[ 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.]

Is Contemporary Zimbabwean Sculpture Shona Sculpture?

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

There has been a tendency in the past to see the work of Zimbabwean sculptors as a single cultural group -- often being referred to as Shona Sculpture. Whereas this term may have served some purpose of identification in the early days of the movement, it is now misleading and unrepresentational. A number of the important sculptors do not in fact belong to the Shona tribe, but with increasing international interest in the work of individual artists and important one-person exhibitions, it is interesting to see these talented Zimbabwean sculptors occupying their rightful places amongst other top artists on the international scene. The work of some artists had almost immediate international appeal, in that the imagery used was more accessible to the new audiences.

Henry Munyaradzi in particular seemed to reach out to European art lovers in a language that was both simple and sophisticated: his Kleelike use of line and minimalistic form astonished many who expected a "primitive" or "exotic" type of work from an African country. This misconception about contemporary Africa is common and brought about by the ancientAfrican images used so successfully by Western artists such as Picasso and Matisse. The work of Nicholas Mukomberanwa and John Takawira presented these audiences with similar surprises in their powerful depictions of the gamut of human experience, as well as the natural world around them. The striking images from the worlds of Bernard Matemera and Joram Mariga perhaps take a little more time to relate easily to but they persist and remain with the viewer until accepted and understood. A new generation of sculptors such as Tapfuma Gutsa and Agnes Nyanhongo, however, speak in a universal and contemporary language and provide much food for thought for young artists in the more accepted art centres overseas.

Breaking free from the accepted images of ancient, tribal African art, audiences are invited to view this work with an open heart and mind and take what relevance they may for their lives, wherever in the world they may be. Surely this is the purpose of Art,


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

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