Locals yet to appreciate sculpture

Dzimba dzemabwe (houses of stone), where the name Zimbabwe draws its name, is a celebration of stone buildings and sculpture that the earliest inhabitants of this country prided themselves in – talk of the Great Zimbabwe. Dzimbadzemabwe gives meaning and significance to this ancient and rich history in stonework. Yet it would seem as if its own people lack a comprehensive appreciation of it.

It only recently that internationally acclaimed sculptor, Dominic Benhura made a break through on the international market with stone sculpture that locals have begun to give a second glance at stone sculpture. Even still, they rarely buy the stone products because, like what the Director of the National Art Gallery f Zimbabwe, Doreen Sibanda said; what they lack fundamentally is appreciation for this type of art.

However Benhura seems to think otherwise, attributing the fact that people do not buy local carvings to the reasoning that people throughout the world prefer to buy what is made out of their own country not what they have in abundance.

“I think it’s a psychological complex that people would rather buy things that are made in other countries not what they have in their own country. It is not that they don’t appreciate but it is because they tend to think that the art belongs to them and will always be around hence no need to buy. Zimbabweans will buy Chinese pieces of art that are not found in their own country,” Benhura said.

Sibanda however insists that appreciating a particular art form requires intensive training from a very tender age and that has not been happening in Zimbabwe where the educational system does not prioritise art on its curricula.

“In colonial times and even now, art was and still is presented to children in such a way that it was not beneficial to them and whoever ventures into it is considered a social outcast. It has never been really mainstreamed,” Sibanda said.

This a point she shares with Celia Irvine Winter, the Curator of the National Arts Gallery who believes that the appreciation of art is acquired and should be learnt from pre-school. Nevertheless what she thinks is the major barring factor why locals, not only from Zimbabwe but from Southern Africa do not buy their own pieces of art has to do with disposal income.

“You will find that because many local people are not bothered with buying stone carvings because of the restrictive disposal income. People would rather worry about food and attainment of education

One sculptor who works from his Zengeza home, some 35 km out of Harare noted that once in a while locals do come to look for stone carvings that represent their totems and nothing beyond that. He added that the only reason he is able to feed his family from stone carving is because of the foreigners who buy his products, either as souvenirs or for re-selling in their own countries.

Because foreign buyers sense this desperation, local artistes find themselves ripped off by deceitful buyers who buy local sculptures for so little only to multiply their earnings a thousand fold when they sell the product overseas.

Elvas Mari, the deputy director of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) has however said, artistes, especially artistes should know that the April amendment to the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe 1985 that provides for the arts council to oversee the

registration, operation and conduct of artistes and their promoters is for the benefit of the artiste.

“The amendment states that all local arts promoters should register with the arts NACZ while foreign promoters or buyers should partner with their local counterparts if they want to carry out any transactions in the county. We cannot allow something as precious as stone, which is a cultural heritage to leave this country for peanuts,” Mari said.

He added that the arts and culture industry has potential to surpass traditional sectors both in terms of employment generation capacity and contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and as such should be run professionally.

“The arts and culture industry is steadily contributing to the economic development of the country and beyond. There is therefore need to run the arts industry professionally by setting up standard requirements of who should be an arts promoter and how they should go about their business.

“We are having a lot of arts promoters who are cheating both the artistes and the country. Zimbabwean artists exploit local resources for their art and it is only fair that they benefit and at the same contribute positively to the economic growth of their country instead of enriching some foreign promoters who want to reap where they did not sow.”

The hope is that while exporting our art to other countries is a welcome idea, charity should begin at home. Zimbabwean art should first and foremost be understood and appreciated by its own people if it is to be truly valued by the world.

October 2006
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