Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture – From Traditional to Conceptual

As you know, here at Meyavé, we are proud of our partnerships with many local talented Zimbabwean stone sculptors. Zimbabwean stone sculpture has become an internationally celebrated art form that captures the Shona people's rich cultural heritage and profound spirituality.

Like all art forms, Zimbabwean stone sculpture has evolved from its traditional roots to modern conceptual expressions that reflect the complex interplay of history, identity, and creativity.

Each piece tells a story, embodying themes of ancestry, mythology, and the natural world, enriched by the modern interpretations of new, up-and-coming artists. Their personal spin adds a fresh perspective to this traditional art form, making it an exciting and ever-evolving field that we can’t wait to share.



Traditional Beginnings: The Roots of Shona Sculpture

The origins of Zimbabwean stone sculpture can be traced back to the Shona people, whose ancestors began carving stone for both practical and spiritual purposes.


These early works were deeply connected to the community's way of life, serving as tools, ceremonial objects, and representations of ancestral spirits. Traditional Shona sculptures often depicted natural forms and human figures, which embodied themes of family, spirituality, and the natural world.


Rhinoman by Bernard Matemera


The Modern Movement

The transition from traditional to modern Zimbabwean stone sculpture began in the mid-20th century, largely influenced by the establishment of the National Gallery of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1957.


Under the guidance of Frank McEwen, the gallery's first director, local artists were encouraged to explore and expand their creative expressions. His vision was to nurture an environment where traditional skills could merge with modern artistic ideas.


This period saw the emergence of prominent artists like Joram Mariga, considered the father of modern Zimbabwean sculpture. Joram and his contemporaries began to experiment with larger forms and more abstract themes, moving away from strictly representational works. Their sculptures often explored social and political themes, reflecting the changing dynamics of Zimbabwean society.


The Tengenenge Sculpture Community

A significant development in this evolution was the establishment of the Tengenenge Sculpture Community in the 1960s. Founded by Tom Blomefield, a former tobacco farmer, Tengenenge became a hub for sculptors who wanted to break away from traditional constraints. Here, artists from various backgrounds came together, fostering a vibrant exchange of ideas and techniques.


The community's openness to innovation led to a more diverse range of sculptures, incorporating influences from modern art movements around the world. The works produced in Tengenenge were bold and experimental, often challenging conventional forms and subjects. This environment allowed artists to push the boundaries of their creativity, resulting in sculptures that were not only visually striking but also rich in conceptual depth. 


The Contemporary Era

Today, Zimbabwean stone sculpture stands at the forefront of contemporary African art. Its conceptual phase is characterized by an emphasis on abstract forms and avant-garde themes.


This new wave of artists, including Dominic Benhura, Tapfuma Gutsa, and Agnes Nyanhongo, pushed the boundaries of traditional sculpture, incorporating elements of modernity while still honoring their cultural roots.


Dominic Benhura, for example, is known for his dynamic and expressive figures, often featuring exaggerated proportions and playful compositions. His works celebrate human relationships and everyday moments, resonating with audiences worldwide.


Mother and Child by Dominic Benhura


Contemporary Zimbabwean sculptors are not only preserving but also redefining the legacy of their ancestors. Their works are celebrated globally and featured in prestigious galleries and collections. This recognition has elevated the status of Zimbabwean sculpture and provided a platform for artists to address contemporary issues such as identity, globalization, and social justice.  


A Living Legacy

The evolution of Zimbabwean stone sculpture from traditional to conceptual shows the resilience and creativity of Zimbabwean artists. From the traditional carvings of the Shona people to the bold, conceptual pieces of today, this art form continues to captivate and inspire. As Zimbabwean artists blend heritage with modernity, they create masterpieces that resonate across cultures and generations.


Join us at Meyavé, as we celebrate the beauty and ingenuity of Zimbabwean hand-carved stone sculptures, from their traditional roots to their bold, contemporary expressions.