ZIMBABWE sculpture, an artistic genre that has put the county on the world map for its originality, has hit hard times owing to the economic recession and
dwindling tourism business, sculptors told Independent Xtra this week.
Leading sculptor, Dominic Benhura, who has gained world acclaim for his majestic pieces, said the sector was under siege, as buyers were now hard to come by, a trend the artist attributes to the slump in tourism business.
“I used to get at least four to five visiting buyers in a fortnight,” said Benhura. “But now I’m lucky if I get one client in a month.”
Benhura said a few sculptors including himself who have made a name for themselves were managing to weather the storm due to their loyal clientele base of European buyers although business is no longer as brisk.
The sculptor also complained about the rise of mediocre artists, who for survival purposes have flooded the market with half-baked works. “For legitimate galleries to sell their products, government needs to protect our work because it’s a national heritage,” Benhura said.
Another acclaimed sculptor, Masimba Hwati, recipient of a National Arts and Merits Award last year for outstanding mixed media, said the inflationary environment in Zimbabwe has precipitated an exodus of sculptors to Europe where they have now set base due to viability problems at home. “Because of the inflationary environment, most sculptors are now overseas, especially Germany and other European countries where Zimbabwe sculpture has appeal,” said Hwati. The clay specialist said the industry was now “commercialised” and had been turned into “airport art”, which has no “merit, originality and is mass produced”. Hwati however expressed optimism that the industry would soon get back on its feet because “the best work of art comes out of struggles”. The young artist said bacause of the turbulent environment, stone sculpture in Zimbabwe has become “…a platform for the artist to speak out”.
United Kingdom sculptor, Daniel Silver, who visited Zimbabwe in July, told Independent Xtra on Tuesday that it was sad to realise how stone sculpture in the country had been adversely affected by the prevailing economic climate resulting in many artists facing difficulties in producing quality work. Silver said it is imperative for local sculptors to display their works overseas to gain exposure, as this is essential in helping them build ideas since stone sculpture “is a movement rooted in the flow of thoughts”.
The sculptor said locals should however not despair, as there is a silver lining to the cloud, because “Zimbabwe is a great country, with great possibilities”.
“Zimbabwe is in a very tough time, picture this if people are starving then the sculptor is also starving. The world should do more to help the people of Zimbabwe. This country has amazing craftsmanship and I pray that the situation gets back to normal because I really enjoyed working with local artists there during my visit.”
Stone sculpture has the ability not only to generate foreign currency and employment but is also a source of national pride as it has over the years built an unparalleled international image for the country through the ingenuity of generations of artists.