By Norma Tsopo
HARARE – A slump in tourist visits at the turn of the millennium ended Shona stone sculpture’s commercial viability.
And without a market, the creative new art genre is on its death bed as its practitioners are deserting their studios.
Never really having found acceptance among locals, the locally misunderstood genre was only finding business success among particularly westerners who used to frequent the country as tourists.
With very few, if any, individual sculptors working in stone in the first half of the 20th century Shona stone sculpture is a young contemporary art form that had so much potential but is fading already.
One school of thought even contends its birth as having been in 1957, when a British art expert, Frank McEwen, was appointed the director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia.
Following a decision to house an art workshop inside the museum, McEwen is said to have given sculpture preference over painting to revive the legacy of Shona arts and train a new generation of stone sculptors.
He urged the students to express themselves in stone without imitating European models, leaving them to resort to folkloric tribal motifs and spiritual beliefs producing abstract and minimalistic works.
In this contemporary art genre’s early years of growth, it was described as an art renaissance, an art phenomenon and a miracle as both critics and collectors could not understand how the art genre could develop with such spontaneity and originality in an area without any great sculptural.
Zimbabwe had before this been taunted as being artistically barren in visual arts.
But without a market even this bright light is fading already.