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Zimbabwe: Tengenenge kids exhibit in Czech Republic
Celia Winter Irving
October 23, 2005

The stretch of a child's imagination is infinite. The International Children's Exhibition of Fine Arts at Lidice in the Czech Republic (this year in its 33rd year) brings together works of children from a world which is no longer safe and secure for children. The Czech village of Lidice was decimated during the Second World War when men were shot, women and children were "taken away". The exhibition shows the effects of the destruction, genocide and disaster upon children such that in some instances it is hard to believe children did the work.

There is one searing painting of a man whose face is blotched with blood, his hands coiled around the face of his wife, like a snake, to keep her from harm. Yet also shown is the part of a child's world created by the imagination - forests with monsters and strange beasts, "hordes" of cats, stalking like herons through the long grass, under a sky with a tennis ball of a moon shining bright.

And so it was that two sculptures from a place called Tengenenge in Zimbabwe in Africa found their way to this exhibition and were commended with awards. Tengenenge, indeed, is a place of forests and strange animals and cats, which come down from the folds of the mountains of the Great Dyke and hold their rituals of the night among the sculptures.

His Excellency Jaroslav Olsa Jnr, Ambassador for the Czech Republic in Zimbabwe, knows Tengenenge very well and has done much to merge Zimbabwean art and that of the Czech Republic through books and exhibitions. He sees the making of sculpture by children at Tengenenge as part of growing up and knowledge of their culture, their getting to know their parents who are sculptors. So the distance between Tengenenge and Prague is shortened by two young sculptors, Lainu Josiah, (grandson of Josia Manzi and son of the late Barcari Manzi), and Shaibu Josia, (son of Moveti Manzi), whose works are being exhibited in Lidice.

The catalogue says peace is the basic premise of a happy and undisturbed life of children who need safety and security. This is the way for children at Tengenenge who grow up with the comfort that their culture is respected and allowed to remain part of their lives as something they can reflect in their art. So it is for children at Tengenenge as they carve their stones and eke out their purpose and mission in life.

Ambassador Olsa comments: "Art by children shows the world as they see it; a world which is often a creation of the imagination; a world filled with games children play, the funny things they do; a world full of animals and nature. "From this exhibition, it is apparent that children feel much the same about life from wherever they come. And far away in Africa, the work of the two children from Tengenenge is about peace and the need for a better world - just like any other works from elsewhere in the world.

"Tengenenge provides children with a chance to be naturally brought up, both with life and with art, to see art as an everyday feature in their lives. Sculpture is something they come to out of curiosity and interest. It is what is around them every day. "At Tengenenge children of five make sculptures. They work away on their stones as if they have been doing so for 30 years."

Tengenenge founder director, Tom Blomefield, comments: "Tengenenge has always been a place for art education, not with classrooms and books and chalk on the boards, but by way of children sitting on the ground and taking sculpture seriously and not just playing around with their stones. "The Manzi family are part of Tengenenge's history. They are dynastic and ever present. Josia Manzi is of Yao origin, and he tells the stories of Yao folklore so well in his sculpture and with such humour. "His wife Janet makes plants in stone which flourish in the heat of the sun and grow in answer to the sun's rays and the white rain which covers the Great Dyke with gauze and bits of lace.

"Bacari Manzi, father of Lainu, made a huge sculpture which stands like a monument near the veranda at Tengenenge. "Moveti Manzi, father of Shaivu, makes sculptures which are dark with mask-like faces that speak of the secrecy of the Yao masquerades and the mystery of all things at Tengenenge."

With this exhibition in Lidice, the children of Tengenenge can be realised as serious artists anywhere in the world. This year the theme for the exhibition in Lidice was "Happiness", an unusual state in the world today but one which comes to children more easily than adults. From the work shown, it seems some children found their happiness from their love of animals. There is a painting of two giraffes with bright candy-coloured spots flanked by two elephants - one misty white and the other sky blue. There is another of a horse, surrounded by mirror images of horses, twisting its neck. There is a dog with a warm wet red tongue and eyes, which speak of contentment from food and warmth.

From Tengenenge, Lainu has made a sculpture of a face with eyes slit in the stone, the mouth just a line dug into the stone and an expressionless face like the faces in the Yao masked dancers. Lainu will wear his medal on his chest as a reminder of how he "became an international sculptor" in this fine exhibition in the Czech Republic.

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