A WELL-INFORMED cultural tradition took shape in the body of artworks created by the Takawira brothers, all of whom eulogised the institution of African womanhood.
Women were at the heart of Lazarus Takawira’s art and his life; his wife was his muse and his mother was his mentor throughout her life.
Working prolifically and religiously for over four decades, Lazarus sculpted women with the insightful eye of a poet.
The poetry of his works translated as metaphorical interpretations of the beauty and fortitude of the African women. The expressive innocent doe-like eyes and serene faces with graceful elongated necks and coiffures of billowing hair expressed in the ruggedness of stone were typical of his figures of women.
The dower, petit mouths were often in counterpoint to the beauty of the faces, which were of an emotionally neutral nature; the crux of the work was realised in the typical body language of Shona women.
Their gestures and disposition, their inclination, proclivity, mannerisms and elaboration of the coiffeurs portrayed in his works communicated the age, designation and cultural hierarchy of his Afro-centric female subjects.
Lazarus was one of the first artists to consign his artworks to interior design consultant, historian and art collector Michelina Andreucci who was a close family friend and co-founder of Springstone Contemporary Art Gallery in Avondale.
She had already been a long-time collector of his early works.
According to her: “Very few Zimbabwean visual artists, particularly male sculptors, have managed to portray African-centered values, ideals and perceptions of women as influential iconic presences in our society. Takawira dared to dream about the liberated woman and women of authority long before it was a parliamentary bill in Zimbabwe. Through his body of works, Lazarus reflected his valuable contribution to African feminism and gender equality. He developed the emotive power of expression in the characters he sculpted to an extraordinary sensitivity.”
Some superlative examples of Takawira’s stone art were seen in the series of exhibitions curated by Springstone International Art Gallery in Avondale, where works were chosen to emphasise his use of Shona body language and cultural content inherent in the women’s gestures.
Takawira’s artwork makes us reconsider the naïve acceptance of Western societies’ notions of women’s roles in cultural and socio-economic development.
According to Kurt Waldheim, (UN Secretary General 1971-1975): “We must think positively about how the position of women in their own societies and in international affairs could not only be improved, but their large potential contribution be better utilised for the benefit of all.”
Takawira’s understanding of woman went beyond their physical form.
His art was a reflection of his belief that women are not only emotionally and spiritually superior to men, but also the embodiment of the essence of African virtues.
For him, women stood as the cultural crucible of hunhu/ubuntu in our society.
Central to Takawira’s viewpoint was his consciousness of the need for the full socio-political participation of girls and women in the development of rural communities and the nation at large through advanced education and equal opportunity for them.
His work addressed some of the fundamental reforms required to abolish discriminatory practices and socio-economic inequalities affecting women, particularly in Africa.
While most of his sculpture dealt with the expansive and complex subject of the liberated African woman straddling expectations of traditional society and the demands of modern, urbanised development, some of his works also expressed his African culture, his beliefs, his life experiences and his traditional Shona consciousness.
Takawira’s rigorous analysis of the structure, character and balance of stone forms made him one of the most unique purveyors of modern sculpture of Zimbabwe.
A well-known recurring theme in his body of works was the self-introspective title ‘Too Much in my Head’; a theme he explored in different narratives, sizes, scale and guises.
These series of works spoke of his sources of inspiration, his moments of visual enlightenment and the social responsibilities that burden the working artist.
Takawira was fastidious about his choice of raw stone, preferring to sculpt unmottled green opaline, black iron springstone and the rare, rich purple lepidolite stone.
The artist used the latter range of colourful hard stone to distinguish his work.
His exclusive use of these colourful stones also enhanced the fiscal value of his sculpture and became the signatory hallmark of his artworks.
The vibrant use of stone textures served to add dramatic content to his work.
Artworks such as ‘Too Much in my Head’, ‘Maternity’, ‘African Woman’, ‘African Queen’, ‘Powerful Woman’, ‘Antelope Woman’, ‘Buffalo Woman’, ‘Awakening Woman’, ‘Muroora’, ‘Gifted Girl’, ‘Eagle Nesting’, ‘Zimbabwe Bird’ and ‘Buck’, among many others, are part of some of his oeuvre that require a renewed appreciation in the history of Zimbabwean contemporary stone sculpture.
Takawira’s artworks are of seminal importance to the history and development of 20th Century Zimbabwean art.
His significant contribution to the history of Zimbabwean sculpture was his pre-disposition to subject and content that examined and expressed both traditional and contemporary Zimbabwean societies.
His art can be placed to a time in history where the context of Zimbabwean art had transitioned from traditional to the modern.
Policeman, artist, farmer, art teacher and religious leader, Lazarus Takawira lived and worked on his farm in the small farming hamlet of Ruwa, 22km south-east of Harare, which became the home for several artists who chose to live away from the busy city and bustling high-density suburbs of Harare.
Today, though we bade farewell to the last of the Takawira brothers, a formidable inventory of works remains testimony to his genius.
Takawira’s perceptive and penetrating portfolio of images of power, beauty, sensitivity, femininity, grace and authority are captured in hard stone that will stand the test of time.
His artworks are both historical and aesthetic investments for astute collectors throughout the world.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, art critic, practising artist and musician.
For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com