Culture in Stone

Culture in Stone, an exhibition which showcases three Zimbabwean artists’ work to an international audience in London, has been extended due to popular demand.

The exhibition, originally scheduled to end on 3 June, will now be open 11am to 6pm daily until 10 June.

Gedion Nyanhongo, Collen Nyanhongo, and Hilary Manuhwa each combine ancient Shona cultural heritage with contemporary themes in their stone sculptures.

Brothers Gedion and Collen were taught by their father, first generation sculpture artist Claud Nyanhongo, alongside their sister, Agnes Nyanhongo, herself an internationally-renowned artist.

“We started when we were kids,” Gedion told *****The Zimbabwean, “I started making sculptures before I knew my name!”

After learning his craft by helping Claud finish his sculptures, Gideon was sent off for an apprenticeship with family friend Joseph Ndandarika, who polished Gedion’s style.

The early hard work paid off. Gedion launched his solo career in 1988 and is now an international success with studios in Zimbabwe and Scottsdale, Arizona in the United States.

He shipped sculptures from both studios to the London exhibition, and is happy with the public’s response to his art.

“A lot of people have come in, from a variety of cultures, and have responded very positively to my work,” he said.

Gedion explores social issues such as unemployment in his work, but still tries to make art that people can enjoy on their own terms.

“I want my art to make people happy, and to promote peace,” he said.

Collen agreed, and said it was important to remember that buyers end up displaying the sculptures in their homes.

“An exhibition like this one is enjoyable because we get to spend time talking to the people who will eventually live with our work,” Collen said.

Like his brother, Collen has had success around the world. His work has been honoured in Zimbabwe, France, England, South Africa, the United States, to name a few.

For Collen, working with stone is difficult, but rewarding.

“I look at the stone and consider it before I sculpt. I work the stone to find out what it can be, what it is saying. It can take months to finish one sculpture.”

Hilary, though not part of the Nyanhongo dynasty by blood, was taught by Gedion early in his career, before moving to the UK in 2001.

“It was difficult in Britain at first,” Hilary said, “but eventually I won a grant which enabled me to establish myself as an artist here”.

“British people have responded well to my work. British society is quite diverse – people respect any culture as long as you respect theirs – so it didn’t take much for people to respond to my work.”

Since establishing himself in the UK, Hilary has been able to experiment much more with different mediums, but always finds himself drawn back to African themes.

“I can work with many types of stone – stone from both Europe and Africa – but I only transfer African concepts to the stone,” Hilary said.

One of Hilary’s pieces is called Mother Africa, which represents Hilary’s belief that, although people in Africa live in different countries and speak different languages today, they all came from the same place, long ago.

“Some people have never been to Africa, but through our work they can learn something about African and Zimbabwean culture. I think they appreciate that.”

Asked when he knows a sculpture is finished, Hilary smiled. “They’re never really finished. At one point you just have to let it go, usually you can feel when the time is right, but it’s not always easy.”

Keeping the exhibition in the family, a third Nyanhongo, and Gedion’s daughter, Yvette, has helped to launch and run the exhibition. Studying marketing in Mutare, Yvette found the exhibition “a great opportunity to learn how to market art and run exhibitions.” Something she thinks will be useful as she is a budding artist herself.

Though none of her artwork is on display, she is hopeful for the future. “I have completed a few pieces of sculpture, I’m still learning though.”

If her family name is any guide, you can be sure the youngest Nyanhongo has a great future in the art world ahead of her too.

Post published in: Arts

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