The artistic movement of Shona Sculpture only emerged in the mid 1900's, largely due to the English artist Frank McEwen who was responsible for nurturing, promoting and showcasing the art form. Shona is the name of a multi-clan group of people who constitute the largest ethnic community in Zimbabwe, Africa. The modern movement has its roots in the early stone carvings of the Shona people, produced more for functional and decorative purposes, in the construction of dwellings. The best example of which is the Great Zimbabwe Settlement, an 11th -15th century city of sixty acres, housing up to 18,000 people, at its height.

6 artworks
  • Abstract Human Figure With Face

    This item reflects well the Shona's spiritual and cultural association with the ground; a belief that the spirit of ancestors resides in the stone. The sculptor's task is to uncover these spirits and to reveal their beauty, which they do, it is often said, by allowing the stone material to speak to them as they work.
    This human figure, in abstract form, appears to stem from the rock rather than being superimposed upon it.

    Shona Sculpture
    Cloud Mapete (b.1961)
    Stone
    H 18 x W 7 x D 5 cm
    Watford Museum
    Shona Sculpture
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Watford Museum

  • Abstract Human Face

    Another item that illustrates well the emergence of the ancestral spirit from the stone. The original piece of stone is more evident here, especially when viewed from the rear.


    Gift Muza learned his art from his cousin Peter Mandala, a recognised Shona sculptor. Before long Gift Muza became an established artist in his own right. Sadly he died at the age of 34 yrs, leaving a wife and five children.

    Shona Sculpture of a Face
    Gift Muza (d.1996)
    Stone
    H 18 x W 6.5 x D 6 cm
    Watford Museum
    Shona Sculpture of a Face
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Watford Museum

  • Human Figure with Two Smiling Faces

    The enchanting faces of this piece by Phineas Kamangira exude a loving and peaceful contentment, despite the furrowed brow of the face on top, a characteristic feature of this artist's work.
    The majority of stone used by Shona sculptors is locally sourced and comes from the Great Dyke, a huge horse shoe shaped geological formation that stretches from the centre of Zimbabwe to the north and east. This stone belongs to the Serpentinite geological family group and is both sedimentary (having originally been laid down on a sandy seafloor) and metamorphic (transformed into hard material as a result of exposure to extreme heat and pressure over hundreds of millions of years).
    The layering in the stone used in this work can be clearly seen.

    Shona Sculpture with Two Smiling Faces
    Phineas Kamangira
    Stone
    H 19 x W 4 x D 5 cm
    Watford Museum
    Shona Sculpture with Two Smiling Faces
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Watford Museum

  • Mother and Two Children

    This item reflects a common recurring theme in Shona Sculpture, emphasising the importance of the family in Zimbabwean society and of the spiritual significance of the mother in particular. In Shona culture the mother represents earth itself. The Shona expression "mwana vevhu" means son or daughter of the soil and they believe that all creatures are children of the earth.
    It is wholly apt, therefore, that the material used for this work, skilfully and beautifully carved by the artist, comes from Mother Earth.

    Shona Sculpture of a Mother and Her Two Children
    unknown artist
    Stone
    H 23 x W 12 x D 10 cm
    Watford Museum
    Shona Sculpture of a Mother and Her Two Children
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Watford Museum

  • Abstract Human Figure With Vase

    The influence of African craft and artistic traditions is apparent in the work of highly acclaimed European artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Perhaps too, equally, especially for the second and third generation of Shona Sculpture artists the influence has been reciprocal ?


    Certain similarities of style is evident in this piece as with others showcased here.

    Abstract Shona Sculpture with a Figure with a Vase
    unknown artist
    Stone
    H 30 x W 8 x D 4.5 cm
    Watford Museum
    Abstract Shona Sculpture with a Figure with a Vase
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Watford Museum

  • Fortune Teller

    Who knows what the future holds for the Shona sculptors of today ?


    The prospects looked bright, after independence, for artists in Zimbabwe in 1980 and during the rest of that decade. In more recent times, however, the country and its people have suffered severely from HIV & AIDS, political mismanagement and corruption, poor economic conditions with hyper-inflation and now Covid 19. In this context, and the vicissitudes of the international art market, the latest generation of Shona sculptors must find it hard to survive.


    Perhaps, in the wake of current international support for the Black Lives Matter movement, there will be a resurgence of interest in this unique indigenous African art form ?

    Fortune Teller 1994
    Phineas Kamangira
    Stone
    Kirklees Museums and Galleries
    Fortune Teller
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries