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Western Reception of an African Art

Western Reception of an African Art

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Published by Jonathan Zilberg
This chapter "The Case of Zimbabwean stone Sculpture: The Western Reception of a Modern African Art" was published in Zimbabwe: Legacies of Stone, Past and Present, Volume II by the Royal Tervuren Museum in 1997.

It is a significantly modified and simplified version of the article on the same subject and with the same photographs published as "Shona Sculpture's Struggle for Authenticity and Value" in Museum Anthropology 19(1):3-24 1995 also posted here on scribd.
This chapter "The Case of Zimbabwean stone Sculpture: The Western Reception of a Modern African Art" was published in Zimbabwe: Legacies of Stone, Past and Present, Volume II by the Royal Tervuren Museum in 1997.

It is a significantly modified and simplified version of the article on the same subject and with the same photographs published as "Shona Sculpture's Struggle for Authenticity and Value" in Museum Anthropology 19(1):3-24 1995 also posted here on scribd.

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Published by: Jonathan Zilberg on Sep 20, 2010
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Legacies of Stone:

Past and Present

Volume II

Curated and edited by Geerc G. Bourgois assisted by

Els De Palmenaer

With contributions by Geert G. Bourgois Pip Curling

George 1'. Kahari NeoMatome

Timothy O. McLoughlin Elizabeth Randles Georges Stoops

Dirk Thys van den Audenaerde Paul Wade

Stephen Williams (posthumous) Jonathan Zilberg

Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren 1997

PREFACE

Dirk Thys van den Audenaerde

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Ceert G. Bourgois

I:

FOREWORD

George P. Kahari

GENERAL MAP OF ZIMBABWE

INTRODUCTION Geert G. Bourgois

CHAPTER 1

Contemporary Art in Zimbabwe Paul Wade

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 2

The Western Re(;eption of a Modern African Art: The Case of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture

Jonathan Zilberg ~9

CHAPTER 3

Twentieth-century Stone Sculpture in Zimbabwe Geerr G. Bourgois

CHAPTER 4

Petrography of the Rocks used for Zimbabwean Sculpture Georges Stoops

CHAPTER 5

Mission Art in Zimbabwe Elizabeth Randles

CHAPTER 6

Zimbabwean Landscape and Cityscape: Some Examples from Zimbabwean Painters and Writers in English

Timothy O. McLoughlin

CHAPTER 7

Outsider Art: Subject and Style Pip Curling

to:

CHAPTER 8

Tourist Art: A Blessing in Disguise? Ceert G_ Bourgois

CHAPTER 9

Bridging Cultural Boundaries: A School of Art and Design for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region Neo Macome and Stephen Williams (posthumous)

CATALOGUE

GLOSSARY

BIBLIOGRAPHY

7

CHAPTER 2

The Case of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture

The ~estern Reception' of a Modern African Art

jonathan Zilberg (0 I;J,(/'I, Zimbabwe) obtained in !Ifl95 fl Ph.D. at the University of Illinois with Zimbabwean Swne S<i'ulprure:

The Invention of a Shena T~aditjon.

He is cu.rrent0' residing in the United States.

In recent years there has been a"major shift in the Western art world towards the recognition of contemporary African art, both in

anthropological museums as well as in museums of modern art. The Western reception of African Art has moved beyond

the anthropological display of non-Western material culture and the

focus on the aesthetic qualities of masterpieces of traditional art to a rec~gnition and celebration of the vitality of contemporary Afrir;an art. Zimbabwean stone sculpture has been at the forefront of this shift

in reception, having been exhibited in museums of modern art since its earliest days.

Zimbabwean stone sculpture' has had a dramatic and yet uneasY,history in terms of gainin"g international recognition. While, on the one hand, the leading sculprors have consistently received acclaim and have established international reputations, on the other hand,

the movement has faced a constant struggle against commercialism which has given it

an ambiguous status in the art world (Stanislaus 1990:20-28; Jegede 1990:29-43). Nevertheless the 1990s has been the decade in which the Western world has'come to definitively reaffirm the diversity and originality of these sculptors' work.

~'lIoLi~t:r .. tion

>.__;;; ~t~tig. 3

In the past, the presentation and thus reception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture heavily focused upon the myth and magic associated with 'tribal' Africa in the Western imagination. For example, the artists have often been portrayed as mystically inspired sculptors revealing spirits in stone.

