only defied economic and political odds but also gender stereotypes appended to this art form and trade.
Fig. 3 Sculpture by Colleen Madamombe in Leuven
Arts and the CrisisThe effects of the problems that bedeviled Zimbabwe since the late 1990s had multifarious effects on the local art industry affecting the artists, the dynamics of the local market, the international market, the art, and the institutions involved in the production, circulation, and promotion of contemporary art. The personal, individual lives of the artists were affected in as many different ways. Commenting on present-day sculpture a curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe had this to say: “The sculptor in Zimbabwe is not somebody who sits in a studio with a grant from his government or her government, making nice little excursions into the post-modern. The Zimbabwean sculptor today is often a man or a woman sculpting in their back yard in Chitungwiza, (a dormitory high density town south of the capital) […] They can’t help it because not only are they sculptors, they’re fathers, they’re brothers, they’re sons, they’re daughters, they are people looking after ill relations, aged parents […]. So often this sort of thing comes out in their work and these sorts of problems in Zimbabwe are, rather sadly, shaping their identity in terms of what they feel, think and believe.”20 Because stone sculpture has been historically predisposed mainly towards the external market, it easily succumbs to external factors. It is more sensitive to the failing market than others. Zimbabwean stone sculpture and crafts have proven to be hypersensitive to external market trends. The problems in Zimbabwe saw tourist numbers drop. This drastically reduced sales and affected the artists’ income. For this reason some sculptors faced dwindling sales and had to put their life’s work aside to pursue other sources of generating income, while others migrated to regional and international destinations. Stone sculpture is one area of the art industry that over many years has, seemingly, been little affected by political interference. This can be discerned from the fact that most of the works in the 1970s focused on commercial interest in romantic or exotic anthropological ideas rather than on the hard realities of survival, repression, and war21. Few works aptly represented the spirit of the day, notable exceptions being Victim of Change by Tapfuma Gutsa and Looking at My Mirror by John Takawira. According to David Chidhumo, a curator at Chapungu Sculpture Park, pieces can have changing meanings over time22. Arguably the political relevance of these two pieces certainly went beyond the time when they were created and continue to be relevant to date.
Dynamics of the MarketIn almost every country of the world, it is a small wealthy percentage of the population that buys art. In the West, with its concentrated populations with a certain degree of affluence, this percentage represents quite a large number of people compared to other parts of the world. Art is bought by corporations, companies, banks, art institutions such as state galleries and foundations, by city and municipal collections, and by private collectors and individuals. Art is an integral part of the education and media environment of all citizens. The disciplines of art, aesthetics, and art criticism are professional fields. Art production is supported by publications and commercial products which bring advertising and publicity. Specific auction houses deal in visual arts and, through the resultant competition, prices are pushed up. Art in the West is now seen as one facet of the profit-driven entertainment industry—a sort of hypermarket with consumers. This scenario has implications for other parts of the world in general and for Zimbabwe in particular, especially in the production and movement of art23. By stark contrast, art is rarely part of the curriculum in Africa, where the percentage of the population that can afford to buy art is miniscule. Studies in art history, aesthetics, and criticism are almost lacking. Art is not considered a consumer product. There is no secondary market of publications and by-products and, therefore, extremely little publicity. The few African countries that have robust economies such as Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa have large numbers of people who can afford to purchase art; thus, their art markets are more vibrant than those of poorer countries, and they have become the centers within the peripheries on the international marketplace24. The Zimbabwean stone sculpture movement has always been as much about commerce as about art. The personalities of Frank McEwen and Tom Bloomfield, according to Ben Joosten, were instrumental in internationalizing and commercializing Zimbabwean stone sculpture25. Many critics and analysts have also pointed out that the commodification of Zimbabwean stone sculpture has been a problem right from the beginning both for its promoters and detractors. Market demands, consumer tastes, art critics, and individual creativity are now blended into a new reality that is based on adaptation and innovation. These influences have often been so strong that stone sculpture has tended to lack the local relevance, thereby damaging what Zilberg has described as “the aesthetic integrity of the artists [sic] work.”26 In Zimbabwe, art, and especially stone sculpting, largely depends on the tourist market. The internationalization of this art is seen as both an opportunity and threat at the same time. External exhibitions have become the major mode of survival for artists. Yet it is important to have a solid local base, for it is not every artist who gets an opportunity to exhibit internationally. If the political situation is not conducive enough to the presence of foreign buyers, as has been the case for the past ten years or so, then artists will find it very difficult to survive. The Zimbabwean art market has been beset by a host of challenges for a considerable period of time, perhaps even extending to its very inception. Mike Munyaradzi aptly sums it up and sets the context when he asks: “Who calls the tune? Is it the gallerist or dealer who appreciates a sculpture because it will sell? Is it the sculptor who sells his or her sculpture and there feels it is a good sculpture? Where are the art critics who select our work on merit? Who is there to appraise as much as praise our work?”27
