Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Ablade Glover @ The October Gallery

Ablade Glover Red Market , 2003. Oil on canvas, 102 x 102cm.

In his 75th Anniversary show, Ablade Glover, one of Ghana’s foremost painters, will exhibit a selection of work revealing his lifelong passion for life, activity and colour. Using warm pigments expressive of the sun and heat of his country, Glover depicts vibrant scenes that mirror the exuberant variety of Africa; the bustling market stalls, the brightly-attired crowds and all the energy of Ghana.

Glover insists that oil painting has an integral part to play in the contemporary arts of Africa, both as a means of individual expression and as a potent medium in which to record and celebrate the visual richness of the continent. In the New African Life (Dec 1995) magazine, Anver Versi had this to say of a visit to Glover’s studio in Accra, “…there, hanging on the wall, was the whole market painted in throbbing, bright colours. When you looked at it for some time, the painting seemed to resolve into three dimensions and you could see, individual people walking about, trading, talking, laughing, and, I swear, I felt I could even hear the sounds of the market as well!”

Trained in Ghana, Britain and the United States, Dr. Glover has accumulated a number of distinctions, which underline his significance as an artist and enthusiastic educator both in Ghana and on the international art scene. Until 1994 he was Associate Professor, Head of the Department of Art Education and Dean of the College of Art at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. More recently, he was awarded the Distinguished AFGRAD Alumni Award by the African-American Institute in New York, and he is a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Art in London. At present he occupies a significant place in Ghana’s contemporary art scene, as founder and director of the internationally acclaimed Artists Alliance Gallery in Accra, Ghana, which was officially opened by the Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. This purpose-built space supports local artists and presents both traditional and contemporary African art. The universality of Glover’s work is reflected in the breadth and variety of his collectors. His work can be found in such diverse public and private collections around the world as the Imperial Palace Collection of Japan, the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport amongst others. He has exhibited extensively in West Africa, Europe, the USA and Japan.

The October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester Street
Tel: + 44 (0)20 7242 7367
Fax: + 44 (0)20 7405 1851
Web: www.octobergallery.co.uk

Monday, 29 June 2009

Art from North Africa

In a time when the Americans are moving out of Iraq I want us to remember what occupation of another Nation really means and the scars they leave behind. I wrote this piece just over 2 years ago but I am reminded of how upset I was when I wrote it and how powerful art can be...

Love it or hate it....just don't ignore it.


Meeting the Artists in Tunisia

Last week I was in Tunisia after deciding last minute to take a short break to start out the New Year. Forever dreaming of seeing more of Africa I thought it best to bite the bullet and hook up with some remarkable African artists. Of course I was thrilled and excited by the prospect of being on African soil again. Once more living amongst the Creatives, those known and unknown, all working tirelessly, struggling to be heard. I found, to my delight, that it was a fantastic choice and finally I was living amongst the original, "Vandals" of North Africa. They made me feel truly at home.

The original inhabitants of Tunisia were the Berbers, now absorbed into the Arab population and accountable for much of its culture, especially the introduction of the, now, national dish, "Couscous". The first cities in Tunisia were built by the Phoenicians, a maritime trading nation from the Lebanon, whose Carthaginian colonists carved out an Empire that even dared to challenge the might of the Romans. The challenge ended in the destruction of the Phoenicians and a Roman invasion. The Romans left behind more than just ruins such as the mosaic delights found in the destroyed city of Carthage and the majestic amphitheatre of El Jem, also the intriguing lion eating men of Haidra, now the Algerian/Tunisian boarder town. The Romans established Tunisia's original infrastructure and introduced the olive and cork trees that dominate the countryside even to this day. Tunisia has had it fare share of invaders from the Roman, the Turks, the French and even Islamic invaders yet instead of becoming cultural schizophrenics there is a definite strong sense of National identity. Tunisia is very proud of the country's moderate Muslim outlook and also the country's unique interpretation of the Koran and seems extremely confident in Tunisia's position within the world of Islam.My journey starts in Monastir, a former fishing port on the Sahel coast. The town is infamous as the birthplace of the first President of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba - 20th March 1956 (Tunisian Independence Day). On arriving at the airport the air was surprisingly cold and one could detect a pleasant scent of the sea and fresh citrus fruit ripening on the branches. Following a quick tour of the town and the Golden Statue of Habib, I jumped on a bus and travelled up the coastal road to a small town just outside the capital, Tunis, the beautiful hideaway known as Hammamet. On the one and half hour journey up to Hammamet the scenery was magnificent, breathtaking in fact, with lush green mountains on the left, warm dusting roads and beautiful views out to the Mediterranean Sea, to my right. Personally, I was surprised at the level of development the country has experienced since Independence with new roads; petrol stations; street lighting and the overall upkeep of the central Squares throughout the country were immaculate. Strangely the Tunisian don't have an abundance of natural resources like neighbouring Libya and Algeria but still the country has a 5% development growth year on year. Ironically, with figures like these within a decade of two Tunisia is likely to become more developed than France.

