Most Shona sculptures are abstract works based on traditional beliefs, customs and spiritual concepts. Works by Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Colleen Madamomba, Henry Munyaradzi, Bernard Matamera and Joseph Mdandarika, to name but a few, are in major collections and galleries throughout the world.
Shona sculpture took the international art world by storm in the mid-1970’s, after exhibits in Paris and New York. The New York Times art critic said, “If I was to name the top ten sculptors in the world today, five of them would have unpronouncable names and be living in Rhodesia (The name of Zimbabwe before independance in 1980). This acclaim brought fame to the first generation of Masters, but there was also a downside: Every kid with a hammer and chisel started to carve the soft Soapstone and Rapoko stone, which damaged the credibility and integrity of the movement and flooded Southern Africa with poor quality works.
A New Ethic
In the early 1980’s, as a response to the mass-produced “Airport Art” (as it came to be known), a separate group of sculptors evolved, known today as the ‘Fine Artists’.
They set themselves three objectives:
• To only carve the hard, beautiful stones that occur only in Zimbabwe
• To only carve realistic subjects, figures, heads, animals and groups
• To only carve to high quality, sometimes taking months to complete one piece.
There are only a few hundred in the Fine Art movement. Almost all of them are living in Harare or Chitungwiza, a town about 10 miles from the Capital, because of the close proximity to the mines and quarries, which are between one and five hours away by car.
Only about fifty of the Fine Artists are true masters. We buy directly, and selectively, from about 40 of them, visiting Zimbabwe two or three times a year to aquire works. We also go to the various mines and quarries to choose good quality stone with our artists and have it trucked to their workshops. This allows us to sell the works at prices considerably lower than the galleries in North America and Europe.