ted young artists and bringing their work to a wider audience. They also promote artists from elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa who work in a wide range of media from oils to scrap metal.
Although Zimbabwe’s younger artists may choose modern themes, the striking simplicity of their pieces reveals they too belong to an art movement that first gained international exposure in the 1950s, when Frank McEwen was appointed as the first curator of the new National Gallery in Harare.
McEwen was impressed with the talent of some of the artists he met in Zimbabwe, and he encouraged them to paint and later to sculpt. Because of his contacts in the international art world, he was able to give the movement that later became known as ‘Shona sculpture’ (after Zimbabwe’s most numerous tribe) its first international exposure.
McEwen encouraged the artists to look inward, to find their so-called tribal subconsciousness and express it through their art. Much of the early work was inspired by Shona mythology.
Over the following 50 years, many first- and second-generation artists have become famous worldwide. They are classed among the world’s most talented sculptors. Names to look out for include Henry Munyaradzi, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Joseph Ndandarika, Colleen Madamombe (the best-known female sculptor) and Richard Mteki. Brighton Sango was a leading light of the second generation until his untimely suicide in the 1990s. Collectors include Prince Charles, who opened the first major exhibition in the UK at the Barbican centre in the 1980s, and Michael Jackson.
Shona sculpture is widely accepted as the most important art movement to emerge from Africa in the twentieth century. It is very popular in the United States and Continental Europe, but it is less well known in the UK. General awareness of the art form in the UK was increased substantially by a high profile exhibition in 2000 at Kew Gardens in London, organised by Chapungu, featuring major works by many of the big names.
There is a new generation of amazingly talented artists working in Zimbabwe today, some still in their teens but already showing great promise. One of the best places to see their work is the Chitungwiza Arts Centre, a new sculpture community located in the centre of Zimbabwe’s third largest city, Chitungwiza. The city was traditionally known as a place where some of the best known sculptors lived and worked, displaying their pieces in their front yards.Post published in: Arts