The Zimbabwean Artists’ Experiences

Life as a Zimbabwean Sculptor

Over the years, we have spent many days and weeks with the stone sculptors of Zimbabwe and made many good friends. We have a pretty good sense of what makes them tick, and thought you might find these comments about relationships with customers and community and the history of the art movement fascinating…


“Some people who work in factories etc. look at the sculptors when they are sitting for month after month with no customers, and they ask, ‘Why do you do this thing?’
But sculpting is a calling, it comes from the inside. Even though I’m a professional truck driver, I’m not happy working for someone else. When customers do come, we do well, but you have to be very strong inside to survive the quiet times.”

Ernest Tarwireyi, 2009


“Historically the sculpture community was very close and often intermarried. They shared the same interests and artistic nature, and understood the idea of being an artist where the wider community saw them as misfits. Often the children of sculptors grew up together, as they lived in communities such as Vukutu – they played together as children but they also sometimes ended up marrying. Now we are into the third generation of contemporary Zimbabwean sculptors, all the main sculpture families are interlinked by marriage.”

From a conversation with Sylvester Mubayi in 2008

(NB This might explain why certain totems crop up again and again.)


“Sometimes when those buyers [who offer poor prices] come to visit, you only show them the pieces [you’ve made] that you’re not so fond of. If there are pieces that you make that you feel really good about, you keep them to show to customers you know will give you a price you’ll be happy with.”

Perlagia Mutyavaviri, 2009


“You don’t see any work like this from me on other websites because you guys [] are the only ones who pay me a decent price for the pieces. For everyone else, I just do simple pieces.”

Onias Mupumha, 2009


“Everybody who has seen these pieces while I’ve been creating them has been amazed. They want to know why they haven’t seen this quality before, why they haven’t noticed me. I tell them these pieces are reserved for Tim and Emma [] because I know I’ll get paid properly for them. For everybody else, I make less effort and the quality falls.”

Boet Nyariri, 2009


“When I first saw people copying my art, I was very surprised. I never thought I would ever have anyone imitating my pieces.”

“The [main] problem I face is getting the raw stones. Going to the mine costs a lot of money…I never get enough money to have big pieces in my garden.”

“Most customers won’t pay the prices [we need to cover costs and living expenses], so for parts of the year [when there are few customers around] it’s not financially viable to sculpt.”

“I don’t really sculpt for money. Money is secondary. I just want to improve my art.”

“It would be great if there were three or four customers like Guruve. We would get to know the true value of our art. It would keep us going throughout the year, plus the quality of the work would be [even] better because your mind is free of money worries.”

Tanyanyiwa Nyandoro, 2009


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Related links:

Shona sculpture movement – Zimbabwe’s art history

Shona spirit beliefs – how they inspire Zimbabwean sculpture

Sculpture process – stages in the process from raw stone to sculpture

Common themes in Zimbabwean sculpture

Types of stone commonly used by the best Zimbabwean artists

Young sculptors at an Arts Centre for aspiring sculptors

Care and repair – helpful guidance on looking after your sculpture