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Chitungwiza Arts Centre: Sculpture at its best

For Shepherd Deve, leaving his job in 2008 at Cone Textiles at the height of the economic hardships was a blessing in disguise. Today, Deve is a celebrated sculptor at Chitungwiza Arts Centre.

By Moses Mugugunyeki

“Art is my passion since my days at school. However, I did not pursue it after school after I got a job at Cone Textiles, but as fate would have it, I lost my job and joined Chitungwiza Arts Centre,” said Deve, who is also the secretary of the centre.

Like any other sculptor at Chitungwiza Arts Centre, he has managed to make a living and carved a niche for himself in the arts industry. He specialises on carving animals, mainly fish and birds. Currently he is working on an abstract titled The Spirit of the Sea whose message is about love, peace and harmony.

One of Deve’s products is at the residence of the Angolan ambassador to Zimbabwe.

Chitungwiza Arts Centre was established in 1997 as a poverty alleviation programme that was funded by United Nations Development Programme through the then Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture. Today the centre has 200 visual artistes, six of who are females.

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“The idea was to empower youths and many other talented artistes in Chitungwiza. The arts centre is growing every day and more and more youths are being mentored by the old generation,” said Taurai Tigere, chairperson of the arts centre.

Tigere said most of the artistes at the centre were inspired by the doyens of sculpting — Sylvester Mubaiwa, Lazarus Takawira, Albert Mapfura and Fauzani Akuda, among others.

“This old generation managed to buy houses and other properties through sculpting, which inspired most artistes who are here today. These people also opened studios where they mentored most of the guys,” Tigere said.

“You will get to understand that this is one of the biggest arts centres in the country and we have artistes who have won awards locally and received international recognition.”

Artistes from Chitungwiza Arts Centre have been nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) since 2008. However, Rufaro Murenza was the first to win the accolade when he scooped the Nama (2015) Outstanding Three Dimensional Work Award for his work Mwana Wedangwe. Murenza was also a finalist for the same award in 2014.

“Besides winning awards at home, we have some of our artistes like Diana Nyakudya who are invited to Germany every year to run workshops. Chitungwiza Arts Centre has most of its customers coming from Europe, United States and China,” Tigere said.

The arts centre, which is affiliated to the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe has its own management committee put in place by the artistes themselves.

“We rely on 10% charges we get for any sold artifact, but we have a few individuals, mainly foreign customers, who chip in to support financially and morally. Ours is a success story because we have managed to sustain the centre and most artistes are happy,” Tigere said.

Thirty-six-year-old Isaac Choloka, whose sculptures are among the most collectable in Zimbabwe, spoke of his love for arts.

“Sculpturing is not about age, size, weight or height; it is about the effort one puts in making the final product. My main subjects are human figures, whose premise is symbolically embedded in love and feelings,” said the sculptor who was inspired by Takawira.

Choloka has participated at international exhibitions that included the Hanover Travel Expo in Germany in 2000, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Tour of Private Collection in the US in 2009 and the WEAA.Org Exhibition at Morgan State University in Baltimore in the US in 2012.

Among the artistes is Manners Mukuwiri, who is living with disability and has managed to make a name for himself through recycled art.

“I can make use of disposed cans of beverages to make artifacts in the form of animals. I am happy with the recognition that I have received as an artist here at Chitungwiza Arts Centre,” said Mukuwiri who also plays wheelchair basketball.

However, sculptors at the arts centre said they were facing a plethora of challenges, which included the proliferation of agents who are ripping them of money.

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“Buyers are not forthcoming and we are having these agents who want to sell products on our behalf. These people are ripping us of our revenue,” said Antony Masamba.

Generally, the artistes at the centre said besides losing revenue to agents, they were facing transport challenges and a shortage of tools.

“Most of our stones we use here are from outside Chitungwiza. We don’t have transport of our own to ferry stones from Chiweshe, Mvurwi, Concession and Kwekwe,” said Tigere.

“We don’t have tools to use. Our trade requires special tools, which are imported and some are very expensive. We don’t have most of those sophisticated tools”.

Meanwhile, Chitungiwza Arts Centre will run an exhibition at the end of this month. The showcase will run under the theme Rebirth.

“Our theme Rebirth is about celebrating new and creative work. We are holding this exhibition here from October 26 to 31. It is a platform for traditional customs, arts and culture,” Tigere said.

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