Stone Artists Celebrate Life in the Midst of Struggle

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a country blessed with an abundance of natural resources, yet it is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The vast majority (95%) of Zimbabweans are unemployed or underemployed and living below the poverty line. HIV/AIDS is still a serious problem, with approximately ten percent of the adult population living with some form of the disease.  Yet despite these grim statistics, the work of Zimbabwean stone artists is fresh, alive, and dynamic. It is work of celebration, not of despair.

In this video, Profound Journey tribe member and curator of ZimArt, Fran Fearnley, shares the work of three sculptors: Taylor Nkomo, Sylvester Mubayi, and Brighton Layson.

I always find it a real pleasure to listen to someone who is both knowledgeable and passionate. Fran is certainly both. I hope you enjoy the video. Please note that photographs of the sculptures follow, along with a transcript divided into sections for faster reading.

Sculpture titled Marching to a Different Tune by Zimbabwean stone artist Taylor Nkomo
Marching to a Different Tune – Taylor Nkomo

One of the things I’ve really appreciated over the years of going to Zimbabwe is I feel it’s a really dynamic art movement. There’s always changes happening in the way the artists are treating the stone.

Three Art Forms Evident in Stone

These three pieces are a really interesting example. This artist, Taylor Nkomo, started out in fabric design, then moved into graphic design, and then into stone carving.

You see some wonderful things happening here, where he polished this area and then scratched it afterwards. And all three pieces have some additional stone in here. So this here is cobalt, which has been attached to the spring stone. And then this –it’s not painted on. It’s an inlay. So it’s like a marquetry in stone.

Sculpture titled Two Sides of Me by Zimbabwean stone artist Taylor Nkomo
Two Sides of Me – Taylor Nkomo

And you can really sense, when you’re looking at his work, that he brings a different sensibility from his other art disciplines.

This here is a dolomite that has been inserted into the stone as well so you get the wonderful energy that comes from the eye here. And as we get close to these sculptures, you really see he’s working about five different textures on this piece.

Here again. These two different stones that are here, and these sort of textural treatments of the stone, help to create contrast and areas of interest.

An Evolving Art Form

Those different ways of treating the stone are all part of what’s been evolving in, I would say, the last 15-17 years. So now you’ve got – this isn’t actually stone that has been carved at all. It’s raw stone, but he’s decided to polish it. I just find that incredibly interesting.

People look at Taylor’s work and immediately say things like, “Picasso” but of course, as we know very well, Picasso himself said he was very inspired by African art.

So it’s like, I mean really who cares where the chicken and egg are. You just see this very striking, really contemporary work from somebody who’s bringing his three disciplines to art.

So that’s just one example. I mean I find over the years when I’m travelling there, I’m always discovering new artists or new treatments of the stone and I find that very exciting. It really shows the dynamism and energy in this art movement that is keeping it very much alive and interesting.Verdite stone sculpture titled 'Boy Hiding' by Zimbabwean stone artist Sylvester Mubayi

A Sculptor’s Paradise

These two sculptures by Sylvester Mubayi who’s a contemporary really of Walter’s father (Joram Mariga). Mubayi is still alive and carving, he’s in his late 80’s. They’re carved in verdite. And part of what’s so wonderful about these pieces, including just the form and the feeling of them, is this incredible stone, verdite. Which now, unfortunately, the artists can only get in very, very small pieces.

So the selection of stone, as I’m sure Walter told you, is such an important part of the creative process. And the artists in Zimbabwe have over two hundred varieties of stone that they can carve in, which is really a sculptor’s paradise.

Because stone is a natural material, any one piece of verdite – if you’re looking at these two pieces – is totally different. I mean you’ve got this wonderful browning area happening on the forehead of this ‘Boy Hiding’ piece of Sylvester’s, and then some brilliant greens in ‘Boy Dreaming’.

And you know, the stone excites the artist, gives them a sense of discovery as they’re working with it. And then, of course, it excites us when we see the finished piece because it really is part of the originality and beauty of the piece.head and neck sculpture titled Queen of Beauty by Zimbabwean stone artist Brighton Layson

Stone Artists Celebrate Life

This sculpture here – ‘Queen of Beauty’ by Brighton Layson. He’s a new artist for me this year. It’s a very, very beautiful piece. And like so many of the sculptures that you see, there’s such a degree of beauty and tranquility, but also a huge amount of dignity to the work.

You’ll see in this entire collection that even though life is pretty tough for artists in Zimbabwe, nearly all the work is about the celebratory parts of life. They’re about family. Women are a huge source of inspiration, partly because 90-95% of the sculptors in Zimbabwe are men.

But the other themes too are spiritual connections, connections to nature. Birds because birds are really seen as symbols of freedom.

So, despite everything that people are going through and some of the toughness, economically and otherwise, that they are dealing with, you never see that in the work. Or very rarely.

It’s almost as though the creation of beauty, like this piece, is sort of a balm for their own soul and something that they want to share about what’s really deep in their culture.

I find that really quite remarkable. I think we have so much to learn from cultures where, in struggle, they can create beauty and celebrate what’s best in life. Zimbabweans really, really are able to do that.

Sylvester Mubayi’s ‘Boy Dreaming’ is my favourite of the sculptures Fran discusses. I love the theme and, most especially, the stone. When I saw this sculpture in person I couldn’t help but stroke it. It’s just a beautiful piece. It glows. 

Do you have a favourite? Let us know in the comments below.

5 comments

  1. Thank you for this video, and this post, Karen. These sculptures are just gorgeous. Hearing Fran describe each one (and standing beside them for size reference) really gave me the feel of being there.

    I think my favorite sculpture (well really, three sculptures) are the first three in the video. The artist I believe is Taylor Nkomo…something about the textures and the Picasso-esque style just draws my eyes to them. My next favorite if I can choose one more would be the Boy Dreaming sculpture. I love the curves and smooth flowing lines of that one.

    It also strikes me that the women sculpted do look serene and beautiful as if the artist has captured their model at a moment that is so peaceful. I find it calming just looking at them.

  2. Wow Susan, you are on fire today! I’m loving your different perspectives. It never occurred to me that having Fran beside the sculptures would help out with size reference and, therefore, with the feeling of being there. Really good point, as is your point about the women looking so serene. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

    1. LOL, you’re welcome. I love coming here and finding new stuff to look at and talk about. I really appreciate you commenting back so promptly too…it is almost like you live on this website. 😉 No, seriously though far too many websites these days are not updated or tended as well. It is very discouraging to attempt to interact with them so I really appreciate coming here knowing my comments are not only welcomed but read and responded to. 🙂 I will try to find even more ways to share this website with other women because I want the comment sections packed with responses to test just how many you can answer at a time. 😉

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