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Pioneers of Zimbabwe’s Contemporary Art

By Martina Kwenda (Ethelartconnect Creative Writer)

Zimbabwe’s art industry is making its waves all over the world and some of the legends are still alive and other legacies still live on. The following legends are those that began the work and set the pace for the future. I call them legends because they existed and thrived at a time where contemporary was never defined in the African expression by they set the standard. When I see these I see gods who didn’t have it easy but defied the odds and made it work for them. I do hope after this article you will begin to enjoy the beauty that Art as a whole brings and you. African Contemporary Art is unique because it allows the viewer to redefine art according to how they feel. The question of how does it feel to be African and the visual depiction of the struggles face are seen through the artist’s work. Zimbabwe is no exception to the struggles of politics, sexuality, and many other controversial topics. We will be looking at 5 of the most popular artist in Zimbabwe who have paved the way for what is now solely African contemporary Art.

Henry Munyaradzi 1931-1998

 ZimSculpt calls him the poet laureate of Zimbabwe sculptor. The late Henry Munyaradzi is one of the most sought artists in the Zimbabwean sculptor movement.  He has 8 solo exhibitions accredited to his name. He became a force to be reckoned thanks to Tom Blomefield who discovered him in 1967 at the Tengenege Sculpture Community. The essence of his work came from the shape of the stone itself and that’s where his imagination came from. His work is “characterized by intersecting, flat rectangular shapes, spheres and cylinders, all harmoniously related He was part of several seminal exhibitions including the Musee Rodin in Paris and the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. It is amazing that he made all this accomplishment because he was known to be very shy and humbly according to Some of his best work is Water Spirit, Sitting Duck, Hamerkop, and protecting my child amongst many others.

John Takawira (1938-1989)

John Takawira is also part of the most acclaimed sculptors and has a permanent art collection in the Zimbabwe National Art Gallery. Takawira’s strength lay in the art of carving and was helped by his relative John Mariga. Mariga the lynchpin of a group of artists who quarried their own stone and sculpted it. He had one stroke of luck when he took one of his works to the then National Gallery of Salisbury Frank McEwen in 1963 and his work was shown in the Annual Exhibition at National Art Gallery of Salisbury (Zimbabwe). In 1969 McEwan established his own workshop in the Eastern Highland where artists were influenced by nature and my dreams. Takawira increasingly used very rough, natural weathered textures with only a face given a smooth finish. He leaned heavily on his dreams of inspiration in 1981 his exhibition entitled “MY Dreams I which the baboon (shrewdness) owl(wisdom) and the bateleur a=eagle(Messenger between man and ancestral spirits featured prominently, The size of his artwork increase as he believed size dramatizes emotional impact and the boulder-like sculptures would radiate power and strength. Some of his work include Hamerkop, Secretary Bird, and Hunting Owl amongst other

Notable Awards -1st prize, Nedlaw Exhibition, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, 1977 Solo exhibition, Standard Bank Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe,1971 ‘Sculpture Contemporaines des Shona d’Afrique’, Musée Rodin, Paris, France,1970 ‘Sculpture Contemporaines de Vukutu’, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France


The late Boira Mteki initially found an outlet for his artistic talents at the Canon Paterson Craft Centre in Highfield’s in Harare, a center that enabled skilled carvers to make a living from their work. He heard about some interesting raw stone not far out of town and made an expedition on foot with a friend. The raw stone was the pale grey limestone that remained a favorite medium for the rest of his life. They carried the 60kg limestone and he created his first massive and quintessential ‘Head’. It was such a powerful and astonishing work, that Boira and Canon Paterson took it to show Frank McEwen at the Workshop School of the National Gallery. He was so impressed that he invited Boira to join the emerging group of influential artists gathered there, and Boira’s career as an artist properly began. Boira’s work is in the Permanent Collections of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) and of Chapungu Sculpture Gallery. His work was part of various ground-breaking exhibitions and he is now regarded as one of the elder statesmen of the Shona sculpture movement. He needed to make a difference and to motivate upcoming artists so he was instrumental in encouraging fellow artists to move away from using soft stones such as soapstone and to challenge themselves with harder and better materials such as limestone, springstone, marble, and verdite.

Dominic Benhura (1968-present)

Born on the outskirts of Murewa Dominic Benhura is considered to be one of Africa’s greatest contributors to contemporary art. He began sculpting at age 10 under the influence of his famous cousin Tapfuma Gusta. He was an outstanding student and self-proclaimed workaholic. He’s well known for his exceptional ability to portray human feelings through form rather than facial expression. His formal years were spent at Chapungu Sculpture Park and have done many exhibitions in Zimbabwe, Australia, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and America. Dominic combines materials such as steel, wire, and stone to create a beautiful mixed medium. Once when ZimSculpt interviewed him he said “The stone itself is selected for its luminosity and color, and is carved and ground down and reconstructed to create a striking plant of the human form.”  His notable works include Euphorbia Tree, Our H.I.V friend, Swing me Mama, The dance of the Rainbirds, and Lazy Sunday.

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