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A Brief Guide to Collecting Shona Sculpture

Shona sculpture, now also referred to as Zimbabwean stone sculpture, has gained popularity as it has found its way around the world.  David Attenborough, an early collector of the work, commented that: “The real significance of this tribal art is that it shows us, locked within our own culture, that there are other ways of being human; there are alternative visions that have their own validity.”

Like Canada’s own Inuit art movement, Shona sculpture’s commercial success followed critical acclaim and with that the forces of the marketplace began to have an influence on the art movement. In a sense Shona sculpture has become a victim of its own success. The more exposure this work has internationally the more it is in danger of being commodified. There is far more repetitive, derivative work being produced now than even three or four years ago.

There are many people carving stone in Zimbabwe who have the technical skills but little artistic vision. They churn out the same thing over and over again, or, even worse “copy” the work of popular artists.  Too often young sculptors who have the opportunity to apprentice with master carvers end up attempting to imitate their mentors, rather than creating original work.

Over the past decade or so most international galleries have acquired Shona sculpture through intermediaries in Zimbabwe, rather than buying directly from the artists.  Often these wholesalers select sculptures for commercial reasons, rather than for their artistic merit. 

Increasingly artists are being given orders to mass produce and this has a very negative psychological effect on their creativity. It has also led to an increased use of machinery. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using a grinder or power sander, it is a problem if the work is then sold as hand carved. And that happens all too frequently.

Another troubling complication that has arisen in recent years is the appearance of “fakes”.
These are freshly carved imitations of work from the founders of the movement, who are now all dead and whose work in some cases sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some instances even experienced dealers have been taken in by these reproductions. If you are considering investing in work from a first generation artist, only buy from a highly reputable gallery or auction house. It might also be prudent to seek an independent appraisal. 

Buying an authentic Shona sculpture is not at easy as it might appear! Just put the words into Google and you will find hundreds if not thousands of links from locations as disparate as the Musée Rodin in Paris to eBay. If you are buying a Shona sculpture as an investment as well as for the pleasure you will derive from it, then you need to make sure you are buying an authentic art work.

The sculptures for sale at the Rice Lake Gallery, and at the exhibitions curated by ZimArt, are all selected by owner and curator, Fran Fearnley, who travels to Zimbabwe annually and buys the work directly from the artists.

ZimArt only represents artists who are carving and finishing with hand tools. Each sculpture is signed by its creator and sold with an authentication certificate and
biography.

 

shona sculptor

Signing the sculpture is an important
final step.

Art Review Quote
”These sculptures have an immediate impact beyond their place of origin… brilliantly adventurous and accomplished technically, they also seem curiously familiar because of the influence so-called ‘primitive’ art has had on Western modernism.”

– Sunday Times, London