Arts legend Mubayi dies

First-generation stone sculptors, Sylvester Mubayi

VETERAN internationally-acclaimed member of the first-generation stone sculptors, Sylvester Mubayi (80) has died.

Mubayi died on Tuesday night at Citimed Hospital in Chitungwiza after a short illness.

Confirming his death, National Arts Council of Zimbabwe director Nicholas Moyo described the late legendary artist as an endearing symbol of the development of stone sculpting.

“With his best works being flaunted in several world museums, galleries, public places and universities, including private collections, Sylvester together with others of his ilk (both living and dead), are the epitome of Zimbabwean stone sculpting art and their footprints will forever remain embossed on the international art scene, particularly stone carving,” Moyo said.

Moyo also noted that the death of Mubayi had robbed the visual arts sector of a founding practitioner who had become a fountain of wisdom for both aspiring and practising professionals in the visual arts sector.

“He was one of the last surviving links to the early days of modern Zimbabwean stone sculpting and had become the leading light in grooming and mentoring other visual artists, especially at Chitungwiza Arts Centre where he was based for many years.”

Moyo said the late Mubayi would be remembered by many as a venerated old man and one of the first generation of Zimbabwean stone sculptors to gain international exposure and acclaim.

“His works like those of most first-generation stone sculptors were heavily influenced by highly cherished values and beliefs. It is heartening to note that as an elder practitioner, he taught and advised the younger members of his community through metaphors and storytelling as his sculptures always told stories,” he said.

“The board, management and staff at the NACZ send their sincerest condolences to the Mubayi family. May his soul rest in peace.”

In 2017 the revered artist made history by being the first artist from the older generation to participate at the 57th Venice Biennale where his works were curated by Raphael Chikukwa the current executive director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) who described working with the late Mubayi as a learning experience.

“As the executive director of the NGZ who worked with Sekuru Shumba Mubayi for the Zimbabwe Pavillion at the Venice Biennale as his curator, I learnt a lot. Another veteran artist has gone and his works stand tall at the front of the gallery, sculpture garden and our permanent collection,” Chikukwa said.

Mubayi was born in 1942 and joined the Tengenenge Sculpture Community in 1967 as one of its first members and later worked at the Workshop School founded by Frank McEwen in Vukutu.

He also served as an artist in residence at the Chapungu Sculpture Park.

In 1969, he scooped the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Award and subsequently bagged other accolades and recognitions from NGZ.

Between 1967 and 1990 Mubayi blossomed into a national and international icon through his regular participation in high-profile exhibitions, most of them hosted by NGZ.

The spectacular exhibitions he participated in include Solo Exhibition, Somerset, United Kingdom, Custom and Legend: A Culture in Stone, Kew Gardens, London and Sculpture Contemporaine des Shona d’Afrique, Musée Rodin and Paris, among others.

In 1991, Mubayi was listed as one of the top 10 sculptors in the world by the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper.

The late visual artist was a major participant in most of the group and solo exhibitions hosted by the Chapungu Sculpture Park and Matombo Gallery, aesthetic spaces run by the late Roy Guthrie and Roy Cook, respectively in the 1980s.

In 2021 Mubayi was honoured with the National Arts Merit Awards Legends@40 awards together with 40 other luminaries of the cultural and creative sector as part of the country’s 40th independence celebrations for their contribution to the development of the arts in Zimbabwe.

Mourners are gathered at house number 10990 Nehanda Road, Zengeza 4, Chitungwiza, and burial arrangements will be announced in due course.

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