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When sculpture emerges as protest art
Stephen Garan'anga, African Colours
July 13, 2007

Today some sculptors renege the tradition giving Zimbabwean sculpture claim to fame. With the acquisition of stone a lost cause, an impossible dream, they turn to what they find around them. Shards of pots, ancient relics, today known as cultural artifacts, assume in sculpture- their rightful place as Zimbabwe's cultural heritage. Bits of kitchenware what is left behind of features of homes tied to tops of buses carrying families to Mutoko, Mount Darwin become part of sculptures. Piles of rubble, once a loved and tended garden is used in sculpture. Dumps (plentiful now in the high-density areas) - tokens of new movements of people are hunting grounds for sculptors.

Today sculptors use ancient and modern detritus to make telling futuristic, apocalyptic works, voicing what lies inside rather than what is spoken. Thus, sculpture emerges as protest art, as much as street theatre, spoken poetry, or a pocket size volume of short stories. Kitchen spoons, parts of an egg beater, tell of the love a woman once had in her kitchen, a gleaming place, her household pride, bits of machine tools of the love a man once had for his backyard workshop, his bolt hole from family pressures. These sculptures may tell different stories about Zimbabwe today to the stories told by the stones. They tell of the way people literally shelve the past and start again, give their lives a new setting.

In the international art world, mixed media has become something of a gallery conceit, an aspect of sculpture contrived to shock, Proactive _ stolen potentialsometimes to displease. In Zimbabwe mixed media made through dire necessity has much to say and creates a direct link between art and contemporary Zimbabwean society. They are sculptors who pack up their tools, their wives and kids, rope the roof of their car to start a new existence, one where sculpture is simply "what you do" rather than what you do for a living. They bring to these remote places what is happening in stone in Highfield and Hatfield and Chitungwiza, and conversely they learn about sculpture when sculptors are close to and dependant on nature and close to their traditions.

The day starts with sculpture rather than the bus to go to the city and pay the rent. For bath take fresh stream not tub, for breakfast take fruits not bread and tea. For material read raw stone, not what's in the trash can and the pailings falling off the back fence. For buyers forget e-mail, wait for the 4x4 drive up the dirt road. The family is not a single mother or father coping with the kids but an extended family, the grandmother making her pots, the old men talking the day away under a tree. The rural sculptors get their stones first up first hand from the mine rather than off another sculptor's truck the left overs of the deal. They get time to know the shape and textures of a stone, rather than "make do" with a stone they are uncertain of.

At Tengenenge sculpting starts at five years old or 85 years old. Liana Manzi aged 12 is a prize winner for a competition in the Czech Republic. The sculpture of eighty five year old Angolan Kakoma Kweli, maker of wooden railway sleepers, then carver of the protruberances of raw stones into women's breasts was blazed on a poster all over Netherlands. At Tengenenge the Museum shows how the first sculptors started off, hardly different from these post urban sculptors' first efforts. At Bhobogrande the women knitting, chrochetting in accompaniment to the carving of the stones. In Nyanga a rock with an eye becomes a cat. In these bush settings sculptors do not sculpt in a back yard filled with empty bottles, take away left overs and playing children. Each sculptor has their own "little acre" their personal and professional space. As these sculptors lock their cell phones, restore the sanctity to their marriages and browse the raw stones at length, sculpting becomes a way of life, to be pursued when sales are not there.

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