Gender from an African perspective in stone sculpture


By Dr Tony Monda

EXCELLING, but often excluded in the inventory of Zimbabwean stone sculpture are women sculptors, most of whom have participated and won national awards for their creativity in post-independent Zimbabwe which saw the rise of Zimbabwean female sculptors many of whom came from artistic lineage.
They speak from the hearth of their indigenous heritage, articulating a collective wisdom garnered from generations.
Our mother tongue, Shona, encompasses the total language of the body, the posture, hand gestures and even sitting postures to communicate our code of cultural reverence.
English and most other foreign languages may not contain the intricate body language that is particular to women mannerism contained and espoused in Shona philosophy.
Given that art is the conveyor of culture, it is not surprising to see the women sculptors espousing their culture through their art.
Regrettably however, the inclusion of women sculptors among the artistes of this country has often been overlooked.
I seek to remedy this anomaly as we look at some of the achievements of Zimbabwe’s women sculptors since Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980.
Locardia Ndandarika, the grand dame of Zimbabwe Shona art, who I first met in 1989, at 67 has not lost her charismatic energy and zest for life.
She took part in the seminal Zimbabwe Flora and Fauna in Stone during the CITES Convention, curated by Springstone Art Gallery.
Her ‘Great Eagle Owl’ stood foreboding and powerful on a pedestal in the lush gardens of Springstone Gallery in Avondale with presence and fortitude.
She often uses the image of the female baboon to illustrate human gender issues.
Born in Zimbabwe in 1945, Locardia Ndandarika is a sculptor ceramicist.
She is mainly self-taught until 1986, when she joined the BAT Workshop School in Mbare.
She was married to sculptor Joseph Ndandarika whom she assisted with his work.
In 1988 Locardia Ndandarika won an ‘Award of Merit’ at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and in 1990, she won prizes for her sculpture exhibited at the Commonwealth Games, Art Exhibition, held in Auckland, New Zealand.
Virginia Ndandarika was born in Zimbabwe in 1966; she was mentored by parents, Joseph and Locardia Ndandarika.
In 1996 she won an award of merit for women artistes at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
In the same year she was presented with another Award of Merit at the Longman Women Artist Exhibition for her gender-sensitive piece entitled ‘Family Planning’.
The late sculptress Colleen Madamombe (1964 – 2009) said of her work: “My art is a celebration of African womanhood and their physical, emotional and spiritual strengths, their beauty, joy and pain and enduring love of the family, community and country.”
Her highly expressive figures of women are endowed with a Rubenesque physical presence, buoyancy and animated gestures.
Agnes Nyanhongo the daughter of First Generation Stone Artist, Claude Nyanhongo, began sculpting in 1980, the year Zimbabwe gained Independence.
She was one of the first female students at the BAT Workshop School in Mbare.
She has developed a style that reflects her personality, tranquil, dignified and self-confident images of women in a powerful and emotive symbolism influenced by her Zimbabwean roots.
Her works depict women’s role in the traditional guidance and leadership in our community.
Her contemporary, Mavis Mabwe, was apprenticed to Nicholas Mukomberanwa from 1985 to 1987 and had been practising art for six years when I met her in 1991.
She participated in many exhibitions in Zimbabwe and internationally, including in the Zimbabwe Annual Heritage Exhibitions from 1989 to 1995 where she won two awards.
She also participated at the Zimbabwe Heritage Overseas Exhibition held in Auckland, New Zealand during the Commonwealth Games in 1990
Multi-media artist and sculptor Doris Kamupira is a fine arts graduate from Chinhoyi University.
She works as an arts instructor at the national Gallery of Zimbabwe’s Visual Art School.
Her works question the role of women in society.
Her media of preference include photography, printmaking, painting as well as sculpture.
Stone sculptress Maud Bwoni is another female artist who has gone unrecognised.
She began her art career in 1987 and two years later participated in the Zimbabwe Annual Heritage Exhibition of 1989 at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and the Overseas Zimbabwe Heritage Exhibition, held in Auckland, New Zealand, during the Commonwealth Games of 1990.
Shelitta Chiwawa was trained in the studio of sculptor Edward Chiwawa.
She exhibited at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s Zimbabwe Annual Heritage of 1989 and during the Commonwealth Games Overseas Art Exhibition held in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1990.
Zimbabwean born Granette Ngirande is a sculptor, painter, textilist and ceramicist, who studied art at the BAT Workshop School, (now Visual Art Studio) in Mbare.
She has participated in the Longman’s Women’s Art Exhibitions in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
Ronika Tandi was born in Kariba in 1975.
She began her career under the guidance of Eddy Masaya.
From 2005 to 2008 she studied fine arts at the BAT Visual Art Studio at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
In 2006, Tandi exhibited her work at the German Embassy in Harare and in 2008 she was awarded a ‘Woman Sculptor of the Year Award’.
She has travelled regularly to give workshops in Europe since 2009, where she was commissioned by the Municipality of Rednitzhembach, Germany, to create a sculpture she entitled: ‘Playing a Love Song Together’.
She works at the School of the Deaf in Emerald Hill, where she is an honourary art teacher for physically challenged students.
Perlagia Mutyavaviri was born in 1977.
In 1991 she began her career as a sculptress as apprentice to First Generation Sculptor, Fanizani Akuda, of Chitungwiza, at the age of 24.
Her work is distinctively different in that it is totally abstract in form and content.
She uses line, shape and volume to create her abstract form that radiate elegance and depict feelings experienced between man and woman.
According to Perlagia; “More Zimbabwean women should take up the art of sculpture, because there is much that can be said through the art form that would otherwise not be seen, said or heard.
“Women sculptors can be role models for tomorrow’s African women.”
It is time we took notice of our women artistes.
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, musician, art critic, practising artist and Corporate Image Consultant. He is also a specialist Art Consultant, Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher.


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