Sylvester Mubayi, last of the ‘first generation’ greats, passes away

14th December 2022
Artist Sylvester Mubayi with Tim and Emma

Back in happier times… Sylvester Mubayi with Tim and Emma in c. 2011

Sad news again from Zimbabwe. Sylvester Mubayi passed away yesterday after a brief illness. Sylvester was the last surviving master sculptor from Zimbabwe’s so-called ‘first generation’ of sculptors, who achieved international recognition for their talents from the 1960s onwards.

He is pictured above with Tim and Emma Haire from Guruve at his workshop in Chitungwiza, where he worked with his assistants for many years. He lived with his family in a house just down the road.

He travelled the world over a sculpting career spanning decades, and took part in many group exhibitions and a number of solo exhibitions too. His greatest recent achievement was when he was selected to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

Sylvester’s greatest gift to the Zimbabwean sculpture community has been his continuing commitment to nurturing aspiring young artists. He always had a number of youngsters working with him, and always made time to advise and encourage. He was a great storyteller, and wove traditional Shona beliefs into every piece he made. He was a reservoir of knowledge, both in sculpting techniques and in providing spiritual and cultural inspiration.

Looking at the biographies of the younger generation of artists, it is moving and humbling to see how many of the contemporary sculptors name Sylvester as inspiration or mentor in their years of development. He leaves a lasting legacy.

We will miss him as a personal friend, and the Zimbabwean artists will miss their guide and senior mentor. The Shona sculpture community as a whole is left saddened as a central icon of the movement is no more.

Nematambudziko ku mhuri yekwa Sylvester. [Our condolences to Sylvester’s family.] Rest in peace.

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