Published: May 17, 2017, 10:45 a.m.
The base of Gazzambo Gallery is the stone sculpture of Zimbabwe. In Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, a new artistic manifestation emerged in the 1950s: a hand-carved sculpture made of stone monoliths.
Although it has long been known as Shona Sculpture, since most of the artists belonged to this tribe, it is now known as Zimbabwe Sculpture since the sculptors come from different tribes or countries.
Many years passed until the passage between traditional African art and contemporary African art was recognized. The driver of the Zimbabwe stone sculpture movement was Frank McEwen.
In 1954 the white Rhodesian government planned to build a museum and for this he contracted as a consultant to Frank McEwen, who two years later was appointed director of the National Museum to create a collection made up of "first world" pieces. However, McEwen immediately realized the potential of the indigenous people around him and decided to establish in the basement of the museum and clandestinely a "school workshop."
As for the biography of Frank McEwen, it should be noted that he was always surrounded by art from his childhood, since his father was a great collector. He also lived influenced by the years he lived in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne.
McEwen was in charge of organizing the first exhibition of Henry Moore and other famous Impressionist painters. In fact, Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, Braque and Leger were close friends of his.
After his stay in Paris, he was deeply disappointed by the city's artistic scene, which he described as "The Age of Triviality."
He supported and encouraged the "new African art form" and, after winning the interest of collectors and international organizations, McEwen established his school workshop in Vukutu, a perfect natural environment to protect the culture and identity of the artists of globalization.
He organized several exhibitions in Paris, London and New York between 1971 and 1972 to publicize this type of art and finally made the Zimbabwe stone sculpture internationally recognized as an art in itself. Nevertheless and in spite of its accomplishments, the Government of Rhodesia forced Frank McEwen to resign in the year 1973.
Tom Blomefield was also another outstanding character in the discovery and development of this art. Owner of a tobacco operation that worked very well until in 1966 due to the international sanctions imposed on Rhodesia, realized that it could not continue to maintain its workers.
It was then that he discovered that in a zone close to his farm, near Tengenenge there was a large deposit of serpentine (a type of stone very common in Zimbabwe). As he was aware of the wood-carving skills of his workers, he came up with the idea of promoting his artistic side carving stone.
In fact, from this environment of Tengenenge arose great artists like Dominic Benhura, that counts on great international prestige.
Roy Guthrie is another of the great characters who continued to drive this art. In 1977 he became the founder of Chapungu Sculpture Park. It played a very important role as the period of creativity was interrupted for ten years due to international pressures and internal conflicts. During this time, Guthrie continued to encourage and help artists not to give up their creativity. Thanks to the establishment of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 these difficult times were over.
Due to their perseverance and to the great talent of the artists, today they count in Chapungu with a rich inheritance and an important collection of sculptures. This had a huge impact on the second and third generation of sculptors.
Today, Zimbabwe stone sculpture occupies a crucial and privileged place in contemporary African art.