This perspective, however, has become increasingly replaced with a less romantic and more realistic understanding of

the artists as modern sculptors working with a broad range of styles and changing approaches to stone.

Zimbabwean stone sculpture, as it was originally conceived, has several unusual historical connections which have inspired diverse reactions among the patrons. Over almost four decades, the sculpture has been variously understood as a purely African form of modern art, as the revival of

an ancient Shona tradition - the Shona being the dominant ethnic group in Zimbabwe - and as the unique historical antithesis of tourist or 'airport' art.

These relations, in addition to the symbolic and aesthetic interest of the works themselves, have provoked considerable fascination in the West.

Modernity and Antiquity

In order to better understand the Western reception of this art-form, the following discussion first briefly introduces two aspects of the history of Zimbabwean stone sculpture which have influenced reception, namely the perceived relations to both modern art and anriquity. These two relations have played an important role in forming the ways in which

the movement has been understood.

30

Sculptures by Zimbabwean artists often evoke immediate comparisons with works by modern European artists. For example, a Zimbabwean gallery director related

to me how one German visitor on seeing Henry Munyaradzi's work repeated again and again in almost speechless rapture:

"Paul Klee! Paul Klee!".' Indeed,

the striking formal similarities between some examples of Zimbabwean stone sculpture and modern European sculptures by artists such as Brancusi, Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Giacometti, Modigliani, Moore and Picasso among others,

have always tantalized the patrons and have provoked constant debates over the possible relations with modern art.

Viewers encountering Zimbabwean stone sculpture for the first time - and whose preconceptions about African art may have been based on what they have seen in museums in the past -, react with

a mixture of wonder, curiosity and even suspicion. They may even ask questions such as "How can it be African if it looks so modern?" or "How is it possible that these works look so much like modern art if the artists have never been exposed

to modern art?"

Frank McEwen, the first director of

the National Gallery of Zimbabwe who provided the conditions and stimularior; for the emergence of'Shona' sculpture. has always maintained, that an~· sud: similarities were merely fortuitous.

He steadfastly argued that there n.a.':: ~ no outside influences of an~' son: .:.:.:..-:;-~ his tenure from 1957 till 19:-3. Frs .. n;'; McEwen's view is supported by oc}:~ critics who agree that the simila:-::::;::; .. _..:. examples of modern European >-~_::::-..;:~

the 'movement', as envisioned by McEwen, has a unique relation to modern European art, being in part a response co the fading of the School of Paris. For Frank McEwen, who had been intimately involved with the arts in Paris and London since 1926, modern arr had become trivialized by

the 19505. He sought an environment

in which he could help stimulate a new explosion of creativity which would ultimately revive modern art itself. Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia,

was to turn out to be the site for realizing this desire.

Frank McEwen had a great respect for African culture and creativity. In an effort to foster local African an, he began

an experimental workshop for painting and sculpture at the National Gallery in 1957. There he explicitly put into practice the teaching techniques of Gustave Moreau, the nineteenth century symbolist painter, whose method of drawing out individual expression had profoundly influenced painters such as Henri Matisse and ultimately led to the emergence of the School of Paris. Using this method

of stimulating and guiding art instead of teaching art, McEwen presented this experiment at the National Gallery as having a special relationship with modern art history in which the emerging sculptors were to be the heirs to the likes of Brancusi, Moore, Picasso and Rodin. This connection to modern an and the claims to equivalent aesthetic greatness of the works remain essential themes in the representation

and reception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture in the West.

At the same time as linking the emergence of'Shona' sculpture to modern European

32

art history, McEwen also espoused a special link to the African past, envisioning

the movement as a renaissance of an ancient tradition. Proposing that the emerging art was evidence of a Shona cultural revival, he suggested that both the stone monoliths found at the archaeological site of Great Zimbabwe as well as the smaller stone figurines found at other archaeological sites were precursors to 'Shena' sculpture. In this view, the artists had spontaneously taken to carving all manner of myrhical creatures: protective totems, cyclops spirits, vampires, dragons and even insect gods and man-god skeletons. These early sculptures provoked considerable amazement in the world of African art and were enthusiastically received as art in irs "ultimate dimension" (Polakoff1972:22).

