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Between a rock and a hard place
Ginger da Silva
August 08, 2003

A statue in the gardens of Kasteel KeukenhofIn the well-tended gardens of an old Dutch chateau, there is a surprising exhibition of stone sculptures. Over a hundred works of art from about two dozen Zimbabwean sculptors are spread out in the dappled sun and shade beneath tall beech, pine and plain trees. The gurgling of a fountain and chirping birds form a bucolic chorus.

This is not just any exhibition. Some of the proceeds from this show will help restore the chateau, Kasteel Keukenhof, another portion will go to help maintain the National Gallery of Bulawayo and, most importantly of all, the sales will help sustain the artists themselves. These are rough times in Zimbabwe. A drought, political turmoil and social unrest are all having their effect, but Zimbabwean sculptors George Mubayi and Euwitt Nyanhongo are reluctant to talk much about it.

"Yeah, it's a problem," says Euwitt, "not a problem that we cannot work but you know the problems affect the tourist industry. At the moment there are very few tourists coming to Zimbabwe, so that affects our business very much."

Euwitt comes from a family of eight children. His father and five of the children are sculptors, so the lack of tourists affects the whole family.

A statue in the gardens of Kasteel KeukenhofHugo van der Zwart has been going to Zimbabwe for 20 years. He owns Gallery Sonda in The Hague, that deals exclusively in sculpture from Zimbabwe. It was his idea to mount a big outdoor show and, with help from the Dutch development organisation HIVOS, he was able to bring artists over to demonstrate their work. According to Hugo, the results were good for everybody, including the European public.

"In Europe, there is a very big market, but only a for very good sculptures. There is a bit of difference among artists…Maybe this will help, by discussing with the artists themselves. I'm sure that it is important for the buyers."

George explains that his own father is a first generation sculptor. In Zimbabwe, there is a difference in approach, he says, between the first, second and third generations.

A statue in the gardens of Kasteel Keukenhof"The first generation artists want to depict the cultural values of their people. If you ask them, there's always a tale behind the sculpture. It's a story and many stories. I comment on social-political issues. These first generation sculptors, they want to dwell upon where they come from, their roots. What I try to do is capture movement, use movement in my sculptures to make a statement, whereas people in the first generation want to make iconography. There's a spiritual element in their sculptures."

The attitude towards sculptors in Zimbabwe has changed, too, says Euwitt: "A long ways back sculptors were considered as very poor and unlearned people. But nowadays you can see some of the graduates become artists, because they have realised that there is an unlimited freedom in the field of art. You can express yourself and express your feelings in the way you like. So I think there is now a development of respect from the community."

George Mubayi's two-part sculpture "Teamwork" consists of a large hand holding a baton and another hand reaching back to receive it. The straining bodies of two runners remains unseen, only implied. He acknowledges that the message that people need to work together might be an important one for people back home, who are struggling to survive inflation, food shortages and political turmoil in Zimbabwe.

"I wouldn't think of myself as a political artist. I would like to think I'm a contemporary artist, working within the time-space that I'm living within, and therefore the things that I sculpt are a reflection of the things going on around me. Also the beauty of a sculpture – of art in general - is that it has a wide spectrum of meaning. People can look at it and it talks to them in its own unique way. If you look at it and you think that it's political to you, then it IS political."

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