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The Shona Art Movement

Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture

Top Zimbabwean sculptors promoted by Guruve would never dream of using soapstone - so what do they use? Locally sourced hard serpentine stone is the ideal sculpture medium.

What are the sculptures made of?

The majority of stones used in Zimbabwean sculpture are locally sourced and belong to the geological family Serpentine. They are sedimentary, having originally been laid down on a sandy seafloor, and metamorphic, since subsequent exposure to intense heat and pressure over hundreds of millions of years has transformed them into hard stone. Serpentines are rich in iron, so when the stone weathers it turns a rust colour.

In Zimbabwe, they occur as part of the Great Dyke, a horseshoe-shaped geological formation stretching through the north and east round to the centre of the country. The natural weathering processes are now exposing the rocks at the surface. Colours range from yellow and green, through brown to black.

Serious sculptors prefer the hardest varieties of serpentine such as springstone, fruit serpentine and leopard rock. These dense stones have extremely fine grains and uniform structure, making them ideal raw materials for sculpting.

Springstone The best-known springstone mines are in the Mvurwi area in northern Zimbabwe (raw stone and polished stone shown).

Leopard rock Leopard rock comes from a few small mines in Nyanga, eastern Zimbabwe and gets its name from the black spots (raw stone pictured).

fruit serpentine Colourful fruit serpentine comes from the Kwekwe area, south-west of Harare

opal and domboshawa Another very common type of serpentine is what is colloquially known as 'opal stone' (a very soft pale green serpentine) and comes from Chiweshe, north of Harare. Also pictured is the very pretty pale pink and white variant known as 'Domboshawa opal stone'.
Please note that all types of 'opal' serpentine are soft, not much harder than soapstone, and are not suitable for outdoor display in winter. Any website that suggests 'opal stone' is as hard as the opal gemstone is misleading the reader and revealing a basic lack of knowledge of Zimbabwean materials.

Non-serpentine stones from Zimbabwe also used for sculpting by the best artists include:

lepidolite The quartzite mineral lepidolite which in pure form is a perfect lilac/purple.

dolomite Dolomite marble which is identical to that found in the Italian Alps and is very hard with large crystals.

Mines tend to be small-scale open cast operations. They are too small to cause any environmental damage and form a valuable alternative source of income to rural communities.

Click here for advice on care and maintenance of your sculpture.

These photos and text are copyright (please see statement on our homepage) and is the intellectual property of Guruve Ltd and must not be reproduced without our permission and attribution to www.guruve.com

Related links:
Shona sculpture movement - Zimbabwe's art history
Shona spirit beliefs - how they inspire Zimbabwean sculpture
Common themes in Zimbabwean sculpture
Sculpture process - stages in the process from raw stone to sculpture
Life as a sculptor - comments and insight from Zimbabwean artists
Young sculptors at an centre for aspiring sculptors
Care and repair - helpful guidance on looking after your sculpture

 

 

Shona sculpture by Zimbabwean artist Sylvester Mubayi

Title: Girl Paying Attention