Hammamet in January is a rich, fertile yet sleepy town waiting for tourists, money and the heat of Spring. Everybody was busy painting, whitewashing their shops; restaurants and guesthouses. They pay little heed to the ramblings of the occasional tourist at this time of the year. Hammamet itself, houses some of the best contemporary artists in the country. My first port of call was to see Baker Ben Fredj and his wife Nadia at their art gallery in the town centre. I spent several days talking, thinking, photographing, eating, walking and drinking expresso coffees and large whiskeys with the Ben Fredj's. Baker introduced me to his famous artistic neighbour Abderrazak Sahli, the best-known artist in Tunisia, who constantly travels between homes in Paris and Hammamet. The time spent with the two artists and their family's was most enjoyable but I was greedy to meet more Tunisian artists, especially those from the capital, Tunis. Baker and Nadia encouraged and insisted that I meet up with the President of the Union of Artists in Tunis. The man in question was Baker's University lecturer and friend, Sami Ben Ameur. They rang Sami on his mobile and we were to meet the following day. That evening I went to bed remarkably early and woke refreshed ready for the day ahead. I came down to breakfast and consumed an atrocious German breakfast consisting of beetroot, hard-boiled eggs and watery cabbage. I uncomfortably left the hotel and proceeded to stuff myself into an awaiting yellow taxi, which took me to the Louage (local bus station) finally heading for the capital. Firmly carrying my newly bought bright orange satchel I squeezed into the tightly packed minibus and after a matter of minutes it quickly filled up and we were well on our way. The sights on the way up to Tunis were wonderful. The sun was beating rhythmically overhead and the grandiose mountains loomed over the minibus outstretched to the horizon, casting unruffled shadows to those below. The mountains were full of seasoned trees alive with greenery while, the cool, fresh, clean sea breeze blew in from the coast. We arrived in good time and I was eager to make my way to the heart of the city. Nadia had kindly given me an art catalogue from the Union of Tunisian Artists, which I rapidly produced out of my new beige camel satchel on arrival in Tunis. I clambered out of the minibus and swiftly leapt into another yellow NYC style cab and in my best French asked the driver to take me to Maison de la Culture Ibn Khaldoun, El Magharibia, Rue Ibn Khaldoun. Of course the driver couldn't understand a word I was saying and I ended up hot, sweaty, fed up and furiously pointing at the address on the back of the catalogue. The driver smiled, shrugged his shoulders and took me into the city centre. The two of us silently sat nervously side by side, perpetually puffing away at our cheap Mars Light cigarettes, smoking rapidly to avoid conversation with the occasional eyebrow lift followed by an awkward smile. Oddly enough this was probably one of the most enjoyable drives of my trip. As I went to open the car door the driver handed me a notebook and asked me to leave feedback. So I did and wrote, "Thoroughly impressed with your communication skills. Full marks for the driving and if smoking becomes an Olympic sport this driver should be put forward for Team Tunisia."

I arrived at the Union building mid morning and made my way to the top floor. By the fourth floor I was sweating profusely and panting like an unhealthy aging mutt and by the fifth the Union had literally taken my breath away. Red faced and resting both my arms on the door frame I seemingly barred all natural light from entering the room. I attempted to introduce myself. Finally, I made a rather pathetic whispery introduction to two exceedingly glamourous ladies sitting quietly at their desks, astonished by my behaviour. "Hi, my name is Joe. I'm from England. Is Sami Ben Ameur here?" I airlessly gulped.

Confident that I had made an extraordinary first impression I continued by puffing out my best pigeon French. The women looked blankly at each other then back at me. Silence; and after a short and uncomfortable pause I eventually and sheepishly resorted to my trusty catalogue and the furious finger pointing technique. I tried to explain about the efforts I had made on the Internet with various websites about African Painters, whilst at the same time trying desperately to explain about the importance of MySpace and YouTube but to no avail. While I was ranting, kneeling on the floor and fumbling around with the women's computers trying dreadfully to bring up numerous websites an elderly man wearing glasses on his forehead entered the room. He opened his case, brought out a pen and calmly started inoffensively to write notes. This charade with the gorgeous women and the congenial gentleman onlooker lasted a good ten minutes, explaining what it was that I did, have done, would like to do scenario. In due course the old man quietly took his glasses off his forehand and carefully brought them down onto the bridge of his nose. He slowly lifted his head and put his hand to his mouth and cleared his throat with a polite cough. After a dramatic pause he articulated in perfect English. "What is it that you do exactly?" I let out a surprised laugh and shook my head, I briskly introduced myself and promptly returned with, "And you are, Sir?" he abruptly replied and spoke with the confidence only an aging artist has, "Well, I am the Iraqi artist, living in Tunisia. Samir Nanoo. Nice to meet you!" I recognised his name immediately as he was one of featured artist in the catalogue and I had been speaking about his work with Baker Ben Fredj and Abderrazak Sahli in Hammamet.

