Carving it up in Zimbabwe
A relatively recent addition to Zimbabwe's cultural arts is the highly stylised Shona sculptures found in many international galleries. As a school of art its origins date back no further than the 1950's but this has been time enough to gain a global reputation not just as great African art, but great art in the broadest sense. Gods, spirits, ancestors and totems are popularly interpreted in modern-art stone or wood sculptures, whilst animals, birds and reptiles are often stylised to reveal their characters. Deep human emotion and relationships are also very powerfully portrayed in Shona carvings.
Finding a sculptor at work and buying directly from him must surely be the most satisfying way to obtain a piece of art. One such artist is Maynard Maenzanise, whose outdoor studio is in a quiet corner near the Troutbeck Hotel in Zimbabwe's cool Eastern Highlands.
Picking up a craggy lump of rock the size of a pumpkin, Maenzanise sees much more than just a piece of grey stone. He states confidently, 'Here is the front. I will use this natural indentation to form the sculpture.' Amidst flying stone he says positively, 'I see a baboon. Baboons always climb high to sleep in the trees where nothing can get to them. This baboon is climbing the mountain for his night's rest.'
The indentation suddenly becomes the baboon's cheek. Maenzanise points out the mouth and nose and quickly chips in some eyes. In less than two minutes he has created the beginnings of a carving inspired by the natural shape of the rock and the nature which surrounds him.
The Eastern Highlands are rich in a variety of stones perfect for carving. Maenzanise often uses the mid-hard Greenstone found only in Nyanga, or the vibrant green Vedite - a difficult hard stone but stunning in its beauty. Soapstone comes in a variety of gentle browns and blacks and is so soft and workable that novices learn their art on it using wooden tools. It is this stone that Maenzanise's forefathers used as writing tablets and which is generally used for mass market export. Black Serpentine on the other hand is bold in colour, hard in form and perfect for large abstract creations.