Guruve specialises in stone sculpture from Zimbabwe, often known as the Shona art movement. Although the younger artists may choose modern themes, the striking simplicity of their pieces reveals they too belong to an art movement that first gained international exposure in the 1950s…
In 1957, Frank McEwen was appointed as the first curator of the new National Gallery in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). He had previously been curator at the Musée Rodin, Paris and had links with various artists of the time, including Picasso (who was himself heavily influenced by African art) and Matisse.
McEwen was impressed with the talent of some of the artists he met in Zimbabwe, and he encouraged them to paint and later to sculpt. Because of his contacts in the international art world, he was able to give the movement that later became known as ‘Shona sculpture’ (after Zimbabwe’s most numerous tribe) its first international exposure. However, it is not fair to say that he created the movement.
McEwen encouraged the artists to look inward, to find their so-called ‘tribal subconsciousness’ and express it through their art. Much of the early work was inspired by Shona mythology.
During the 1960s, Tom Bloemfield, a white farmer from Tengenenge in northern Zimbabwe, was looking to diversify land use on his farm. Tengenenge is located on the Great Dyke, source of good quality serpentine stone. He set up one the first, and now the largest and best-known, sculpture communities – many famous artists have worked there. (N.B. Guruve is the main town near to Tengenenge.) Other sculpture communities were located at Cyrene Mission near Great Zimbabwe and later at Chapungu Village in the suburbs east of Harare.
Over the following sixty years, many first- and second-generation artists have become famous worldwide. They are classed among the world’s most talented sculptors. Names to look out for include:
- Henry Munyaradzi
- Nicholas Mukomberanwa
- Sylvester Mubayi
- Joseph Ndandarika
- Colleen Madamombe (the best-known female sculptor)
- Bernard Matemera
- John and Bernard Takawira
- Boira Mteki
- Brighton Sango (was a leading light of the second generation until his untimely suicide in the 1990s)
- Dominic Benhura
Collectors include Prince Charles, who opened the first major exhibition in the UK at the Barbican centre in the 1980s, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson!
Shona sculpture is widely accepted as the most important art movement to emerge from Africa in the twentieth century. It is very popular in the United States and Continental Europe, but it is less well known in the UK. General awareness of the art form in the UK was increased substantially by a high profile exhibition in 2000 at Kew Gardens in London, organised by Chapungu, featuring major works by many of the big names.
There is a new generation of amazingly talented artists working in Zimbabwe today, some still in their teens but already showing great promise. A new Arts Centre was established with UNDP and Government Education Department funding, specifically to provide promising young artists with a stable base where they could develop their skills. With their new urban influences, these young artists are building on the old school of ‘Shona sculpture‘ and creating a new modern style.
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