Zimbabwe Stone Sculpture has gained worldwide recognition since it first emerged as a distinctive new art practice in the late 1950s. The large varieties and abundant supplies of naturally occurring rock formations of the Zimbabwe landscape provided artists with a medium unique to their country. Starting out as a small and eager group of students at a newly established painting and sculpture workshop at Harare’s National Gallery (now the National Gallery of Zimbabwe) in 1957, artists soon mastered the technical skills required to make their impression on the resistant stone boulders and began to create forms of great sculptural variety and complexity. Soon the work was receiving attention outside of Zimbabwe, in Great Britain, Europe and the United States; where exhibitions drew the attention of the media, including Newsweek, which in September 1987 hailed it as “perhaps the most important new art form to emerge from Africa in this century.” As art historians, museum directors and curators, gallery owners, collectors and the public at large began to recognize that the art of Africa was not confined to time bound age-old traditional works mainly carved from wood, but that the tradition was alive and growing, a new audience for this contemporary art developed.
The best of Zimbabwe stone sculpture combines the splendor and solidity of the stone medium with imagery drawn from reality and abstracted into symbolic form. Figures and features that are reminiscent of, yet not quite like, animal and human forms suggest the creatures and mythological beings that inhabit the realms of the religions and folklore of the Zimbabwean people. The inherent character of the stone is used both in its rough cut and textured state or heated and burnished to a high gloss to reveal rich greens, browns, blocks and grays. The hardness mass, shape and volume of the serpentine, quartz, sandstone, verdite, granite, steatite, and other stones define the formal characteristics of the completed works. In addition to their weightiness, the polished surface gives a quality of classic refinement. Because the stone is quarried locally, often on land owned by the artists themselves, obtaining art supplies is relatively simple for these artists. Prominent Zimbabwean artists like Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Henry Munyaradzi and Tapfuma Gutsa have been featured in major international art shows such as the groundbreaking 1990 exhibition Contemporary African Artists: Changing Tradition at New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem, the 1991 Venice Biennale, the Africa 95 Arts festival in London, and Genesis – an intercultural collaboration between Germany and Zimbabwe in 1995-1997.