Shona Art

July 26, 2019 Off By Gregory

Shona art has been around for centuries and in fact it can be traced as far back as the first settlements from the Bantu diaspora. A more sedentary life encouraged people to keep possessions. Evidence suggests that it flourished like everything else during the Great Zimbabwe era(10-16th centuries)and under the kingship of the Munhumutapas. One only needs to look at the architecture of the Great Zimbabwe ruins to see how artistic these people are. The Zimbabwe bird, which is now the national emblem of Zimbabwe is a soapstone sculpture that was carved between 1100 and 1400.

Shona art came to worldwide attention through the influence of Francis Jack McEwen. McEwen was an artist–painter, more importantly he was an art lover. His introduction and representation of Henry Moore and the Shona art movement are the defining moments in his legacy as a revered purveyor of the finest arts. He accepted role as director of the national gallery of Zimbabwe then Rhodesia which was opened on 16 July 1957 by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. As national gallery director Frank wanted to see art from the local artists in the gallery, a concept the white Rhodesian authorities were not at all keen on, for they wanted to house old European master-pieces. He wanted to draw out the art from the individual without much teaching, a teaching of Gustave Moreau who inspired his pupils as professor at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris to be artisans by bringing out individual talents as opposed to imposing ideas on them. McEwen encouraged the local artists to work with much harder stone than that which they were accustomed to as sculpting mediums. He nurtured a few artists who later spread out and thus the rebirth of Shona sculpture.

There are other characters who played pivotal roles in this art movement not least the artists themselves who worked hard to cope with the world wide attention; they revelled in this popularity yet unbelievably stayed simple and loyal to their way of work using simple and primitive tools. Missionaries such as father Groeber a Swiss priest of Serima mission in Gutu district of Masvingo province, mentored local people interested in carving stone. Canon Paterson a Scottish born church of England priest established Cyrene mission in Bulawayo and his love for art and craft made him encourage the people around him to paint and sculpt. Paterson also played an influential role in encouraging disabled people to take up art. Tom Bloomfield a farmer at Tengenenge encouraged his labourers to try a hand in sculpting stone. Roy Guthrie who succeeded Frank McEwen as national gallery director and other characters also helped in the growth of Shona art to what it is today.