Knowledge Mushowe Art Zone
For some young artists living in harsh economic conditions, making money may be the only thing that matters. Making financial reward the only important variable stalls creativity, as little or no effort is put in the development and nurturing of the artistic talent from within. The life, works and thoughts of one of Zimbabwe’s finest stone sculptors, Nicholas Mukomberanwa are not well known to today’s young artists, but may help in pushing them towards artistic excellence.
The late great sculptor Mukomberanwa was born in Buhera in 1940.
Before becoming a professional artist, Mukomberanwa was a policeman.
Once he started working on stone, he never looked back.
Working in steatite and serpentine stones, his works have been exhibited all over the world, and the reviews from across our borders recognise him not as one of Zimbabwe’s best, but a phenomenon comparable to the world’s best ever.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in July 1985, Terence Maloon compared the sculptor’s work to “the German avant-garde artists of the early decade of this century ‘1900s’, while Ray Wilkinson wrote in the September 1987 edition of Newsweek magazine that, “Mukomberanwa’s powerful semi-abstract heads have an echo of Picasso”.
Finding a global audience during his time when the internet was virtually non-existent would never have been easy, but his works did the talking for him.
In a speech during the 1980s, Mukomberanwa provided a powerful interpretation of what real shone sculpture should be when he stated that he believed, “art should elicit a universal response without having to explain it to the audience. The magic of local sculpture is that it crosses race, colour and age group”.
Real art then is no different from genuine art now and tomorrow.
It should evoke emotions in any viewer and it must not need the interpretation of the artist to reveal its meaning.
To Mukomberanwa, the thought process is just as important as the creation of the art.
He explained that “one has to get acquainted with nature to create works that describe our culture”.
“I look at the stone and meditate on its form. But nature is the original artist and all I do is recognise the image I have to complete. The emotional and spiritual feedback from the stone gives me pleasure and inspires me to work non-stop”.
Fewer and fewer artists are getting inspired by nature this way.
Take the airport artist sitting on the roadside for instance.
He may find numerous raw stones resembling the same oval shape and make dozens of ‘stone frogs’ that are then sold to tourists or any locals interested.
The only reference to nature is that the stones will resemble frogs, but it is not inspired by the nature that shelters them.
Rather, they are inspired by making as much money as possible.
One of Mukomberanwa’s award-winning artworks called “Street Beggar” may be striking as an artwork but the reason why he decided to work on it is equally remarkable.
About “Street Beggar”, he said, “we often pass by a beggar in the streets and dismiss his presence as an everyday sight. But once in a while, one’s conscience makes you feel their plight.
“I cannot express myself in words so I ask the stone to say it for me. But something has to be said. To rid myself of the feeling of helplessness when confronted by a beggar, I often ask myself what it feels like. We cannot leave this problem to the Government alone, we have to have empathy for such things”.
Mukomberanwa shows from the above quote that art should not be a selfish deed meant to make the artist survive,
Art cannot be simply a way to survive.
Instead, art, like nature must be part of the society that it is created for.
If art’s only use is aesthetic appeal, it runs the risk of being useless.
The late sculptor created a platform that has since given rise to some of the most iconic artists of our time, including Dominic Benhura.
Though he was predominantly a sculptor, Mukomberarwa drew comparisons between his genre and other forms of art.
He said, “sculpting like any other art form, such as music or painting is like a spiritual calling. A guitarist is at harmony with his instrument and at times it becomes an extension of him — this oneness with you (medium) also applies to sculpting”.
There will never be another Nicholas Mukomberanwa.
But seeing art through his eyes reveals some interesting insights that make the whole band of today’s get-rich-quick artists rank armatures.