Exploring Common Themes in Shona Sculpture

Zimbabwe's name originates from the Shona phrase dzimba dzemabwe, which translates to "houses of stone" or "stone buildings." Zimbabwe is renowned for its rich culture and stone sculptures with recurring themes that reflect the Shona's cultural, social, and spiritual beliefs. Each artist's work is a unique interpretation of these elements.


Let's look at the most common themes, their significance, and the symbolism found in many Shona sculptures.



Like most cultures, family lies at the heart of Shona society, and this theme is often expressed through sculpture. These artworks not only celebrate the centrality of the family but also provide insights into the different family members and their responsibilities.


Through their intricate carvings, Shona sculptors capture the essence of social responsibilities, kinship bonds, and the enduring values upheld within their families.


Protective Family - This abstract depiction of a close family was sculpted from a single piece of serpentine stone (the heads are separate piece, connected with pins), in Zimbabwe, by Farai Nyakanyanza.


Mother and Child

One of the most enduring themes in Shona sculpture is the depiction of mother and child. These sculptures resonate deeply with most of us as they portray the profound love and nurturing instinct that epitomizes motherhood. This theme visually shows us the cherished role of women in Shona society, emphasizing the significance of fertility and family cohesion. 


Mother and Child by Dominic Benhura - Dominic Benhura, director of the community of artists in Zimbabwe known as Tengenenge, brings the heart of Zimbabwean art to life in this stunning piece.


Muroora (Daughter-in-law)

The portrayal of the muroora in Shona sculpture offers a glimpse into the complex dynamics of marital relationships and gender roles. These artworks often celebrate the idealized image of female beauty while also highlighting the expectations placed upon daughters-in-law. Through their craftsmanship, artists capture the nuances of humility, servility, and resilience embodied by murooras in Shona culture.


Ambuya (Grandmother)

In contrast to the youthful depiction of murooras, sculptures featuring ambuyas reflect wisdom, authority, and reverence. As the matriarchs of Shona households, grandmothers hold sway over familial affairs, commanding respect from younger generations. Through their artistry, sculptors pay homage to the pivotal role played by ambuyas in shaping family dynamics and preserving cultural traditions. 


Sekuru (Grandfather)

The term sekuru encompasses not only the familial role of a grandfather but also signifies a broader reverence for elder men within Shona society. Through their sculptures, artists honor the wisdom and guidance imparted by sekurus, who serve as pillars of communal support and conflict resolution. These artworks serve as tributes to the lasting legacy of elders in Shona culture.


Njuzu (Water Spirit)

Regarding spirituality, Shona sculpture often incorporates themes inspired by traditional beliefs, such as the njuzu or water spirit. These mystical beings, depicted as half-human, half-fish entities, symbolize the spiritual essence found within natural elements. Through their craftsmanship, artists evoke a sense of awe and reverence for the unseen forces that shape the Shona perspective.



In Shona sculpture, common themes serve as a way to explore the intricate web of culture, tradition, and spirituality. From the cherished bonds of family to the mystical realms of ancestral spirits, each artwork reflects the depth of the Shona identity and the enduring legacy of its artistic heritage.


Our collection is filled with sculptures depicting various themes, like Dominic Benhura's Mother and Child and Unforgettable Moments of Love by Vernon Nyagweta. Zimbabwean stone sculpture is also heavily influenced by the surrounding beauty of nature and the abundance of wildlife, as can be seen in Shepard Deve's Springstone Heron