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Zimbabwe’s roadside sculpture market

May 25, 2016
tags:#African Millennium Foundation, #sculpture, #Zimbabwe
by:Rosemary Musvipwa
Slowly but surely the roadsides of Zimbabwe are growing into the new market places for anything and everything worthy of being sold to satisfy a human being’s basic needs, and to provide the odd ‘keepsakes’ that give one a small piece of Zimbabwe.

The world of sculpture has not been left behind in the endeavour to break entrepreneurial boundaries to make a living.

There has been an increase in the number of roadside sculpture artists that are using the platform to carve out a name for themselves, as well as to eke out a living in an effort to put food on the table for their families.

Sikhanyisiwe Sibanda is one of the thousands of sculpture artists that have formed partnerships with their fellow sculptors, and gone ahead to get a license to sell their wares on the roadside. This is in contrast to the accepted modus operandi of working with national art galleries find customers for their sculptures.

“I came to learn how to make basic crafts from the time I was a teenager working for a white man in rural Gwayi. During the period of the economic downturn around 2007 the owner of the company left the country after closing shop. This left me and my workmates at a loss for words as we were now out of work,” said Sibanda sadly.

“After a few months, we got back on our feet and made an attempt to regroup ourselves and started to make sculptures for sale in Harare. The venture managed to keep us afloat and then we started acquiring more equipment. After a while we went back to Gwayi and established a working base that could allow us to hire more like-minded workers to help us in our production process,” said Sibanda in a livelier voice.

Today, Sibanda and her colleagues run their own fully registered company called Gwayi Ceramics Cafe and sell their wares along a roadside in Bradfield, a suburb in Bulawayo. They have diversified their business model and now go beyond stone sculpture, incorporating ceramic and clay moulding into fast moving products such as sculpted flower pots, water fountains and floor tiles. These help the sculptors to earn petty cash which helps them to get by as they wait for the bigger sales of their stone sculpture products.

According to the African Millennium Foundation “stone sculpture is Zimbabwe’s unique contribution to the global village. Its sculptors have (for more than) the past 40 years established themselves as a major artistic force worldwide.”

“Stone sculpture from Zimbabwe is both an ancient and a modern construct. Zimbabwe - which, in the Shona language, means ‘house of stone’- is the only country on the African continent that has large deposits of stone suitable for sculpting. These originate in the geological marvel that is the Great Dyke, a 500kilometre-long ridge, 2.5 billion years old, which runs almost the length of Zimbabwe and is packed with a veritable jewel chest of stones,” notes the African Millennium Foundation.

The colourful varieties of stone include hard black springstone, serpentine and soapstone, firm grey limestone as well as verdite and lepidolite.

The sculpture market is constantly changing and the roadside has become a sort of outdoor gallery which has, in its own way, helped to expose the diversity, creativity, and beauty of the various pieces of sculpture. As the artists display and push to sell their sculpted wares, their work seizes to be hidden away in gallery collections and becomes a beacon of light that attracts visitors who are willing to part with the hundreds or thousands of dollars which are on the price tag of each item.

Jericho Ndhlovu said that selling sculptures on the roadside was a mixed bag because at times one can spend the whole day or even the whole week without making any sales. “The sculptures range anywhere from between USD$50 to several thousands depending on the size and design. Many times the people that buy the works are foreigners. Locals buy, but they are generally not as appreciative of our artistic works,” said Ndhlovu.

Although many artists in Zimbabwe are largely stone sculptors, there is a new crop of artists that is venturing more and more into metal sculpture. Musa Moyo is an emerging artist that has taken the opportunity presented to him to make money out of what seems like trash.

“I have come to realise that everything around me is raw material that can be used to create beautiful artefacts. I make use of scrap metal in my sculpture business. The metal is sourced from car breakers and from those who come to us selling the scrap pieces from their old cars," said Moyo.

“It is not easy to make a living from selling our wares on the roadside, as it is very unpredictable. There are no traditional benefits and there is no job security. Besides working for our day-to-day living expenses, we have to make sure that we set aside US$150 for a six month license to sell, and a monthly rental of US$10 payable to the City Council for the roadside space that we use,” explained Moyo.

Ceasar Zivai, who is both a stone and metal sculptor, said as an everyday business, roadside artists are strategically positioned to attract potential customers, especially those that will be travelling as tourists.

“We not only target tourists but we also engage in direct marketing where we hand out our business cards and spread news about what we do by word of mouth, which is, at times, better than just having your work sitting in a gallery waiting for someone to view it, then make an order. We are linked to the customer directly and we can negotiate for a price there and then without any middleman,” said Zivai.

The sculpture artists can be located within the urban centres such as in the Harare suburb of Avondale, or on the outskirts such as along the Harare airport road, along the highway in the Mashava area of Zvishavane, in the Mawabeni area close to Esigodini. There is great variety of sculptured items such as human forms, animals, as well as depictions of traditional and modern life.

The sculpture market continues to play its role in the economy by providing much needed jobs to the many talented artists who are adding value to themselves while raising the profile of the country. As the artists mix and mingle in their roadside workplaces, there is a constant desire to become better, thereby encouraging the sharing of carving techniques and ideas, leading to the sharpening of sculpture skills.

Article written by:
Rosemary Musvipwa
There has been an increase in the number of roadside sculpture artists that are using the platform to carve out a name for themselves.
There has been an increase in the number of roadside sculpture artists that are using the platform to carve out a name for themselves, as well as to eke out a living in an effort to put food on the table for their families.
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