Golden days of selling art replaced by gloom

“This one is going for 20 rand. That one goes for 500 rand and we can negotiate as long as you need any of these carvings. You can take this big one, which you can display in your house or anywhere in your yard.”

Arts, sports and culture minister Andrew Langa
Arts, sports and culture minister Andrew Langa

A group of men and women with stone and wood carvings in their hands are talking to a passing motorist.

The news is good. The motorist wants many of their pieces and asks them to calculate a good price. The artists have every reason to smile because they now have cash in their pockets.

These were the golden days when sculptors around the country showed off their wares to tourists on the country’s major highways. Most were South Africans visiting Zimbabwe for the festive season.

Men and women, some with children wrapped on their backs, lived along the Roadside, making a decent living from their beautifully crafted artworks.

If a white man stopped his car nearby, then it meant business. If a black man stopped, no-one moved.

The glory days, however, are long gone for Lameck Mundoza, a Masvingo sculptor, who now wonders where his next dollar will come from, let alone enough money to send his children to school.

“The fact that you could see all our carvings displayed along the major roads was clear testimony that all was rosy,” said Mundoza. “We were the first people to know the exchange rate between the Zimbabwe dollar and the South African rand and then the rand was trading at a lower rate than the Zimbabwean.

“If I think of those golden days, my heart bleeds. I don’t think the sculpture industry, especially the stone and wood carving business, will return to such days where we were making huge money,” he added.

Although he has perfected his stone carving art, the challenge is finding anywhere to sell his products.

“We have to talk of reviving the tourism industry if we are to return to those days,” he said. “We have to vigorously market our country so that tourists flock in large numbers. I have a family of six to look after and my talent cannot help me any more.”

Many sculptors have turned to other work; some to crime.

“I am into gold panning. It no longer pays to sell wood or stone carvings along the road,” said one former sculptor. “Being talented in wood or stone carvings no longer pays and I would not want my small child to be like me.”

The Arts Council of Zimbabwe, which is responsible for assisting artists to market their products, has admitted times are gloomy for sculptors.

Rumbidzai Murombe, an official with the Arts Council, said life had become a nightmare for sculptors since there were no meaningful markets for their work.

However, arts, sports and culture minister Andrew Langa said sculptors should be moving with the times, finding new ways of marketing their products.

“Sculptors should not just sit and wait for a market, but instead they should work in groups to market their products abroad,” he said. “That way, they would even earn more than they used to when marketing their products by the roadside.”

Post published in: Arts

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