"Wow, Nanoo. Samir Nanoo. Really it's an honour to meet you," I shamefacedly replied.

Together, we went out of the office and took an interesting tour around the gallery with artworks randomly placed all around the room, some good, some not so good. As we wondered between the different artists we spoke candidly about the quality of the artwork and the general state of contemporary art in the country. I enjoyed the man's company and when he invited me for a coffee outside I was delighted to accompany him to the nearby local café. Samir told me he was born in 1944 in Iraq and moved to Germany seventeen years ago and he had chosen Tunisia to make his Arabic home for security reasons. We talked about his son and how he was an Oman in England and he told me how he had brought him up to be clear-headed and quintessentially good and how proud he was of him. I reached into my bag and pulled out a camera to make a record of our meeting. He stood fantastically grand and egotistical as I photographed him in a rather public place. "He is an artist!" I explained and to Samir delighted followed with, "Don't you recognise the artist?" People looked confused as we swiftly made our way out of the café. We made our way onto the busy Avenue Habib Bourguiba between Place de l'independence and Place d'Africque, which is a typical French style tree lined avenue, with an effective tram system running up and down along with plenty of angry, hooting drivers. We stood in the middle of this confusion and spoke about Samir's new work. He withdrew a series of images from his black workbag.

As he showed me the images he explained the news he had received from Baghdad. He quietly explained to me that the inmates in the American prison in Baghdad, who were there under suspicion of terrorism or anti-establishment behaviour, had been given no rights, no freedoms of expression, no liberty, whatsoever. The prisoners were treated as the true enemy and were tortured and some even died. Many of the inmates weren't criminals or terrorist, weren't even anti-establishment in anyway, mere civilians. They knew that they were being bullied and used as scapegoats. Infuriated by the incarceration, some of the inmates in a moment of despair felt that the only thing they had left to do was post their views on the walls of their cell. They decided to cut their legs and arms with their own fingernails and to use their own excrement to post messages back to their families and loved ones with their fingers. They cut and smeared through the night sending love and well wishes to their friends and family members. The cells were awash with desperate Arabic script displayed curiously on the walls. Come the morning the American Guards saw the cells and shouted;

"You filthy Arab! You filthy Arab, bastards! What have you done, you filthy bastards? Are you expecting us to clean your filthy mess? Ahhh…what can WE expect from you dirty Arabs..……?….You dogs…You low-life Osama Bin Laden loving scum."

Throughout the day the Americans tortured the prisoners and over a series of several weeks the noble American soldiers systematically killed their so-called terrorist hostages. Their thinking was; "the fewer the better." When the dust settled and the bodies were taken from the cells a Muslim Oman came to pick up the dead from the cell. He stood in the room stunned. He looked carefully at all the walls, studying vigilantly what graffiti was written. Attentively reading all that had been seemingly smeared onto the walls. Tears started to fall down the Oman's cheeks as he read the smeared Arabic script.

Firstly he read:

"Ismail. My only son - As your father I want you to be the best a man can be!"….

Then beneath read – "Fatma, I have loved you from birth, find happiness and a good man. Love Daddy."

Then below– "Brother Yusuf. I love you . Remember me always!"

And finally – "Mother. Here is your son. I love you and will forever love you. Father don't forget me! Your son Omar."

The Oman walked out of the prison, tears streaming from his cheeks. As Samir finished his story, he too had tears welling up in his eyes and said, "I was so touch by these messages that I felt duty bound to speak out on their behalf", and he continued to show me his interpretation of the graffiti on the cell walls. Picture by picture. Samir's work is so extremely important and needs to be seen and spoken about. It is only now when I have return to the comfort of home that the full impact of his story hits and continues to hit me. What are we doing in the name of Democracy? What a mess we have gotten ourselves into?……

© Joe Pollitt, 2007

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Fashion in Africa

N.B. Please enjoy the photographs and take what has been written with a pinch of salt.....it is for the Daily Mail reader and of course we know better....Look and smile at the perfect examples of what fantastic art is all about.

Out of Africa: The incredible tribal fashion show inspired by Mother Nature

With colourful make-up of bright yellows, startling whites and rich earth-reds, flamboyant accessories and extraordinarily elaborate decorations, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the designs in these images originated in the fevered mind of some leading fashionista.

Yet far from the catwalks of New York, London or Paris, these looks are the sole creation of the Surma and Mursi tribes of East Africa's Omo Valley.

