facts about the precise order of the events are difficult to place,
but it is suggested in discussions with the earliest artists that
Frank McEwen encouraged the technigues of sculpture after seeing
early work by men as Joram Mariga who, at that time had broken
away from the use of soft stones and was experimenting with harder
materials and more individualistic expression and themes. It must
be remembered that there was already carving of a sort in Zimbabwe
in the Fifties and Sixties.
is true now, there was stone work for sale to tourists - realistic
interpretations of the wildlife, in the main produced in soft
soapstone. Concurrent with the arrival of McEwen to the country's
new National Gallery, it seems that a handful of carvers were
independently breaking away from the established forms of carving
and experimenting on their own. This new work seems to have ignited
McEwen's enthusiasm and imagination and led to his assuming the
role of encourager and 'director".
Such artists initially brought their work to the National Gallery
for selection and sale and McEwen, as often, would visit their
'studios' to guide, comment and initiate the relationships from
which the movement was to be born (...)
discussion with one of the founding sculptors will reveal the
difficulties faced by McEwen and his artists; the lack of space
and the basic equipment with which they worked. Progress was slow
and, in the beginning, very uninspiring. In a room allocated for
storage at the back of the new National Gallery, McEwen supplied
interested artists with materials that were available and encouraged
them to experiment - in most cases with painting.
the difficulties, McEwen quickly knew that here was enormous potential.
Word spread amongst the local people and within a few years increasing
numbers attended the Workshop School, or alternatively brought
their own work from areas such as Nyanga and Bulawayo. There is,
now, much debate about Frank McEwen's precise role within this
informal 'school'. He defends his position using the theories
of Moreau, in which he strongly believed.
up to 75 artists would come and go as and when they could. There
was not a trace of art school mentality. No teaching but an atmosphere
of individual drawing outtas Gustave Moreau had propounded and
Henri Matisse and others had explained to me. Obviously, there
must be an aura of vibrant art content to be drawn out. "
1958 the National Gallery hosted its First Annual Federal Art
Exhibition. Work from all over Rhodesia was submitted for selection,
including painting, sculpture, design and objects d'art.
The resulting exhibition of some 150 pieces set the foundations
for an annual showcase of local talent (European and indigenous).
As such it became an important 'tool' with which McEwen defended
his belief in the value of involving local people and encouraging
local artistic abilities. This was no amateurish jamboree, but
instead a rigorously selected display of startling expression
- an insistent voice which demanded attention and which, within
a few years, excited serious interest from the most important
art centres of the world. Work by artists from McEwen's Workshop
School was shown alongside that of established artists. Painting
was extremely strong within the School but it soon became clear
that the medium with which the African artists worked most freely
and imaginatively was stone.
the years passed, stone sculpture assumed an increasingly strong
presence in the exhibitions and significant purchases were made
for the Galley's permanent collection as well as for its international
exhibitions. The catalogues from these early annual exhibitions
make for interesting reading. With each exhibition McEwen argues
and provides evidence for the work to be taken seriously - not
so much with an international audience as this seemed to happen
from the first - but with the national establishment.
this, international interest was growing and art experts such
as Alfred Barr, Tristan Tzara, Michel Leiris, John Russell, Roland
Penrose and William Fagg Began to visit Rhodesia and examine the
origins of the work. In 1971, McEwen organised a critical exhibition
in the Musee Rodin, in Paris. This show was responsible for the
serious assessment of the sculpture by the established art world.
Virtually every piece was bought by collectors and art lovers:
some of which remain in important collections today. It seemed
that, for the first time, the work could stand by itself in the
face of scrutiny - with no defence or explanation other than that
required to satisfy the interest of the uninitiated. The source
of the work was respected and acclaimed and the sculpture itself
was hailed as a potential influence on the world art scene.
important exhibitions were to follow, chiefly Shona Sculptures
of Rhodesia held in 1972 at the I.C.A. Gallery, London and
a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also
in 1972. These received tremendous critical acclaim and marked
the beginning of acknowledgement of the sculpture as a serious
role as spiritual 'leader' and, to some extent, 'protector' of
the movement continued to the end of his Directorship in 1973.
Soon after the initial interest from international collectors
and organisations, McEwen sought a new venue for his Workshop
School. Fearful of commercial pressures on the young work, he
enlisted the help of sculptor, Sylvester Mubayi in establishing
a rural community in the powerful environment of the Eastern Highlands
of Zimbabwe - the Nyanga district - and named it Vukutu.