The MarketThe production of stone sculpture takes place in many locations and it is distributed via many platforms around the country. As described above, these range from efforts of single artists in backyards, roadside stalls to large communities of sculptors such as Tengenenge in Guruve. Sellers promote and distribute their sculptures in a variety of ways. Clive and Maricarol Kileff identified major outlets for sculpture which include roadside stands, curio shops, diversified community ventures, private galleries, and the National Gallery28. Thus the selling of sculpture has some interesting dynamics and dichotomies that attract sellers, who primarily sell the work of others, to participate in the market place as well as the sculptors and artists themselves. According to Clive and Maricarol Kileff, galleries signify not only the artist’s move from the public (street/roadside) domain into the private domain, but also that the gallery and the street represent the clash between the public and the private domain; between the worlds of discovery and recognition29. The most important platform is the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe operates under the Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts, and Culture and has two branches in Bulawayo and Mutare. Its first exhibition was entitled From Rembrandt to Picasso and presented almost two hundred works—mostly paintings and tapestries on loan from galleries in Europe. Since the 1950s, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe has positioned itself as a center for national and international contemporary culture. Through its own work, it remains a platform for artists who work in various art forms, mainly visual arts. The National Gallery is responsible for circulating exhibitions throughout Zimbabwe and is a focal and distributing point for art at home and internationally30. Then there are privately owned galleries-cum-stone sculpting schools, usually established by one renowned sculptor who invites budding sculptors into a stone sculpting community offering tutelage in sculpting, space, facilities, and assistance with marketing of sculptures. Because in most cases the proprietors are well known internationally, this is assumed to give exposure to those artists whose art has not yet made it onto the international market. There is a long history of the establishment of such sculpting communities. Tom Bloomfield established the Tengenenge village in rural Guruve in 1966, and up to today, this is a thriving sculpting community with many resident sculptors. Tengenenge is a typical African village of the northern parts of Zimbabwe, with the difference that its inhabitants all make a living from sculpting and live as a community. The village is an open-air gallery with more than 11,000 sculptures exhibited, made by over three hundred different sculptors. About a hundred sculptor families live in Tengenenge at any one time31. Chapungu Sculpture Park is a sculpture park in Harare, which displays the work of Zimbabwean stone sculptors. It was founded in 1970 by Roy Guthrie, who was instrumental in promoting the work of its sculptors worldwide. One way this was done was by exhibiting the sculptures in botanical gardens in a touring exhibition called Chapungu: Custom and Legend—A Culture in Stone. This exhibition toured many international cities, introducing Zimbabwean stone sculpture to the world. Chapungu Sculpture Park has also offered sculptors a place to work, some of whom would otherwise be working in backyards, and others in remote rural settings far from the market and opportunities for sales. Another important gallery is the Gallery Delta. Established in 1975, Gallery Delta exhibits paintings, graphics, mixed-media sculptures, and ceramics. According to its website, the gallery survives and continues to promote art and artists, and to act as an unofficial charitable institution still operating at twenty-five percent commission on sales, and providing its artists with interest-free loans and bridging finance32. The other categories mentioned by Clive and Maricarol Kileff are privately owned urban-based galleries acting as retail outlets for art, curios, souvenirs, and jewelry. While most claim to buy art from established artists, some buy their art and souvenirs from the informal art market in the townships. Private galleries document artists and expose them to the world through exhibitions and international fairs. The proprietors of these galleries maintain international connections and networks through which they market the work of individual sculptors. Yet there is also a largely unregulated, independent informal market which has grown in size over the years. Such galleries are often seen at the roadside in many suburbs of the urban and semi-urban environs and have increased the presence of copy artists. Because of this, “curios” (often regarded as “airport art”) and veritable works of art have always stood in conflict. Most artists are unable to make money and feel that it is the dealers and buyers who benefit most. The buyers take advantage of the artists’ financial difficulties and lack of promotion, and either by-pass the artist and pay copycats to produce replicas that are sold overseas, or dictate the price and pay very little for a priceless piece of art. The issue of copyright is not adequately enforced in the Zimbabwean justice system, thus rendering the institutional framework for the protection of art ineffectual; this exacerbates what McEwen called the blurring of distinctions between sincere art and meretricious fake33. The state has a laissez-faire approach to arts, especially stone sculpture. Unsurprisingly, the art industry has largely survived on donor funding and the goodwill of some of its proponents such as Tapfuma Gutsa and Dominic Benhura who, through their own initiative and creative energy, contributed generously to the sustenance of sculpture in Zimbabwe34. As a result, a powerful and self-perpetuating elite, separate from the government, has emerged within the art field. Its members possess superior aesthetic judgments and values, accusing those who do not belong to this de facto “union” of being mass-producers of worthless curios and airport art.
