Shona Stone Carvings and African Art Sculptures
We have been interested in the Shona stone carvings of southern Africa such as the ones shown in this African art catalog for many years. During that time we have put together a large collection of African art stone carvings, displayed prominently throughout our home. Although our pieces come from diverse locations such as South Africa, Malawi and Botswana, our principal sources of supply today are the Shona tribe, one of the largest ethnic population groups in Zimbabwe. Although that country is suffering grave economic problems due to a repressive government, the artists nevertheless manage to secure raw stone and work to sustain themselves and their families. Fuel is very short in Zimbabwe. This makes it difficult, but fortunately not impossible for the artists to bring the fruit of their efforts to Harare, where it is sold to various individuals. Some of these agents continue to drive out into the countryside where they purchase directly from the artists, saving them time and money. These people resell to tourists or gather the art and sell it to overseas buyers, bringing "hard" currency back to the country.
Shona Artists and Crafts People
Shona artists and crafts people have been working in different media for generations. These include paintings, pottery, basket ware, wood carvings, and sculpture done in metal as well as the stone carvings illustrated in our African art catalog. While there is not a long standing tradition of sculpture in what is now Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), stone carvings dating from the 15th century were seen in Great Zimbabwe, an excavated temple near Bulawayo. Most of the artifacts from this location have been moved to museums in Cape Town, South Africa or London.
It is generally agreed that Zimbabwean stone sculpture as seen today began during the late colonial period of the 1950's and 1960's. During this period the artists and artisans depicted many of the traditional Shona and other tribal spiritual myths such as the Nyaminyami (River God) pictured here.
The Nyaminyami is the river spirit medium of the Tonga people, who used to live along the banks of the Zambezi river. The River God could foretell the weather and provide meals freely to everyone who asked for them. The spirit resides in the Zambezi River and the Tonga people would perform their dances to ask the Nyaminyami to end periods of drought or to stop the rain.
When the Kariba Dam was built on the Zambezi, the Tonga people were relocated. It is said that the building of the dam wall separated the Nyaminyami from his wife and children, and that the tremors felt at the dam wall is the River God trying to find a way to reunite with his family.
Out of all the nations in Africa, the large varieties and abundant supplies of rock formations present throughout the Zimbabwe landscape provide artists with a medium for sculpture and carvings unique to their country. The Shona art sculpture of Zimbabwe combines the wonderful varieties presented by the stone with images drawn both from reality and abstract symbolism. Figures like the rhinoman illustrated here are almost, but not quite either an animal or human form.
Some Varieties of Stone Used to Create Shona Art Carvings and African Sculptures
Much of the stone used by Shona artists is quarried in areas which are adjacent or quite near the villages where the work is created. Often the land on which the stone is found is owned by the village or the local artists. The artists use stone such as Serpentine (somewhat old, having been formed about 2.6 billion years ago), with more than 200 color variations. The hardest and darkest of the Serpentine varieties is black, commonly known as Springstone or Africa stone. Less seen is Lepidolite, with its beautiful pale mauve coloration; and the very hard Verdite, found mostly in darker shades of green but with other variations as well.
Commonly referred to as Rapoko stone in Zimbabwe, Steatite is a natural soft stone that falls under the general category of soapstone. Rapoko is found on every continent in the world with the possible exception of Antarctica. Its remarkable qualities have made this stone one of the most widely used minerals on earth. Over 10 million years old, Rapoko is a natural mineral, prized since ancient times for its durability, workability, beautiful character and ability to retain and radiate heat and resist chemicals. Native cultures, the world over, have carved Rapoko/Steatite into vessels, art objects, memorial and cultural items. Carved items have been found in the tombs of Pharaohs, in the igloos of the far north, in temples and palaces of China and India, in the mountains and river valleys of the Americas and the arid plains of Africa. There is a man made ceramic product, also called Steatite, which uses the natural Rapoko stone as one of its raw materials but has no other connection to the skillful efforts of talented Shona and other African artists.
The wonderful natural character of stone is used both in its rough cut and textured state, or heated and burnished to a high gloss to reveal rich greens, browns, blacks and grays. The hardness, shape, density and quantity used of serpentine, verdite, sandstone, granite, steatite and other stones define the ultimate presentation of completed Shona art sculptures and carvings.
Techniques Used to Create African Stone Art Carvings
When we speak of "heating" and "burnishing," in the hurried world outside of Africa, we may tend to get an entirely erroneous impression of the processes used by the carvers of Zimbabwe. The illustration here shows a typical urban artist/craftsman at work smoothing and burnishing a carving.
In keeping with the painstaking, somewhat "old fashioned" hand crafting techniques used to create and finish the stone carvings and sculptures, the heating of semi-finished carvings is most often done as shown here.
Early last year we asked our Zimbabwean carvers if they were willing to try their skills with stone in the creation of a new type of art, one with which they had never had any known experience. The results were extremely satisfying and produced a small number of covered jars, which we believe to be exclusive to amaAfrika Karvings. We have requested additional examples of this "new" African stone art form and hope to be receiving some smaller versions of the covered jars shortly.
New Shona African Stone Sculptures
544 Rainbow Terrace
Palmdale CA 93551
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