Zimbabwe sculpture in Germany

The first launch of the book was in Harare at the Zimbabwe German Society. Jairos Kangira (JK) had an interview with Celia Winter-Irving (CW-I) recently in which she talked about her experiences in Germany. Below are snippets of the interview:

JK: Celia, you are obsessed with cultural exchange. Can you briefly explain what this is?

CW-I: Cultural exchanges cannot be effected by formal handshakes, organised programmes which offer a taste of art, a taste of music, a taste of poetry and then off to the next appointment. Such approaches give people little chance to get to know each other outside the formal meeting over the desk.Cultural exchange is not a matter of a round of courtesy calls, or the so called exchange of ideas. Cultural exchange happens by spontaneous combustion of people of different cultures come together socially, to enjoy themselves and spend time together. Such situations immediately break down barriers which may have existed through preconceptions or prejudice This kind of exchange took place at the Arts Festival at Schloss Steinhaus in Witten Germany in June ably organised by Bastian Muller Director of Shona Art in Witten and it was at the Festival that the second launch of my eleventh book on Zimbabwe’s stone sculpture FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF WISDOM THE SCULPTURE OF MERCHERS CHIWAWA published in German and English by Bastian Muller took place

JK: How can you describe what people were able to do at the Festival?

CW-I: What happened at the Festival was that people were able to compare African culture and its practises with what was taking place in the ‘global culture’ affecting Germany today.

JK: How do you compare Germany and Zimbabwe?

CW-I: Germany and Zimbabwe in terms of modern life may be very different culturally but throughout the histories of both, religion and spiritual beliefs have been extremely important and had a recognised place in both thinking and the arts. In Zimbabwean stone sculpture and the sculptor’s traditional religious beliefs remain at the forefront of the work. Traditionally these beliefs have governed the operation of society and social institutions such as marriage and the family, and attitudes to death and the after life. Germany has for centuries been a centre for religious thought and theological discourse-there have been thinkers like Bonhoeffer and Karth Barth. And the arts and literature have played a large part in shaping how people think, there have been the writings of Goethe and Schiller, the operas of Wagner, Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’. The stone sculpture made in Zimbabwe succeeds in Germany through what it means, perception of the sculpture by German people goes beyond appearances, and it appeals to the mind as well as the eye. The sculptures of the late Bernard Matemera, master sculptor of Tengenenge, are highly appreciated in Germany because they invite conjecture and discourse which may engage people in Jungian or Freudian thought. To the German audience there is no such thing as a simple sculpture. German ideas about art go beyond mere representation and what takes place in the mind of the artist is at the forefront. The German viewer responds to the sculpture at the level of ideas about its meaning and how much of that meaning is transmitted by the appearance of the work

JK: What about the sculptures in the book you launched iat the Festival?

CW-I: Oh, yes! These were the sculptures of Merchers Chiwawa himself, narratives in stone of traditional social situations and his ‘King’s Wish’his transcription in stone of an old European story that it is the King’s wish that the first born in the family is a son, the second born a daughter,so that the son when his parents age can take care of his sister. There was also Chiwa’s classical sculpture ‘Maria’, an African version of Mary with the Christ child, Mary a sturdy strong African woman, the child protected by a traditional cloak.

JK: Any other different from Chiwawa’s?

CW-I: There were sculptures of small animals which hugged the ground and a disarmingly ‘cute’ baboon. There were flocks of metal birds which took on a seriousness they do not always have in Zimbabwe-perhaps because the German people took them seriously and recognised them as good art

rather than dismissing them as ‘craft on the side of the road’. Here people studied the sculptures, seemed to look into them to try to find their meaning, and resolve for themselves the artists’intention.

JK: What about the book launch itself?

CW-I: The book launch was not a conscious or laborious platform for the author, publisher and subject as book launches are wont to be. The Mayoress of Witten, young and pretty made her speech, speeches were made by myself (in translation suddenly by a willing man in the audience), Tom Blomefield Founder Director of Tengenenge, coming from the Netherlands made his speech, as did Merchers Chiwawa. Then the dancing began.

JK: Who provided music?

CW-I: The Zimbabwean atmosphere at the Festival was heightened by the music which was presented in Zimbabwean style on an open stage by the daughter of Stella Chiweshe playing mbira and Leonard Zhakata singing in a way which made everyone stand up and dance-Zimbabweans with Germans, Germans with Zimbabweans. The Zimbabweans, it seemed, had created a ‘little Zimbabwe’ in Berlin; all were friends and neighbours-musicians, artists and writers.

JK: What other role did Merchers play?

CW-I: He became an instructor. The workshops taken by Merchers Chiwawa provided thorough instruction in skills training of carving stone so much that the beginner, after two days was able to produce a finished product in all senses of the word. Chiwawa, in the past, had worked with Bernard Matemera from Tengenenge. Rather than being a repetitious act, Chiwawa made carving an adventure, each day something new, something different was discovered. People in Germany loved Chiwawa’s sculpture lessons.

JK: What are your final comments on the Festival?

CW-I: What happened in Witten was an arts festival which seemed to come together in a sponteaneous way, a festival somehow generated by the energy and enthusiasm of those who participated and those who attended. But this was not so. The Festival took great organisation on the part of Bastian Muller, aided by Merchers Chiwawa, and the blessing of the Mayor and civic fathers of Witten. All guests left with a good ‘taste in their mouth’ about Zimbabwe, all had happy memories of the Zimbabweans they met, ate, drank and danced with, of the stone sculptures which gave them a ‘feeling’ for the beauties of the natural world and the traditional and contemporary lives of the Zimbabwean people. In the end, both Zimbabweans and Germans realised they were not so different, they enjoyed the same things, and appreciated the good things of life in the same way.

JK: Thank you Celia.

CW-I: You are welcome.

August 2006
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