The Zimbabwean Sculptor in the Global EraOne of the things that shape artists’ identity very strongly today is their opportunity for traveling. A number of sculptors have managed to break new ground on the international art scene. Opportunities for sculptors on international stages include travel to various major capitals and cities around the globe, exhibiting at world expos and big botanical gardens all over the world, facilitating and attending workshops, and conducting teaching sessions in stone sculpture. These trips and activities enlarge the territory and extend the cultural boundaries of the sculptors, making them much more cosmopolitan. However, the fact that stone sculpture outside the country is challenged by gallery spaces, which may also display other and newer directions in sculpture and works from longer and better-established traditions, is equally significant. Hence there is an indispensible need to carry out a comprehensive and holistic cost-benefit analysis of going global. A Google search using “Zimbabwe stone sculpture gallery” yielded almost 500,000 pages, most of which originate in Europe, the USA, and Australia. Globalization has mounted tremendous pressure on art; enough to radically alter the whole idea of time, space, and distance, and making the availability of any art form global in nature. E-mail, websites, and traveling have produced a lot of very cosmopolitan gentlemen and ladies running about with their stones. Many local artists have websites, while those who cannot afford this are hosted on other artists’ or sellers’ websites. This global influence has inevitably complicated the debate on the identity of the stone sculptor and his or her sculpture. In fact, the economic and political crises have made the need for international exposure synonymous with the sculptor’s very survival. Because of the challenges facing stone sculpture and the proliferation of copy artists, some critics argue that the uniqueness of art has become debased and could—if unchecked—threaten sculpture with extinction. When you walk or drive around in Harare you see stone sculptures of different sizes and probably different qualities and shapes in different parts and land use zones of the city. There are all these little yards or parks with sculptures, and estimates are that over 6,000 stone sculptors live and work in Zimbabwe.
ConclusionIn conclusion one can argue that stone sculpture, though lacking a robust local market, has ceased to be merely and primarily aesthetic, but has become also a true medium for philosophic and intellectual discourse, and a medium for expressing, contextualizing, critiquing, and admonishing the social, economic, and political ills. While stone sculpture in Zimbabwe is mainly poised for the international market, like many other forms of artistic and cultural expression it has been under siege from a weak institutional system and social, economic, and political challenges over the past decade. In spite of all these near-insurmountable pressures, stone sculpture has continued not only to harness multi-sectoral collaboration and interest in the art industry, but also to make its way into major international capitals. Still rooted in and responding to the local social and political environment, Zimbabwean stone sculpture maintains its presence on the global market. The production and promotion of contemporary art remains heavily influenced by the need to access foreign markets, and the international commercial success of stone sculpture is unmatched by any developed local market. Notwithstanding, more in-depth studies need to be done to analyze in more depth the effects of the political environment on production and promotion of this unique art form.
1 Raphael Chikukwa, press release, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, 03/29/2011, available online at: www.nationalgallery.co.zw/venice, accessed 07/06/2011.
3 Cf. Doreen Sibanda, “Zimbabwean Participation in the 54th Venice Biennale: ‘Seeing Ourselves’,” commissioner’s statement, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, available online at: www.nationalgallery.co.zw/venice/com_statement.html, accessed 07/06/2011.
4 Cf. Doreen Sibanda, Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture: A Retrospective, 1957–2004, Weaver Press with Embassy of France, Harare, 2004; Jonathan L. Zilberg, “The Western Reception of a Modern African Art: The Case of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture,” in: Geert G. Bourgois (ed.), Legacies of Stone: Past and Present. Vol. II, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, 1997, pp. 29–39; Ben Joosten, Sculptors from Zimbabwe: The First Generation, Galerie de Strang, Dodewaard, 2001; Oliver Sultan, Life in Stone: Zimbabwean Sculpture. Birth of a Contemporary Art Form, Baobab Books, Harare, 1992.
