In the early sculpture movement in Zimbabwe many artists found their inspiration from their Totems or from the Supernatural. These days many of the younger artists seem to have become disconnected to their ancient beliefs and are now working in more abstract form.
Most artists are inspired by everyday life and hence the many pieces depicting ladies caring for children, bathing and collecting water. Others take inspiration from Nature – organic forms, flowers and leaves and of course the animals play an important part in everyday rural life. From Guineafowl, to Monkeys and Lizards to many types of Bird species.
With unemployment approximated at about 80% and with raw materials to sculpt with being relatively at hand, many Zimbabweans have tried their hand at sculpting.
Most sculptors find the form of their inspiration in the shape of the rock. Each sculptor has their own personal style and will choose the stone to suit their style. There is generally no pre-sketching, everything is created free-form.
Every sculptor we work with works on their sculpture by hand, no power tools are used at any stage in the process. Artists’ stone tools consist of hammers, points, chisels, rasps and chasing hammers.
These tools give quite different effects. The finishing of a sculpture takes almost as long as the actual creation. The smooth effect is achieved by using wet and dry sandpapers – sanding the piece for hours in water. This is called ‘washing’.
If the artists want a high polish on the stone (which gives the dramatic difference in texture and colour) the stone is heated which expands the pores of the stone and a natural floor wax is applied to the designated area. This is left to soak into the stone until cooled and then buffed up to a high gleam, which finishes the work.
Usually we have two sculptors demonstrating daily at our exhibitions – they will be more than happy to show you any of the techniques above – they may even let you try!
We often get asked if there is any formal type of sculpting school or arts school that the artists go to.
All of the artists have learnt through apprenticeship (with some rare exceptions) through their fathers, brothers, uncles or neighbors. Usually learning as young children, perhaps after school or at the weekends, doing the jobs the artists ‘don’t’ want to do, like sanding/washing or polishing, which is time consuming and hard work! Obviously some artists children grow up with tools in their hands…
There are three completely different styles of stone sculpture in Zimbabwe
Fine Art is usually made with pneumatic tools. Fine Drimmel instruments that can make all the delicate detail. The better quality ‘Fine Art’ is made in harder stones such as Butterjade, Lapidolite or Verdite.
Curio/Airport Art is mass produced. Made by hand still, but because it’s usually made with soapstone the softest stone available, it can be quickly manipulated and created. We often get approached by clients who have brought these kinds of pieces on holiday (at markets or by the side of the road) which then break. Because soapstone is so soft and brittle it does not travel well. In Zimbabwe these sculptures are worth very little and people often ask me to value these type of pieces, which they think are worth a fortune!
The general rule of thumb to tell if the stone is hard or not is to pick it up and scratch the underneath. If the stone chalks under your finger nail its soapstone and too soft!
The work we represent fits under a different style ‘Contemporary Art’ – which indicates they are progressive works, individual and not mass produced. These are made from hard stones that can withstand cold European and North American climates. See our stone page about the stone used.