Let’s talk sculpture

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IN the early 90s, I went to visit an uncle of mine, the late acclaimed sculptor Brighton Sango. He was living in what I considered, in my 10 years of life, luxury in our rural home of Guruve. He had a big house, by rural standards, and when I last counted there were about 15 car antiques and a modern collection of Hyundais. I kept thinking this man was rich, but each time l saw him he was covered in a film of white dust from his dreadlocks to his leather-strapped sandals and at times there was always some white guy hovering close who would be introduced to as the ‘buyer’. He was always off to some Scandinavian country where it was said the people there had been impressed by his work and that he had a robust and thriving clientele. He inspired many people, talented and otherwise, in our family and in the community. Recently I was in Chitungwiza and came across many sculptors including women and had their own stories to tell, their triumphs and challenges in their profession. I fortunately met a sculptor who knows well the dynamics of this at-times-frustrating and rewarding industry, Mr Panganai Zimuto from Masasa Park and had a one-on-one interview. MC: Thank you for allowing me to talk to you, when did you join the industry? PZ: I began in 1986 after a lot of persuasion from a friend of mine who had foreseen my potential in the wooden carvings I did as a hobby and I began to chisel and shape some stones for him. He had a client base in the Netherlands and German and he was exporting my work there, this was in 1983. In 1985 my mother passed away and I had to take care of my siblings since our father had not returned from the war so we presumed him dead. I faced a lot of hardships and for a while sculptures were not in mind. My friend began persuading me to join him, I was killing two birds with one stone and I had done a lot of soul searching and even had dreams executing the most elegant and beautiful pieces. I was then convinced to work with him for a deal and I remember it was for 820 pounds. The order was for a face of aquablue soapstone. I took up the challenge and it came out more than I had imagined. I felt rejuvenated by my ability and I still consider it one of my masterpieces. MC: What has changed in the arts industry and how is our talent and where are we artistically as a country? PZ: To be honest we are not making any significant sales. Because of the current sanctions on our country there are no international buyers to buy our art. We, however, take some pieces to Durban and Windhoek where we have some regulars. So in a way we can make a living. Art is a tough industry if you have mouths to feed. The art gallery has helped us a lot in that it has held exhibitions even in the toughest times and we have been able to get something from art lovers who are few, but still supported us. In terms of talent, we have a lot of upcoming talent and otherwise there is also a lot of untapped potential and we have international buyers who are impressed with our talent. We have also the Harare International Festival Arts that has been there to showcase our talent through the festival. There are also galleries like Imba Matombo who have availed opportunities our way. The problem also with local markets is that we as a people have not understood art to an extent that we are able to invest in it. Therefore, most of the talent is lost as people get out to find other ways of feeding their families. There is also the commercialisation of art where once a piece is duplicated it loses its value. Though you can sell at a lower price it compromises the quality and standard of our profession. MC: Where are you now artistically and are you doing this on a fulltime basis or part time? PZ: Ah! Of late I have started to diversify my art and have ventured into painting. I have been doing landscapes for some guy from Switzerland and obviously with our profession I would advise anyone in the arts to diversify. I am in a sense into art fultime, but I have invested elsewhere. In an unstable economic situation we are the first to suffer, but there has been an improvement. After all, our art is one of the best in the world. There are a lot of local, regional and international exhibitions being held and most people with potential are not exposed because very few invest in our industry. The international buyers are very few when it’s summer that side and they come mostly when it’s winter there. It is tough, but we always soldier on and we are getting there. It is vital that our communities support us in order for the sculptors to thrive in the country and in turn the arts industry.

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