5 Cf. Celia Winter-Irving, Pieces of Time: An Anthology of Articles on Zimbabwe’s Stone Sculpture, Mambo Press, Gweru, 2004, p. 2
6 Cf. Sultan 1992, pp. 7–10.
7 Frank McEwen, as quoted from: Albert B. Plangger and Marcel Diethelm (eds.), Serima: Towards an African Expression of Christian Belief, Mambo Press, Gweru, 1974, p. 13.
8 Celia Winter-Irving and Mike Munyaradzi, The Stone’s Apprentice: The Zimbabwean Master Sculptor, Friends Forever, Harare, 2004, p. 21.
9 Robert Mugabe, “Preface,” in: Ferdinand Mor, Shona Sculpture, Jongwe, Harare, 1987, p. 2.
10 Marion I. Arnold, Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture, Louis Bolze, Bulawayo, 1986, p. 73.
11 Cf. Doreen Sibanda and Irene Staunton (eds.), The National Gallery of Zimbabwe: Celebrating 50 Years, 1957–2007, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, 2008, p. 25.
12 Cf. ibid., p. 231.
13 Raphael Chikukwa, Andrew Meldrum, Grace Mutandwa, William Saidi, and Manchester City Art Gallery (eds.), Visions of Zimbabwe, exhib. cat., Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, 2005.
14 Anthony Chennells, “The Satiric Paintings of Lovemore Kambudzi,” in: Gallery: The Art Magazine from Gallery Delta, 28, 2001, p. 22.
16 Cf. Pip Curling, in: Sibanda/Staunton 2008, p. 23.
17 Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Trash or Operation Drive Out Rubbish), also officially known as Operation Restore Order, was a large-scale Zimbabwean government campaign to forcibly clear slum areas across the country. The campaign started in 2005 and, according to United Nations estimates, has affected at least 700,000 people directly through loss of their home or livelihood; indirectly, it may have affected around 2.4 million people. Cf. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, “Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess the Scope and Impact of Operation Murambatsvina by the UN Human Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe,” available online at: ww2.unhabitat.org/documents/ZimbabweReport.pdf, accessed 07/20/2011.
18 www.bettendorff.de/EJOMUZON.HTM, accessed 07/20/2011.
19 Cf. Clive Kileff and Maricarol Kileff, Street Sellers of Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture: Artists and Entrepreneurs, Mambo Press, Gweru, 1996, p. 12.
20 Celia Winter-Irving, interview in: New Visions in Stone, commissioned by art promoters Tim & Dawn Anderson with Glenn Sullivan, Harare, 2003, available online at: www.nai.uu.se/research/finalized_projects/cultural_images_in_and_of/zimbabwe/sculpture/winter_irving, accessed 07/06/2011.
21 Cf. Sibanda 2004, p. 24.
22 David M. Chidhumo, sculptor, interviewed by Farai M. Chabata on May 21, 2009 at Chapungu Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe.
23 Cf. Joosten 2001.
24 Cf. ibid.
25 Cf. ibid.
26 Jonathan L. Zilberg, Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture: The Invention of a Shona Tradition, PhD thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, 1996, p. 232.
27 Celia Winter-Irving and Mike Munyaradzi 2004, p. 29.
28 Cf. Kileff/Kileff 1996.
30 Cf. Sibanda/Staunton 2008; www.nationalgallery.co.zw, accessed 07/07/2011.
31 Cf. www.tengenenge-tomblomefield.com/village/village.html, accessed 07/07/2011.
32 Cf. www.gallerydelta.com/history.html, accessed 07/07/2011.
33 Cf. Frank McEwen, as quoted from: Sibanda/Staunton 2008, p. 7.
34 Cf. Pip Curling, in: Sibanda/Staunton 2008, p. 7.
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- Jane Cousins, “The Making of Zimbabwean Sculpture,” in: Third Text: Third World Perspectives on Contemporary Art & Culture, 13, vol. 5, Winter 1991, pp. 31–42.
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- Celia Winter-Irving (with Glenn Sullivan), New Visions in Stone: Stone Sculpture in Zimbabwe, Utonga Gallery, Mount Pleasant, SC, 2003.