Similar sculptures emphasizing Shona myths and beliefs have continued to emerge over the intervening decades as evident in Moses Masaya's Skeletal Couple (cat. no. 10), Joseph Ndandarika's Nzuzu with Child (cat. no. 33) and Bernard Materneras Rhino Man (cat. no. 15). The latter two examples have become classical themes in 'Shena' sculpture. Through creating such works the sculptors convey information about Shona culture to the audience, relating [or example to beliefs about water-spirits and how they may convey talents for healing and divination to humans or to beliefs about the potential for humans to transform into animals. In elaborating

on Shona cosmology through such works, the artists have fostered a strong sense

of a cultural revival.

In order to explain this sudden flourishing of sculpture in a country which had no ongoing tradition of figural sculpture,

I

IE .EST£ ... RECEPTIOJII OF A MODERN AFRICAN ART

are coincidental. For example, British an critic Michael Shepherd, writing in

The Sunday Times in London, has argued that though the works are sometimes reminiscent of artists such as Laurens, Epstein and Brancusi among others,

the similarities are simply a matter of resemblance and nor one of influence (I988: 562). While the plastic and iconographic qualities which evoke comparisons with European modernism are partially due

to the artists' exceptional sense of volume and balanced masses, the simplicity and elemcnt-l.ry of the forms based in an ethos of truth-to material, it has been suggested that McEwen exerted a modernist influence through his continuous selection and guidance (Arnold 1986:40, 137; Beier 1968: 81). Commenting on this, the art critic David Joselit has written:

In spite of McEwen's purist intentions much of the Zimbabwean stone sculpture from

the sixties to the present clearly echoes conventions drawn from European modernism: highly polished and abstracted surfoces recall those of Brancusi, and the sensuous play of convex and concave forms brings to mind Henry Moore (1990: 160).

Though the similarities noted by Joselit have become increasingly pronounced over the years due perhaps to the pressure of the market for slick modernist-looking forms, rhere is litrle evidence to suggest that the early artists were formatively influenced by any exposure to modern art. It appears that the similarities which evoke these comparisons are matters of independent invention and vague affinity. This is especially the case with artists such as Henry Munyaradzi, whose life history strongly suggests he had no knowledge

31

of modern art.! For several decades now this question of whether the artists have been influenced by modern art has remained a persistent feature of Western reception. Critics and viewers are consistently drawn to make these comparisons, bringing

into association works produced in very different times and contexts.

Regardless of the debates over how to explain the substantial modernist aspects of some Zimbabwean stone sculpture,

the perception of basic similarities berween examples of this sculpture and works by European modern artists will continue to have a life of its own. One cannot possibly approach the abstract works by the late Brighton Sango without Cubism coming to mind jusr.as the sophisticated geometry, clean lines and planes of Nicholas Mukomberanwa's later work naturally provoke comparisons to sculptors such as Epstein and Brancusi. Similar comparisons are made, for example, between works

by Picasso and certain works by even

the most recent and original sculptors such as Colleen Madamombe, while

the sculptures by the late John Takawira and his brother Bernard Takawira have

a distinct modernist sensibility, being sometimes reminiscent of works by Moore and Rodin. Viewers in all likelihood will continue to make such associations and

to ponder over the possible connections though they are for the main part simply vague and independent affinities,"

While the similarities do not appear to speak to any direcr formative influences, there is, however, a distinct connection between European modern art and Zimbabwean stone sculpture through the person of Frank McEwen. Indeed,

the 'movement', as envisioned by McEwen, has a unique relation to modern European art, being in part a response to the fading of the School of Paris. For Frank McEwen, who had been intimately involved with the arts in Paris and London since 1926, modern art had become rrivialized by

the 1950S. He sought an environment

in which he could help stimulate a new explosion of creativity which would ultimately revive modern art itself. Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia,

was to turn out to be the site for realizing this desire.

Frank McEwen had a great respect for African culture and creativity. In an effort to foster local African art, he began

an experimental workshop for painting and sculpture at the National Gallery in 1957. There he explicitly put into practice the teaching techniques of Gustave Moreau, the nineteenth century symbolist painter, whose method of drawing out individual expression had profoundly influenced painters such as Henri Matisse and ultimately led to the emergence of the School of Paris. Using this method

of stimulating and guiding art instead of

< teaching art, McEwen presented this experiment at the National Gallery as having a special relationship with modern art history in which the emerging sculptors were to be the heirs to the likes of Brancusi, Moore, Picasso and Rodin. This connection to modern art and the claims to equivalent aesthetic greatness of the works remain essential themes in the representation

and reception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture in the West.

