Carving a niche, tall order for female sculptors

OF the 200 sculptors working full-time at Chitungwiza Arts Centre, only six are women. And their journey in a male-dominated field has not been a stroll in the park.



The women said the passion and love for the art has kept them afloat although they bemoaned government’s failure to support them while the community refused to recognise them as competent professionals.

“Female sculptors are not recognised locally. That is besides the challenge that stone carving is not economically rewarding for especially those of us that do not take their pieces abroad,” said Daina Nyakudya (38), a sculptor whose pieces mostly depict family life.

Her husband is in the same trade and that has made the job somewhat easier for her — unlike some of her colleagues. They sell stone carvings to international buyers.

“My husband inspired me to get into the field because I would watch him play with raw stone until he came up with a very good artefact that sold internationally,” she recalled.

This prompted Nyakudya to learn portraying family life through stone, despite the initial challenges she faced while trying to carry the heavy stone and turn it over while working.

“I grew to love the result of my creativity after I did my very first piece, one that portrayed a happy family and I have not stopped since then,” she said, adding how her husband would come to her rescue.

Simelokuhle Zibengwa (42) was however not so lucky. An animal lover who has over the years acquired the expertise to carve many types of animals since 2000 when she ventured into the trade, she plays solitaire.

Unlike other trades whose income is predictable, stone carving is a game of luck according to Zibengwa.

“Today you can be having thousands of dollars and you spend the next three months with nothing,” she said.

The single mother of two boys aged 18 and 11, said she has remained in the trade because it gave her an opportunity to express her feelings through art.

“I am inspired by the animals around me to the extent that to date, there are a few animals that I have not carved,” she said.

Zibengwa said she remained optimistic and hopeful that the arts industry will change for the better.

“Our buyers are mostly the Chinese and they pay us paltry amounts for our products to the extent that sometimes you would rather stay with your product than dispose it at a loss,” she said.

Rachael Ellon is one of the luckiest among the six women, whose works has earned her a merit award in the women’s category at a competition hosted by the National Arts Council in 2014.

Taught by her renowned sculptor husband, David Chikuzeni, Ellon decided to exhibit her pieces after being in the industry since 2000.

“International markets will make us realise the economic returns out of stone sculpturing,” she said, revealing how she created networks when she went on a solo exhibition in Germany in 2014.

Her colleague, Agnes Mupariwa who also scooped the second prize at a competition held at Chitungwiza Arts Centre’s 10th anniversary in December 2015 concurred and emphasised the importance of international networks.

“There is money in art but the challenge is that the majority of grassroots artists do not have the capacity to showcase and advertise their works abroad,” she said, adding that traders with financial muscle reaped the profits from their labour after selling off the pieces abroad.

Mupariwa also said women in the trade sacrificed a lot considering the harsh economic environment.

“We buy stone and transport it to this centre from areas such as Mvuma using our meagre resources but the satisfaction of seeing the end product of our labour keeps us going,” she said.

A marketing representative for the women at the arts centre, Tracy Chatsama, lamented the bureaucracy that existed within government departments.

“I’m failing to fulfil my dream to supply all the provincial heroes’ acres in the country with the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ because someone somewhere feels that I do not have the capacity to have my works at the acres,” said a visibly dejected Chatsama.

She said she had been to many government offices tabling her proposal but to no avail.

“Protocol and too much bureaucracy affects our growth because we are not getting the necessary support,” she said.

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