Zimbabwean Shona artist John Takawira
John Takawira (1938-1989)

John was born in Chegutu, Zimbabwe but grew up in Inyanga in the Eastern Highlands. He had shown talent at woodcarving at school; when he left school, he tried various small jobs but they never stuck so he turned to his relative Joram Mariga for instruction in the art of carving. Mariga was the lynchpin of a group of artists who quarried their own stone and sculpted it. Soon after joining this loose association of sculptors, John Takawira took one of his pieces to the National Gallery (NGZ) in Salisbury (now Harare). The Director, Frank McEwen, was enthusiastic and as early as 1963 the Annual Exhibition at NGZ included some of John's work.

John's early work is all in steatite, soft soapstone, and shows a strong influence from Mariga. In 1969, John joined the newly-established workshop at Vukutu in the Eastern Highlands, where he was to stay until it was disbanded in 1976. Out in the sango (bush), the artists' work was inspired by nature and by dreams. The prevalent theme was the skeleton, seen frequently in the work of Sylvester Mubayi and Moses Masaya.

Takawira's work increasingly used very rough, natural weathered textures with only the face given a smooth finish. He leant heavily on his dreams for inspiration - a 1981 exhibition was entitled "My Dreams" - in which the baboon (respected for its shrewdness), the owl (wisdom) and the chapungu or fish eagle (the messenger between man and the ancestor spirits) featured prominently. The size of his work also increased; a reflection perhaps of his feeling that size dramatizes emotional impact and that boulder-like sculptures would radiate power and strength.

Exhibition highlights:

  • 1968-69 "New African Art", group exhibition organised by MoMA (New York), toured American cities
  • 1970 "Sculpture Contemporaines de Vukutu", Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
  • 1971 "Sculpture Contemporaines des Shona d'Afrique", Musée Rodin, Paris, France
  • 1977 Solo exhibition, Standard Bank Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe
  • 1981 First prize, Nedlaw Exhibition, National Gallery of Zimbabwe

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