At the same time as linking the emergence of , Shan a' sculpture to modern European

32

art history, McEwen also espoused a special link to the African past, envisioning

the movement as a renaissance of an ancient tradition. Proposing that the emerging art was evidence of a Shona cultural revival, he suggested that both the stone monoliths found at the archaeological site of Great Zimbabwe as well as the smaller stone figurines found at other archaeological sites were precursors to 'Shena' sculpture. In this view, the artists had spontaneously taken to carving all manner of mythical creatures: protective totems, cyclops spirits, vampires, dragons and even insect gods and man-god skeletons. These early sculptures provoked considerable amazement in the world of African art and were enthusiastically received as art in its "ultimate dimension" (Polakoff 1972: 22).

Similar sculptures emphasizing Shona myths and beliefs have continued to emerge over the intervening decades as evident in Moses Masaya's Skeletal Couple (cat, no. 10), Joseph Ndandarika's Nzuzu with Child (cat. no. 33) and Bernard Matemera's Rhino Man (cat. no. 15). The latter two examples have become classical themes in 'Shona' sculpture. Through creating such works the sculptors convey information about Shona culture to the audience, relating for example to beliefs about water-spirits and how they may convey talents for healing and divination to humans or to beliefs about the potential for humans to transform into animals. In elaborating

on Shona cosmology through such works, the artists have fostered a strong sense

of a cultural revival.

In order to explain this sudden flourishing of sculpture in a country which had no ongoing tradition of figural sculpture,

• _ESTERN Rt=CEPTION OF A MODERN AFRICAN ART

Frank McEwen proposed a mystical historical explanation which he termed the "Permanence of Culture". As he explained in the Grana,da Television documentary Talking Stones:

J am a total believer in what J call

the Permanence of Culture. It if in you and you can never escape fom it ... It had stopped in Rhodesia-Zimbabwe four or five hundred years ago. There were these fomous birds,

the sacred eagle, the Chapungu, apparently placed ali around the fort. By the Permanence of Culture they atl started it up again.

In promoting this vision in which cultures remain essentially unchanged over time, McEwen emphasized a history of

the antiquity of this new art-form, that is, as a re-emerging mythical tradition.

Through linking the emergence of this new art form to African history McEwen provided a most unusual scenario. While his framework for understanding 'Shona' sculpture as a modern-day 'tribal' an is entrancing, it has also been met with

a spirit of scepticism. The reasons for the scepticism are partly due to the implausible historical claims to antiquity and pardy to the oftenrimes exaggerated mythological content of the works of art. In this light, the 'Shena' sculpture phenomenon can be seen as a classic example of the Western imagining of African art in terms of magic, mythology and the past. Yet

the ancient history and myth surrounding and infusing 'Shona' sculpture remains incontestable to many artists

and many in the audience.

The above-noted scepticism is especially pertinent in the light of the considerable

33

ethnic diversity amongst the artists

and the knowledge that the very notion of a Shona identity is a recent construct which emerged in colonial times.

Ideed, over the course of the 19805,

the term 'Shena' sculpture came to be considered as inherently problematic and by the end of the decade the term had widely become superseded by

the more inclusive rerm Zimbabwean stone sculpture. Nevertheless, many

of the sculptors, especially those who worked during the 1970S and 19805,

did become adept at creatively conveying information about Shona culture

to the audience providing-elaborate explanations about their sculptures

and indeed, a number of artists still promote this Vision of an ethnic artform as a meaningful expression of

their identity.

In the 1990S, however, while the emphasis on the 'magic' and 'antiquity' ofShona' sculpture has diminished, it remains especially pronounced in the most commercial contexts (fig. 1). In contrast to the more excessive marketing of

the sculptors as descendants of King Solomon's Mines carving magic totems and the likes, the promotion of

the sculpture in general is becoming increasingly complex. A much richer historical understanding of the artists

is being conveyed to the Western audience and the artists themselves are meeting with [he audience and developing relations with European artists. Today, people are more likely to understand the works of art as the creative expression of individual artists and are less likely to understand

the tradition as a magical revival of

an ancient art-form.

