Miss traveling? A little piece of Zimbabwe is at the Dallas Arboretum. ZimSculpt, a world-renowned collection of modern Zimbabwean sculpture, is now on view at Dallas’ botanical garden through August 8.
“This exhibit is one way that the Arboretum is helping all of us in this city reintroduce ourselves into society while also bringing that world that been impossible to physically reach through travel closer to us in Dallas,” Eric Johnson, Dallas’ mayor, said at the opening of the exhibition.
ZimSculpt first came to the Dallas Arboretum in 2017. The exhibition returns as the signature event of Summer at the Arboretum with over 100 hand-selected sculptures tucked into the garden’s green spaces and flower beds. The May 1 opening of the exhibition coincided with the Dallas Arboretum’s first Black Heritage Celebration.
The sculptures on display were scheduled to appear in an exhibition in Alabama last year. That exhibition was postponed and eventually canceled due to the pandemic. “Because we didn’t have any exhibitions, we couldn’t buy anything from any of our sculptors because we didn’t make any income so it has had a knock-on effect to everyone we work with, which is 300-700 different sculptors back in Zimbabwe,” Vivienne Croisette, founder of ZimSculpt, said.
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The exhibition features the talent of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. These contemporary artists use the best materials of their nation. “The rocks aren’t just outside the artists’ house,” Croisette said. “You have to go to a mine.”
The artists will often travel one to four hours to a mine to select the perfect stone. “The sculptors will go to the quarry and he will speak to the miners and he will advise the miners what kind of sizes he wants, what kind of shapes,” Croisette said.
The sculptures are made of a variety of stone: springstone, dolomite, opal stone, cobalt stone and serpentine. “Zimbabwe has over 200 different minerals, so we’re blessed with our stone. That’s why I think stone sculpture has become so popular in Zimbabwe and so famous is because we have absolutely extraordinary stone,” Croisette said.
The sculptures are heavy, some weighing tons and a few are as tall as seven feet. “Some of the ones in the garden we’ve had to install with forklifts and cranes,” Croisette said. ‘It’s quite some operation to set this up.”
Some are polished while some have intricate textures and inlays. Each one looks at home in the Texas sun. “Because they are made of stone, and they are natural and quite a bit of the stone looks natural – sometimes the artist leaves part of it in a natural state – I think it just works so beautifully in nature. It replicates outside, the mountains, being outdoors, being in a natural setting,” Croisette said.
The sculptures fit in so well, finding them is like playing an artistic game of hide-and-seek. “You have to keep a lookout because some of the sculptures are hidden so it is a bit of sculpture-scavenge,” Croisette said.
Styles vary, reflecting emotions, family relationships and the animal kingdom. Black panthers climb a tree, a mother holds her child, and a dancer reaches for the stars. Black herons are a striking pair with contrasting white inlay. “It’s very realistic and it has white inlay in the feathers,” Croisette said. “That’s one of my favorites.”
The exhibition features The Marketplace with two artists, Passmore Mupindiko and Brighton Layson, demonstrating their work, carving statues with chisels, hammers, files, and sandpaper. Visitors are welcome to purchase any sculpture on display in the garden as well as at the market. “When you look at a sculpture outside, you can see the whole thing, the whole environment. You see the garden and then also the whole idea is to picture a sculpture in your garden,” Croisette said.
The exhibition is a cultural exchange, engaging with the world during an isolating time. “Personally, I’m struck by the beauty and by the craftsmanship required to bring these extraordinary sculptures to life,” Johnson said. “And at a time when we’ve been left largely with our own thoughts and honestly, constant anxieties, this artwork means more to us now than just the ability to appreciate the technical skill which obviously a lot when into. It represents a different way of seeing our world.”
“It’s an absolute miracle that we’re even here,” Croisette said. “If you can’t get out on a plane to Zimbabwe, then we’ve brought it to you.”
Learn more: https://www.dallasarboretum.org/