[ This essay has been adapted with the kind permission of Roy Guthrie, Director, Chapungu Sculpture Park, from Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe. Harare: Chapungu, 1997.]

Zimbabwean Sculpture in Context

Joceline Mawdsley, Former Exhibitions Curator, Chapungu Sculpture Park, Harare, Zimbabwe

Attitudes amongst the Zimbabwean sculptors to their work are perhaps different from artists in other, Western cultures - it is, on the one hand a vital and influential way in which to express old beliefs and truths in an ever-changing society; but at the same time the life of a sculptor is seen often as a successful and much sought after way of earning a living at a time of national economic hardship. But here lie the areas of strength in this remarkable work which perhaps help to establish the reason for its success in communicating directly to a varied and demanding international public. It is powerfully human -- with much of the work portraying messages in a figurative manner, and carved with immeasurable skill, ie cannot help to convey feelings and experiences basic to mankind, whatever their cultural heritage; it is seductive and extremely beautiful -- the material alone (an impressive variety of soft and hard coloured stone) invites exploration, both visually and mentally; but perhaps most important of all it is truthful --firstly, to its material (the sculptors have both an intensive technical knowledge and understanding of the stone, but also a great spiritual respect for this natural resource which they believe, like all other things around them, has an innate spiritual life force of its own); and secondly in the ideals and subjects with which the artists work. Although many of the beliefs seem complex to outsiders they express the fundamental relationships between the two guiding forces in Shona life -- the visible physical world and the unseen spiritual world that exists in all cultures, but in this culture represents the very influential ancestral spirits -- communicators between the dead and the living.


Mawdsley, Joceline. Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe. Harare: Chapungu, 1997.

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