'8

--

TSWA."iA WOMAN

Some ilWory.

1lv! Ir4Iory of ShofI4 ScW.pewe dtJtes bade IQ eiUlieT tholI the twelfth cenhuy when P(JFlI<gueJl! aplcreFS

~tht!~Ruin.t. 'They found in tht! tIIins carved ~ birds kqn 11$ entdentt of the Jlungwe nurk group of the S/ttJol4

0lnII! to the _/4 of ZiniNlbwe~ Slane icu1ptor. a1Ul be one willi the wrists inspiration as he -creates yet IPWdl4r exclusive €(yom n101ltie.

S()"'l!ofZi~'$~ orlisls em be {ount:l here.

lit hiM wqr/a of the OIiJau>Dirikes IPld 1JIIi'I}' other big _ inShona

Sc~. Scn/pt«'swor/4o/so

hQs a large selection of cw-w.r CQ11Ie4 in _dire.

Illy dI.red rr-liae sut .... _

T1tt/ now rt!llCJJJlcd Oik"n;"irikt! !1r.olh<trs

~.

."'.~ _;;..:;·,e-;;_·"".n:rfyr 'Sbonasculpiure regularly placed ~ 2;--!~~i- .... ~..4F! m.aga:dnes. In this ad, the distinction ~_.,,~ Y·:r-< . sculpture and 'airport art' is collapsed ~ r-:~_=r:-T~_r; realistic souvenirs are given a history £",-:-'J C·.:_:~ .'c :;., tu·,ljth century.

::t-r:-: .'. _ ~ __ ,',:-: He-are, Zimbabwe

Reception and Commercialism

The reception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture has been heavily concerned with the issue of commercialization which has been seen as threatening the aesthetic integrity of the movement since its earliest

34

days. For example, in 1960, Frank McEwen wrote that the success of

the experimental workshop at the National Gallery was facing a "calamity": "Only one calamity overshadows us: an equally sudden expansion in the growth of tourist art trade; we call it airport art" (1960: 38-39).

The Western desire for 'airport art' was,

in McEwen's view, a menace to African art supported by 'ignorant' tourists. Proposing that the future of African art lay in finding a solution to this 'problem', he wrote that artists had to be protected "from falling into the airport trap" (ibid.). In 1968

the situation was unchanged and he again complained that the creative essence

of the artists was suffering from "wholesale butchery on the altar of that worst of all tastes, that of the anonymous tourist" (1968: 22),

Continuing this critique in the influential journal African Arts in 1972, McEwen charged that the field had been inundated by fakes made by "meretricious hacks" (1972: II). He feared that the reception and reputation of the movement would be compromised if the distinctions between 'good' and 'bad', 'real' and 'fake' were not maintained. This belief has been repeated by observers time and time again. As Patricia Woods surveying the art scene in 1978 wrote, the danger lay in the 'sterile' and repetitious work of skilled crafsmen being confused with 'good art' (1978: 19).

Shortly after independence, South African art historian Marion Arnold wrote that artists were lapsing into mass producing slick work and exotic themes. She proposed that rather than imitating succesful

formulae the newer artists would have {Q learn {Q appreciate the difference between "expressive art" and "tourist-oriented curio rubbish" (r982; 43). By 1985, the art historian Frank Willett concluded that though some of the sculpture was of very high quality, the slicker work appearing on the market was insincere (1985; 256). Three years later, the British art critic Michael Shepherd pointed out that it had become apparent that the highest quality work needed to be given recognition and separated from the lesser work or the whole Shona movement would degenerate into 'airport art' (1988: 562). Clearly then,

the perception that commercialism is causing an aesthetic degeneration has long been a central theme in the Western reception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture.

By the late 1980s it had become commonplace for critics to note a distinct lack of innovation and inspiration in the movement. For example, Margaret Garlake, editor of Arts Monthly, wrote that though Zimbabwean stone sculpture was commercially succesful, it lacked an international future for these very reasons (1987: 3-4). In r990, in the catalogue for the show Contemporary African Artists; Changing Tradition the curator Grace Stanislaus noted that, except for the leading sculptors' works, namely those by Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Henry Munyaradzi and Tapfuma Gutsa there had been a notable decline in the quality of Zimbabwean stone sculpture because of the force of the market which was encouraging imitation, repetition and mass production rather than experimentation (1990; 26).

