By Moses Mugugunyeki
After seeing his father enjoy a fairytale career among a handful of the first generation of Zimbabwean sculptors which saw him achieve global exposure and acclaim, Chitungwiza-based visual artist Shelton Mubayi believes components of creative talent are passed down within families.
The debate over the nature of creativity is as old as mankind and Mubayi — the winner of the 3-dimension visual art award at the recent National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) — said creativity was more genetic as evidenced by events unfolding in his family.
Son of 77-year-old Sylvester, a world-acclaimed stone carver, Mubayi told Standard Style on Thursday that his aptitude was passed down from his father, who is also his mentor.
“My father is my greatest inspiration. He is my mentor and he is the one who passed this creativity talent,” Mubayi said.
“After realising what my father endowed to me, I have taken it upon myself to pass this creativity flair to the next generation.”
Mubayi said he was enthused to teach young children stone carving after several visits to European countries where he is used as a resource person in kindergartens, schools and colleges.
“I only realised the importance of ‘catching them while young’ following my trips to Europe where I would be invited to teach children in kindergartens, schools and colleges,” he said.
“Since 2015, I have been working with a number of children from my neighbourhood who I am teaching. Two of my kids are doing well and were recently honoured at an awards ceremony for young sculptors. Their recognition at national level will help spur other young ones from the neighbourhood,” he said.
Mubayi, a holder of a diploma in Tourism and Business Studies and a certificate in Art and Design, paid tribute to his father, whom he regards as a fountain of knowledge and wisdom.
“He still remains my mentor and he has done so much for me. I am following in his footsteps, particularly his idea of community tourism.
“In Zimbabwe, community tourism is undervalued, but it is something that is esteemed in Europe. My father used to bring visitors to our house and they would stay with us for months in the ghetto. I am taking up from where my father left off and I am bringing in tourists to come and stay at my place,” he said.
“I have stayed with a couple of visitors from Europe, some would be at my place for six months, while others would live in hotels and come to my place for stone-carving lessons.
“Community tourism is something that our government should support. Fellow comrades in the arts business need to take a clue from the old guard like my father.”
Sylvester is one of the first generation sculptors to get international recognition through his art. He is one of the last surviving links to the early days of modern Zimbabwean sculpture who began sculpting in the 1960s at the Tengenenge sculpture community in Guruve.
“The only way we can keep my father’s heritage is to teach the young ones. He is so profoundly keen about teaching the next generation through symbols and storytelling — and his sculptures always tell a story as well,” Mubayi said.
Mubayi said his recent recognition at the Nama, thanks to his art piece titled Zviri Mudombo, was a sign of many things to come.
“Despite my past international and local accolades, I believe this recognition has opened doors for many things to come in my career. I thank God for the award and it came out of hard work,” he said.
The Chitungwiza Arts Centre-signed sculptor has participated in a number of exhibitions, both locally and abroad. His art work has been showcased at top global expos in Belgium, Holland, Germany and across Europe.
Notable exhibitions include Retrospective Zeist Holland (Chapungu Sculptures/Gallery Sonda), Group Exhibition in Belgium and Germany, Altgallaery Trauntein in Munich, Germany, and the Artists in Residence Overvan Health Centre in Belgium, among others.
Locally, his work was showcased at the Sanganayi/Hlanganani Expo, The Journey at Chitungwiza Arts Centre, Harare International Festival of the Arts as well as Wild Geese.
However, Mubayi says his work is not a stroll in the park as they have been “unfairly treated” by the so-called agents.
“There are these ‘middle-men’ who operate between us and the buyer. They have been milking our hard-earned money buying from us using local currency while pocketing forex,” Mubayi said.
He said government should also assist artistes, especially when transporting their work to exhibitions.
Mubayi was born 43 years ago in Chihota, Mashonaland East, and moved to Harare for his secondary education.