Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture

In “The Making of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture,” Jane Childs gives the history behind the style of small stone “Shona sculptures” which have become popular on the international art market. She notes, however that the general black public in Zimbabwe do not have any particular interest in or affinity for the sculptures, and that most of their value is as a commodity to be sold to tourists. The phenomenon illustrates an ethnographic power imbalance, one explained by the history of the art form, which dates back to McEwan’s workshop in the 1960s which happened under the white supremacist Rhodesian government. While the workshop did give many artists repute on the international market and sparked a movement within sculpture, one might question how much agency it gave Zimbabwean artists, and how genuinely works reflect Zimbabwean culture or the artists’ identity. Shona sculpture, while drawing on traditional and cosmological concepts, was rooted practice-wise in Western realms of thought—artists were trained on modernist techniques and studied other modernist works, and they were not all of the same ethnic or cultural origins, though the works were marketed as illustrating a common Shona spirit. While the movement was successful in art circles and abroad, many Zimbabweans still feel alienated from the works – perhaps because of a lack of art education, or perhaps because the works don’t really illustrate a common Shona icon that everyone can rally behind.


Questions / things to think about:


Is Shona sculpture ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ – or some combination of both?

Does Shona sculpture subvert colonialism, or just reinscribe it / make it change forms?

(questions of agency, racial/economic power dynamics)

Post-colonization, can ‘authentic’ Zimbabwean art truly exist?

(how primitivism shapes white supremacist conceptualizations of ‘authenticity’)



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