Vukutu, an ancient sanctuary of great beauty and complete isolation,
surrounded by sculpture-like rocks, our best artists came to live
in an art community. They hunted for pure food according to their
belief in life-force. Here they produced their finest work away
from the encroaching tourist trade. It was the best move we ever
centres of encouragement and creativity existed, including the
artistic teaching at two mission schools - Serima and Cyrene However,
a quite separate and different community of sculptors.
was founded by Tom Blomefield, in the late sixties in the North
East of Zimbabwe. Blomefield had been a tobacco farmer in Guruve
who, through the pressures of international sanctions after Ian
Smith's Declaration of Unilateral Independence (UDI), was no longer
able to provide reliable employment for his farm workers - many
of whom had travelled to Zimbabwe from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia
and Angola. In an effort to continue his support for these men
and their families he encouraged them to make the change from
farm labouring to art. The land on which the community was sited
included an impressive natural deposit of hard, carveable Serpentine
and it was to be stone carving for which his men became respected
and applauded over the following twenty years. Frank McEwen and
the National Gallery supported this community for several years,
before the establishment of its own rural Workshop at Vukutu.
Tengenenge then continued on its own path and still thrives today.
As expressed in the quotation by Ulli Beier, about Frank McEwen,
Blomefield had a similar, remarkable, ability to foster and extract
latent talent from artistically untrained people. Like McEwen,
he too has an infectious enthusiasm and gift of inspiring others,
if not to create, then to would not have come about were it not
for more these qualities. The two men, however, could not have
had more different backgrounds and experiences on which to base
their theories. With no artistic training and very little knowledge
of the arts, Blomefield nevertheless felt passionately about the
natural creative potential within the African people in Zimbabwe.
Within an unshakeable (some would say naive) belief in
the ability to live by simple means and personal resources in
times of hardship, he displayed immense courage in implementing
first asked to be shown how to sculpt - approaching Chrispen Chakanuka.
(...). After a short time of experimentation and hard work, he
felt able to encourage anyone interested within the community
around him. From such simple beginnings a movement was created
which bore testimony to his beliefs and ideals. With similar,
but less stringent guidelines as those practised by McEwen, he
encouraged the emerging artists of Tengenenge to search their
souls and create whatever they felt drawn to. He offered basic
'criticism' and advice if asked but in the main saw his role as
a source of support. It is unquestionably due to this sensitive
attitude that such extraordinary and unique talents found their
expression: Lemon Moses, Bernard
Matemera, Josiah Manzi, Wazi Maicolo, Amali Malola, Henry
Munyaradzi, Sylvester Mubayi, Fanizani
Some sculptors moved from the community to work on their own,
or to join McEwen's various groups - but all benefited incalculably
from Blomefield's generous spirit and sense of good.(...)
within the country also heightened at this time and a ten-year
internal struggle finally led to Independence for the new Zimbabwe
in l980. The years of war represented an extremely difficult period
for the sculptors. Many abandoned their art and returned to more
conventional activities; many were unable to work in the rural
areas as these became increasingly dangerous.(...)
it was then, that the responsibilities of the private promoters
became more important. During the war years it was almost impossible
to exhibit or sell work and individuals such as Roy Guthrie could
only encourage and financially support the artists by purchasing
works for the future exposure they believed possible in more peaceful
times. Through this process Guthrie established strong friendships
with the major artist of the time (John Takawira, Sylvester Mubayi,
Joseph Ndandarika, Joram Mariga,
Henry Munyaradzi. Bernard Takawira, Nicholas Mukomberanwa,
Boira Mteki, Bernard Matemera),
and at the first opportunity, began to organise definitive exhibitions
abroad. These, in turn, aroused international interest that had
existed previously and provided new impetus for the established
artists as well as encouraging fresh, younger talent.
exhibitions in these years of recovery and renewal were:
Shona Sculpture, Zimbabwe
House, London, England (1981);
Skulpturen Aus Zimbabwe, Zoological Garden Museum, Frankfurt,
Germany (1983,1984 and 1985);
Stone Sculpture from Zimbabwe, Irving Sculpture Gallery,
Stone Sculpture from Zimbabwe,
Margam Castle, West Glamorgan, Wales (1986).
During the first six years after Independence, Roy Guthrie's Gallery
Shona Sculpture ( later to become the Chapungu Sculpture
Park) was responsible for all the major international exposure
of the sculpture. The preservation of important works for the
cultural heritage of Zimbabwe is an ongoing commitment for Chapungu
Sculpture Park, as is the essential documentation of both the
sculpture and artists.
a result of recent exhibitions, much has been written and published
about the stone sculpture movement. Additionally, interest in
the work of younger generations of Zimbabwean sculptors is now
shown by international audiences - in art historical terms work
has now been produced by second and third igenerations' . The
sculpture has taken new direction and tackled different issues
than those of the 'founding' artists and it is wit this new talent
that the future of the shona sculpture movement lies.
free from the accepted images of ancient, tribal African art,
audiences are invited to view this work with an open heart and
mind and take what relevance they may for their lives, wherever
in the world they may be. Surely this is the purpose of Art?
"Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe"
- Mawdsley, Joceline.