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Covid-19: Zim sculptors send SOS

By Moses Mugugunyeki

More than 600 sculptors drawn from the country’s four corners are set to benefit from a fund, which is being convened by the Zimbabwe Sculptors’ Association to cushion the artists from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The arts industry, just like any other sector, is saddled with the Covid-19 scourge, which has claimed many lives across the globe.

Vivienne Prince, a Zimbabwean stone sculpture promoter, is coordinating the crowd-funding, which so far has attracted a lot of interest from the global community.

Zimbabwean stone sculptures are the most sought after artworks in foreign lands. Works by several of the first generation sculptors, who include Bernard Matemera, Sylvester Mubayi, Henry Mukarobgwa, Thomas Mukarobgwa, Henry Munyaradzi, Joram Mariga, Joseph Ndandarika, Richard and Boira Mteki, Bernard and John Takawira as well as the famed Mukomberanwa family (Nicholas Mukomberanwa and his proteges) is displayed at various galleries across Europe, including the Frank McEwen bequest to the British Museum.

McEwen was the first director of the Rhodes National Gallery (now the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe). He is credited for popularising stone sculpture alongside Tom Blomefield.

Prince said with such a rich history, there was need to unite sculptors and their clients in such trying times. She said the project was collaborative, bringing together sculptors drawn from 22 arts centres from across the country.

“Just like everyone in the arts industry, sculptors are really struggling. Daily I get messages of hunger and worry from these artists,” Prince told Standard Style.

“I set up the JustGiving project with the Zimbabwe Sculptors’ Association represented by Taurai Tigere [the chairperson] working together with heads from each arts centre and independents sculptors across the country.”

She said most artists were failing to make ends meet, hence the setting-up of the fund.

“It has become apparent that there is no assistance at present for sculptors across Zimbabwe. Many are already hungry and we need to act swiftly to help them and their families cope,” Prince said.

“Many sculptors, as you know, live from day-to-day on the sales of their sculpture, with no savings. We hope that none of our sculptors will be affected by the pandemic.”

Sculptors from arts centres such as Tengenenge, Chitungwiza, Guruve, Mvurwi, Hatfield, Tamaa in Tafara and Mabvuku, Silveira, Mbare, Ruwa, Nyanga and Domboshava as well as independent or family groups are set to benefit.

“We have contacted the leading sculptors at each art centre and area to gather names and numbers in need of assistance, with the criteria of those, who have been sculpting for longer than four years. We are currently looking at approximately 600 sculptors,” Prince said.

“Whilst we are all feeling the impact of cancelled shows, events and closed galleries, let’s take a moment to think about the sculptors whose entire livelihoods have stopped overnight, with no safety net or state aid.

“It makes more sense to coordinate a collective effort to ensure all families are covered to avoid duplication of individuals’ efforts.”

Prince said the month-old project has generated a lot of interest across the global stone sculpture enthusiasts.

“So far, we have reached 75% of our target of £20 000. We are at £15 500, thanks to donors from all over the world, who include dealers, gallerists and individuals,” she said.

“It’s been a huge project for all of us to manage.”

Prince said apart from money, the project had helped mobilise personal protective equipment (PPEs) for sculptors. She said they had started distributing the PPEs to sculptors across the country.

“We’ve also donated 100 masks to Chitungwiza Arts Centre and will be donating another 100 to Hatfield sculptors this week,” she said.

Recently, President Emmerson Mnagagwa urged Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry to set up a plan to assist artistes access government’s financial cushions during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

In his Workers’ Day speech, Mnangagwa said the ban on public gatherings had crippled the sector largely dependent on crowds for sustenance.

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