ZIMBABWE’S biggest but uncelebrated sculpture gallery-, Tengenenge, located in the wilderness of rural Guruve, 150km from the capital, is without a doubt the country’s sculpture hub winning gre
at acclaim across the world.
In an interview with Independent Xtra, Tengenenge manger, Steve Blomefield, who recently took charge from his father and gallery founder, Tom Blomefield, said the gallery which was born in 1966, embraces African art and has transformed mere communal farmers and farm workers into masters of a genre they had minuscule knowledge of, thus becoming a hotbed of creativity and talent while shaping the fortunes of poor artists.
Artists that have risen through Tengenenge include the late Bernard Mutemera, whose piece Bushman is pictured right and displayed at the National Gallery.
“I’ve seen farm workers become millionaires. Ordinary communal villagers become farm owners and others buy houses in low-density areas,” said Blomefield.
He added that the sculptors here have achieved greatness on their own without undergoing prior training. “The seed of genius and creativity is in their soul, it’s something that we can’t give to them,” he said.
Tengenenge is a chewa word which means “the beginning of the beginning” and is credited with producing Zimbabwe’s first generation of sculptors such as Josiah Mhanzi and the late Henry Munyaradzi whose works have graced galleries across the world.
Ironically, Tengenenge like an island is cut away from major cities and towns where booming commercial activities enable easy marketing and selling of stone pieces. But European buyers find their way to the gallery which falls short of essential communication facilities such as Internet, fax and telephone. The roads are inaccessible, but because of the majestic stone carvings branded with originality buyers are enticed to search for Tengenenge, said Blomefield. He contends that the gallery is the biggest in the southern hemisphere and is among the top five in the world.
“The only bigger gallery than Tengenenge I know of in the world is St Petersburg in Russia,” he said.
He said the gallery produces a staggering 30 000 pieces of art spread over 16 hectares of land every year. There are 800 artists registered in the gallery’s books, 350 of these are actively exhibiting and 200 are resident at the gallery.
Tengenenge also makes an export container shipment of about 500 sculptures to Europe every month. The gallery has pioneered the use of springstone and serpentine in stone sculpture. It enjoys natural proximity to raw materials which are mined at the gallery.
Blomefield said the major challenge besetting this oasis of original stone art is the state of the economy.
“The economic environment is a difficult one and we are in a difficult position due to a downturn in tourism.”
Challenges or no challenges, Tengenenge has made Zimbabwe famous as it accounts for the bulk of stone sculpture which find its way onto the international market.