Flowers are not the only things blooming at the Dallas Arboretum this spring. ZimSculpt, an exhibition of over 100 stone sculptures created by Zimbabwean artists, complement the arboretum’s landscape in its debut appearance in the southern United States.
Vivienne Croisette, the British born founder and curator of the exhibition, has designed ZimSculpt to flourish in garden settings.
“We like the sculptures to be outdoors, in an outdoor setting. There’s air. It’s not in a gallery. It’s not four walls, you’re not enclosed. You’re free. You’re free to wander around, walk around and discuss about the sculptures you’re looking at with friends without anybody being too close to you,” Croisette said.
Visitors will be able to wander and enjoy ZimSculpt through July 31.
Known as Shona sculpture, each contemporary piece is unique and hand-carved by one of about 250 artists Croisette personally cultivates.
The artists are scattered across Zimbabwe and Croisette often travels four or five hours to view their work. Selecting pieces is a labor of love.
“I’m looking for something that is a showstopper. That is very difficult actually to find. That is my goal: to find something that makes me go, ‘Oh my goodness, that is amazing. I’ve had such a great day because I found one sculpture that is outstanding,’” Croisette said.
Croisette falls in love with each piece and can tell the story of the artist and how it was created.
Artists do not pre-sketch their sculptures. Instead, they examine the locally-sourced stone from small-scale, open cast mines and visualize the shape of an animal or person in the stone.
The artists use hammers, points, chisels, rasps and chasing hammers to work with the shape of the serpentine and semi-precious stone to craft their sculpture.
Artists often work with stones weighing more than a ton and as tall as seven feet. The result is strikingly modern.
“I think people are blown away by it. I think their initial reaction is, ‘Wow, this isn’t what I was expecting. How do they do that with hand tools?’” Croisette said.
Visitors to the exhibition have an opportunity to learn how the sculptors use hand tools to create polished, intricate pieces of art.
Two artists, Aron Kapembeza and Passmore Mupindiko, will demonstrate their skills daily.
Kapembeza began his sculpting career by working with his aunt, Colleen Madamombe, and gradually developed his own style.
“When I was working with my auntie, I was helping her to do the sculptures. So starting in 2000, that’s when I was starting to do my own sculptures. So I do specialize in human figures. When I get a piece of rock, what I see inside is a lady,” Kapembeza said.
Women are his greatest inspiration. “I respect ladies so much because ladies work very hard. Back home, ladies are the ones who do everything,” Kapembeza said. Kapembeza, one of Zimbabwe’s most respected artists, had a solo exhibition in the Netherlands and he has given sculpting lessons in Europe.
Mupindiko’s inspiration is the natural world and he often sculpts guinea fowls and leaf bowls for attracting birds. He began his career working with wood, but Tom Blomfield of Tengenenge Arts Community encouraged to switch to sculpting stone.
The switch was not hard for him to make. “I found out working with wood is quite hard because you have to go through their veins and with stone, you can go in any direction,” Mupindiko said.
Mupindiko’s work has been exhibited in France, Holland, South Africa, Germany and Denmark.
The tradition of sculpting stone is passed from one generation to the next in Zimbabwe. Just as Kapembeza’s aunt taught him to sculpt, he takes pride in teaching his children to sculpt.
“We do not want to lose our culture. That’s why we keep passing it to our children so they know how the elders did it,” Kapembeza said.
Both artists love visiting with curious ZimSculpt patrons.
“We like to demonstrate it especially in front of people so that people know how we do it, how we sculpt the stone from the start to the end,” Kapembeza said.
Because visitors may purchase sculptures on display in the garden as well as the pieces created onsite in The Marketplace in the Dallas Arboretum’s Pecan Grove, the artists want to educate visitors about the art.
“I like to work in front of people so that people will meet the artists directly and they will ask questions about the sculptures, how they were done in the garden. They will get to know the process. It’s good to assist them,” Mupindiko said.
Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.