Face-to-face with Dominic Benhura

BY KJW

LONDON - Zimbabwean sculptor Dominic Benhura has been creating and selling his work for over 25 years and is internationally renowned as one of the most talented second generation sculptors in Zimbabwe. He has just finished a tour of the United States and is exhibiting his work in


London at the Oxo Gallery on the South Bank of the Thames.
He speaks enthusiastically about his pieces as he is photographed, leaning casually on his sculpture of a bull and then moving on to look up in awe at a staggering 9 foot figure of a mother holding the hands of her two children. Despite being quite shy he poses with the ease of a model, and talks modestly of his passion for art.

Benhura began creating sculptures when he was just 10, working as an apprentice for his cousin, first generation artist Tapfuma Gutsa. When he sold his first piece as a professional artist at the age of 12, he became determined to follow a career as a sculptor despite disapproval from his family. “I was quite bright,” he said, “so my family wanted me to get a good job as an architect. They thought there was no future in being an artist.” He was to prove them wrong gaining a place at the highly competitive Chapungu Sculpture park and exhibiting his work all over the world. He decided to break away from Chapungu in 1994 after he grew disillusioned with the system. “I saw other artists with potential but struggling to get into Chapungu and I wanted to give them an opportunity,” he said. So he built his own studio in his backyard at his home in Harare and invited 40 artists to work with him.

Benhura’s work portrays emotion through form rather than facial features. He gets endless inspiration for his work from his five children and he noticed when traveling to exhibit his work that children from Europe to America played the same games as his own kids in Zimbabwe. “People are the same all over the world, my sculpture here could be a mother with her children from anywhere,” he said.

It can take him up to two years to complete some of his larger sculptures. Smaller ones take between two and three months. He uses various mixed media – different types of stone, steel, and wire. He is also the only Zimbabwean stone sculptor to use colour on his sculptures, utilizing painted textiles and glass on his figures of children to give the viewer a sense of the simple joy and fun of children at play.

Benhura gets his inspiration from the things around him and refuses to go into museums and art galleries as he does not want to be influenced by other people’s work. The aim of his work is communicate powerful but simple ideas and he says that this is most evident in one of his favourite pieces “Our HIV Friend” of which he is justifiably proud. It is a massive piece weighing 8 to 10 tonnes, showing two figures hugging in a gesture of love and support. “I showed it in the States,” said Dominic, “it is such a strong image that people were standing in front of it and just crying.” – Dominc’s work is on display at The Gallery, Oxo Tower until 16 July as part of an exhibition: African Odyssey – From Ancient Spirits to Modern Misses: 50 years of Zimbabwean sculpture. Entry is free.

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