By 1990, the debate over quality had reached new heights in Zimbabwe. fu

35

Svne Chikove, a Zimbabwean journalisr, has written, commercialization had led IO mass production even amongst established artists such that collectors as well as tourists had become unable ro distinguish 'souvenirs' from artworks (1990: 3). According to Chikove only well-established dealers can ten the difference between the 'fake' and the 'real' or between 'airport an' andShona' sculpture. The problem then is who decides which these works are and how in an eta in which quality is increasingly viewed as a subjective measure. Contrary to me academic understanding that conceptions of an and taste are not universals but subjective evaluations which change over time and vary according to the backgrounds and dispositions of the viewers, critics and promoters continue to ar.gue that distinctions must be made in order to prevent the degeneration of the better work that is assumed to occur when repetition of basic themes and

styles becomes pervasive.

Though there is an inestimable difference between the cheap curios and the creative works by the better-known artists, there is a world of grey in between, a space in which talented 'craftsmen' produce work apparently indistinguishable from

the established artists who have, it is said, themselves turned to mass producing highly commercialized works of art.

In this context, all these sculptors have refined their techniques to a point where they are able to consistently produce aesthetically pleasing and highly marketable forms.

In addition, there are literally hundreds of sculptors creating large volumes of relatively repetitive sculpture including Picasso-like

~;-, ,~a-;ide sales sit« at Second Street Extension. s-: _-:: -~ ~r:'.:de, .Yorthern Harare.

,---- : ~~-91991)

abstract figures, naturalistic animals and heads, and abstract dancers as shown

in figures 2. 3 and 4. While any of this work may be sold as 'Shona' sculpture, the works that are most typically understood as 'fake' Shona are the modernist semiabstract figures which look like designer Picassos. When these works are exhibited and sold as modern art, the audience may react with considerable scepticism as they sometimes do even with works by more established artists.

What such audiences fail to recognize, however, is that though there is a high degree of repetition in all these works as well as in much of the production

of Zimbabwean stone sculpture in general, each piece is different and tourists and 'collectors' carefully choose between them, finding their choices relatively affordable, aesthetic and meaningful in spite

of the attacks on the repetitiveness of the works rendering them aesthetically 'degenerate' and meaningless. In this sense, any sculpture that is thought

36

of as a 'fake' by, some, can be considered to be a 'real' or 'great' work of art by others.

The issue of commercialism continues to be a subject of contention in which Frank McEwen's original scenario of 'airport art' as a threat to 'Shona' sculpture has a life of its own. Commercial production

is widely perceived to have affected

the substance, originality and vision

of the artists' works. 'Airport art' is still 'painted as the dread enemy and it is produced in greater quantity and quality year by year. Yet the situation is not as bleak as it appears to the most critical viewers for the range of work emerging from Zimbabwe is expanding rather than diminishing and lesser-known talents are achieving ever-greater recognition. Most specifically, as a response to the fears of commercialization, artists are increasingly being encouraged to be more creative and to break entirely new ground. Nevertheless, at the same time, established artists such as Bernard Matemera and other master sculptors continue to hone their skills and, being secure with particular approaches

to stone, still create monumentally powerful works.

For many critical viewers, the debate over quality, specifically over how to ascertain the difference between 'airport art' and 'Shena' sculpture will remain an important issue, one which will continue to bedevil the movement. For other Western viewers, less concerned with originality and change, the problem is merely a matter of qualities, that there is better and worse Zimbabwean stone sculpture. In either case, the dire predictions that Zimbabwean stone sculpture as a whole would lapse into mediocrity due to commercialism do

-

THE WESTERN RECEPTION OF A MODERN .AFRICAN ART

not seem to be coming entirely true. Despite the formulaic nature of much

of the work, there is an enormous variation of sculpture to be found and with time the recognition of individual artists is broadening rather than narrowing.

