THE NATIONAL GALLERY
SHONA STONE SCULPTURE
7 December 2017 – 4 February 2018
Opening: 7 December, Thursday, 6 p. m.
Kvadrat 500, Hall 19
St Alexander Nevsky Sq.
The National Gallery’s collection of Shona stone sculpture includes thirty-one carvings that afford an opportunity to trace the development of contemporary art in Zimbabwe. The works are the result of the creative pursuits of universally recognised and established names from the so-called first generation of masters (Bernard Matemera, Edronce Rukodzi, Edward Chiwawa, Fanizani Akuda), as well as younger artists of outstanding talent from the second generation (Arthur Fata, Krispen Mattekenia, Moveti Manzi, and others). The collection was formed in the mid 1980s, thanks to the efforts and active work of Alexander Atanasov, then Bulgarian Ambassador to Zimbabwe. Around that time, interest in the Shona stone sculptures increased to such an extent that prestigious museums in Europe, America and Australia sought to acquire examples of those unique works. The factors contributing to this authentic art’s becoming an original artistic and cultural phenomenon were many and various.
.As an interesting artistic phenomenon rapidly evolving in its stylistic respect, Shona stone sculpture gradually went beyond the borders of the country and arrived on the international stage, moving into the focus of world criticism. It found a fully merited place in famous private galleries and public spaces. An important role in this process was played by the first director of the National Gallery, Frank McEwen (1907–1994), who, with impeccable intuition and great insight, realised the plastic potential and original artistry of the Zimbabwean masters. He succeeded in presenting and promoting the works of the indigenous creators of the newly established artistic movement at the Institute of the Commonwealth of Nations, London (1963); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1969); the Museum of Modern Art, Paris (1970); and the Musée Rodin, Paris (1971), among others.
The collecting activity of the donor Alexander Atanasov was concentrated mainly on the artistic production of the sculptors’ community that worked and created in the area of Tengenenge (which translates as ‘The Beginning of the Beginning’), located about 150 km north of Harare. In the past, there had been a large concentration of people of the Shona tribe, mainly engaged in agriculture. Today, this ethnic group, which is part of the Bantu-speaking peoples, represents 80 per cent of the country’s population.
In the early 1960s, the owner of the area, Tom Blomefield (born in Johannesburg in 1926), and a group of African masters, turned Tengenenge into an unusual artistic colony. Over 300 people have passed through this school. Some of those working in the village come from neighbouring countries: Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, and Malawi.
The artistic colony in Tengenenge remains deeply related to tribal tradition, giving precedence to content over form. The stone sculptures in the collection of the National Gallery predominantly present human figures and heads, as well as images of animals and birds. The Shona masters draw their themes and subjects directly from folklore. Metamorphoses as an impetus for transformations are widely embraced in traditional myths and legends. The artworks created in Tengenenge are characterised by exceptional originality, strong emotional charge and vitality.
Bistra Trayanova - curator of the exhibition
0887 890 179