Exciting Historical Exhibition: Collection of Traditional Shona Sculptures

By Edone Anne Logan

‘The Yawn Dog’, ‘The Mighty Eagle’ and ‘Hongwe’s Ponder’ are a few of the fascinating titles given to Jonathan Matimba’s traditional Shona sculptures that are enriching the display at the Rhodes Nyanga Historical Museum. The late Jonathan Matimba is one of the three most famous and influential stone and wood carvers of the 1950s and ‘60s.

‘Seed Pod’, ‘Morning Love’ and ‘Flying Dream’ describe some of the modern pieces of work, crafted by our Nyanga and Claremont sculptors, giving an interesting contrast to the onlooker. Most of the modern artists are sons or grandsons of famous sculptors of the last century: Joram Mariga, Manyandure, Takawira, Sande and Chaudiringa, many of whom were brought up in the Nyatate area of Nyanga North, and sold their work locally and overseas.

At the Official Opening of the Exhibition on 13th August 2018, Mr Naboth Muchopa enthusiastically introduced Dr Jonathan Zilberg.

Dr. Zilberg is Associate Research Scholar at The Centre of African Studies, University of Illinois, gave an exhilarating talk on the history of Nyanga sculpture, mentioning the importance of women such as Miriam Mbwaburi, who sold woven reed mats at the local hotels in the ‘50s. Miriam was encouraged by the Rural Council to establish the Nyanga Craft Village and to invite potters and sculptors to join her.

Dr. Zilberg explained to the audience, which consisted of local folk, sculptors and their families, some important points which make sculptures appealing to buyers.  During the weekend he spoke with many of the artists, encouraging them and giving helpful advice.

 Dr.Zilberg

A record number of visitors took advantage of the Open Day by touring the Museum, and enjoyed the refreshments. This special exhibition has been extended from the intended closure on the 14th August 2018. The Matimba family is happy to leave the work at the Museum for a few months.

The idea and inspiration for the exhibition came about thanks to Dr. Zilberg, who visited Zimbabwe last year and made us more aware of the wealth of talent  – historical and modern – which we have in our area.  On a trip into the Nyatate area, north of Nyanga, we were grateful to have be introduced to one of Jonathan Matimba’s sons, Munetsi who took us to the Matimba homestead where Mrs Matimba is still alive. You can just imagine our surprise when we arrived there and saw the extraordinary wooden sculptures. Then, even more amazingly, Munetsi dug his hands down into his granary and started pulling out his fathers’ stone sculptures. He told us that his father, Joram Mariga and Bernard Manyandure had gone to school up the road at Mt Mellory Mission School and that they had all learnt to carve there.

The family agreed to let us display some of Jonathan’s works for as long as we wish, in order that they can be seen and appreciated by the public.  The transport of the works of art from the Matimba’s homestead was kindly made possible by a donation from Mr Rob Burrett.

The discovery of this unique collection and this being the first exhibition of the artist’s works is of great significance and of national historical interest. We are very proud and privileged to display these rare early pieces of art for public enjoyment.

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