Fig.4

The gloomy predictions that Zimbabwean stone sculpture faces an uncertain future due to the pressure of the market are being vigorously offset by exhibitions in Europe which are generating an intense sense of excitement in the media and drawing increasingly large and enthusiastic audiences. This major shift in the European perception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture in recent years is in great part due to the effofts of Chapungu Sculpture Park, the country's leading promoter of the genre. In an effort to improve Western reception and understanding of the sculpture, the gallery

A selection of realistic stone elephants [airport art) available at Second Street Extension in Avondale, northern Harare.

Photo 1. Zliberg (1991)

Fig. 3

A selection of realistic heads on sal« at Second Street Extension in Auondale, northern Harare.

Photo: 1. Zllberg (1991)

37

has organized an exciting new generario::; of exhibitions. As a result of me extensive breadth of work exhibited, the quarteriv newsletter -produced by the Park and

the sustained efforts to promote cr.-ac.-:::.through a residency scheme in which artists are able to explore new avenues

free of commercial restraints, there is a distinct sense of revival in the air.

Conclusion

Over the last decade, contemporary Mrican art has become the focus of considerable attention in the West with Zimbabwean stone sculpture occupying

a privileged if sometimes ambiguous position as related in this essay. In the mOST favorable reception of Zimbabwean stone sculpture the artists are seen as the heirs

to the likes of Moore and Picasso. Painted within this context, some of the sculptors. not necessarily those noted in the above discussion, are understood to be the world's leading stonecarvers whose works will ultimately stimulate a revitalization of modern sculpture and in times to come

be universally recognized as 'great' works in the history of art. Herein, Zimbabwean

stone sculpture is seen as a phenomenon of major importance in modern art history despite the criticism that much of the work appears to be derivative and uninspired .:

To date, the way in which Zimbabwean stone sculpture was originally conceived as a revival of a magical Shona tradition has had a long term effect on how

the tradition has been received in the West. While it has provided a specific historical and cultural framework for Westerners to understand this art-form, and while it has provided the artists with a creative means to express their cultural beliefs, it has also elicited and reinforced nostalgic European notions of Africans as 'tribal' and Africa as a place of the past. Therein, it is increasingly

38

acknowledged that the emphasis on

the myth and magic of the Shona artists has to a certain extent obscured

the individual identities of the artists and the complexity of the history of modern Zimbabwean stone sculpture. An increasing number of the artists, both younger and older, prefer to see themselves as operating outside

the bounds of any 'tradition'. For these artists it has been important to transcend this labelling in order for them to gain international recognition based simply on the aesthetic qualities of their creations. Indeed, as the Western world becomes aware of the diversity of sculpture made in Zimbabwe, more and more talents, past and present, are coming to achieve the recognition they richly deserve.

-

THE _eSTetl. tlECEPTtO. OF A MODE •• AFtltCAIII AtlT

N OYE 5

1.

Field-work was conducted by the author from 1990-92 in Zimbabwe.

Henry Munyaradzi is the most widely recognized artist to have emerged from the multi-ethnic Tengenenge community of sculptors founded by Tom Blomefield

in 1966. This community of farm labourers turned sculptors has produced some of

the most starkly original works in the larger history of the tradition and according to Tom Blomefield (personal communication) has never been influenced by modern art. This is not to say that all the sculptors are unaware of modern art. Artists such as

the late John Takawira were familiar with the type of works created by Moore and Rodin. Indeed, in reeem years, many sculptors have shown a growing imerest in knowing more about modern European art.

z.

3.

39

BIBLIOGRAPHY

',~' ::JCTION

Geert G. Bourgois

Cocn-t, E.

t992

"Pachipamwe II. The Auant Garde in Africa?" African ArtS25 (I) '38-49, 98.

__.. 1995

Nicodemus. E.

"And Occasionally a Floating White Boy." Nka2:8-11.

: ~ 0 e - E R 2 Jonathan Zilberg

The \l;'estern Reception of a Modern African An:

The Case of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture.

I ,..2

Arnold. WI.

"Animals in Stone." Zimbabwe Environment & Design 82 :38-43. Zimbabu/enn Stone Sculpture. [firsr pub!. 1981 by Books of Zimbabwe, BulawayoJ Bulawayo: Louis Bolze Publishing.

1'.6

I, •••

Beier. U.

Contemporary Art in Africa. New York: l'raeger.

1'110

Chikov e, S.

"Distortion of Shona Sculpture." The Artist! (6) :3-5.

Garlake. M.

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