Současné zimbabwské sochařství
Contemporary Zimbabwean sculpture, not completely unknown in the Czech Republic, is a remarkable phenomenon that has achieved worldwide renown. Giving modern expression to the creative potential of the Zimbabwean people, their traditional cultural values, religious notions and exotic reality, it stands, at its best, alongside European and American modern art. These stone statues, however, are not ritual objects or ethnographical artefacts, like the carved wooden masks so popular among European artists in the early twentieth century, but original works of art valued above all for their aesthetic quality.
Working chiefly with hard stone such as serpentine, opal and verdite, Zimbabwean sculptors have no longstanding tradition. Although a few pieces have survived from the pre-colonial period, it is only since the mid-twentieth century that stone sculpture has developed with unprecedented intensity. Art critics see it as the most important artistic trend in modern Africa.
The first major impulses came from abroad. In the 1950s and 1960s, circumstance brought to Zimbabwe (then still Rhodesia) several individuals who decided to foster and direct local creativity. In the 1950s, they began to teach painting and sculpture techniques and organize exhibitions in the Canon Paterson mission in Serima and the John Groeber mission in Cyrene. Many of their students became succesfull sculptors. Key initiators of the sculpture movement in Zimbabwe were Frank McEwen, an English curator and art historian, and Tom Blomefield, a South African farmer. McEwen became the first director of the National Gallery in Harare (then still Salisbury) in 1954 and was determined to support and encourage the local art scene. He established an informal art studio called the Workshop School as part of the gallery, and he himself provided training in stone sculpture to aspiring artists. His first students were his own employees. Out of this group came the first major sculptors who laid the foundation for an indigenous style of modern art. Another well-known centre of Zimbabwean sculpture arose in Tengenenge (meaning “Place of Beginning”) in northern Zimbabwe in the mid-1960s. Blomefield created an environment on his farm in which any newcomer, regardless of vocation, ethnicity or faith, could explore his talent and attempt to earn a living as a sculptor. In 1966 the farm began its conversion into a large art community also with sculptors from Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Angola. Today some 300 artists live and work in the open-air workshops in Tengenenge. Since 1970, sculptors have also found support from the Chapungu Sculptor Park in Harare founded by the American Roy Guthrie. Today, Zimbabwean sculpture is sold, collected and exhibited worldwide and its production has become a lucrative profession for local artists.
All the sculptures on display are from private collections and were produced in Tengenenge using the same technique. After chiselling the stone to perfection, the sculptor smoothes the statue’s surface with water and sand paper, heats it over an open flame and then covers it with several layers of natural wax before polishing it. Some artists exploit the contrast between the statue’s polished surface and its roughly chiselled parts. The artwork on display represents all three generations of Zimbabwean sculptors (such as Fanizani Akuda and Ali Chitaro of the first generation, Lazarus Takawira and Conducto Kagore of the second and Edson Seda, Mike Munyaradzi, Bester Gunja and Victor Fire of the third). Since the 1990s, women (e.g. Angasa Amali and Elina Gosta) have been a part of the sculpture movement and some of their work is also on display.