Inspired by the wild trees, exotic flowers and lush vegetation of the area bordering Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, these tribal people have created looks that put the most outlandish creations of Western catwalk couturiers to shame.

Here, a leaf or root is transformed into an accessory.

Instead of a scarf, a necklace of banana leaves is draped around a neck.

In place of a hat, a tuft of grass is jauntily positioned.

A garland of flowers, a veil of seed-pods, buffalo horn, a crown of melons, feathers, stems and storks - Mother Nature has provided a fully stocked wardrobe.

Like a dressing-up chest brimming over with costumes and make-up (paint created with pigments from powdered stone), the natural environment is the source for this glorious jungle pantomime.

Although the origins of this astonishing tradition have been lost over the years - the Surma and Mursi spend much of their time involved in tribal and guerilla warfare - their homeland is a hotbed of the arms and ivory trades.

Fifteen tribes have lived in this region since time immemorial, and many use zebra skins for leggings, snail shells for necklaces and clay to stick their wonderful designs to their heads.

As they paint each other's bodies and make bold decisions about their outfits(all without the aid of mirrors), it seems that the only thing that motivates them is the sheer fun of creating their looks, and showing them off to other members of the tribe.

As a celebration of themselves and of their stunning environment, this is truly an African fashion parade like no other.

• Pictures by Hans Silvester (Rapho/Camera Press) from the book Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa by Hans Silvester, published by Thames and Hudson, £19.95.

Arise African Fashion

Arise Africa Fashion Awards: African Fashion Celebrates Talent

Last night more than 1000 fashion insiders and their guests descended on the Sandton International Convention Centre in Johannesburg to celebrate the fashion talent of Africa at the inaugural Arise Africa Fashion awards.

Walking away with the joint top prize of Designer of the Year was South African David Tlale and Nigerian Tiffany Amber.

They both win a place on the catwalks of Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week in September of this year, as part of the Arise African Fashion Collective show.

As hosts, Dr Precious Moloi Motsepe, from African Fashion International (AFI), and Nduka Obaigbena, Arise founder and THIS DAY GROUP chairman, said their welcome speech, "change in Africa will not come through politics, but through the people."

This was a theme of the evening that was echoed in the moving speech by former first lady of France, Cecilia Attias, who spoke of her belief that women will offer the real solutions to the issues of Africa and quoting Desmond Tutu and his definition of Ubuntu, saying that "a person is a person through other persons."

And so it was with fashion in Africa last night, as designer, models, producers, media and buyers from the four regions of Africa and across the world, came together in an unprecedented demonstration of African unity to celebrate the diversity and cultural authenticity of this continent's fashion in the context of a world-class, 21st century fashion aesthetic.

Website: http://www.dexigner.com/fashion/news-g18130.html
Date: 21st June 2009

Thursday, 18 June 2009

African Abstraction and the Zimbabwean Art Movement

African Abstraction | Zimbabwean Art Movement

Zimbabwean stone sculpture is such an interesting aspect of contemporary South Eastern African art. It emerged in the 1980’s as the country became the last African nation to gain independence. The word Zimbabwe means great stone house so it is apt that stone sculpture is the art that most represents modern Zimbabwe.

Sylvester Mubayi Bernard Matemera Nicholas Mukomberanwa

The Art Movement of the 1980’s spearheaded by Tom Blomfield was known as the Shona Movement and the original founders were Sylvester Mubayi, John Takawira, Nicholas Mukomberanwa and Bernard Matemera. All were austere proud men, each in turn, laying down stringent guidelines on how the work was to be created, the tight meticulous subject matter with clear references to the stones themselves. This uncompromising approach to the subject of art was destined to be short lived and after a while a new breed of vibrant, intelligent artists emerged. Suppression always causes decent and the knock-on effect is inevitably a positive progression. The more rules there are the greedier the anarchist becomes, gorging on the rebellion of youth.

Brighton Sango The Eagle 1985 The Bird 1992

The first wave of mutiny came in the form of Brighton Sango. Born in 1958 in Guruve, Northern Zimbabwe he is now considered the most important member of the dissident movement of the Second Generation of sculptors. His work has become an important source of interesting and lively debates on the subject of the future of Zimbabwean sculpture. These debates have echoed into ideas of possible racial equality and a global artistic liberation of African nations through Abstract Art.

Brighton, bravely lead from the front and broke from tradition and moved into the world of abstraction. Right from the start Brighton was keen to establish his own unique style and forge his individuality. His early work is reminiscent of the rebellious British Vorticist Group of the early 20th Century that broke away from the rather decadent and kitsch Bloomsbury Group but the Continent of Africa is no stranger to visual abstraction. Many ancient artworks from the continent have tended to favour visual abstraction over naturalistic representation. This is because many artworks challenge the stylistic norms.

Moderism in the Tribal Form | Tribal Gathering, London

Ancient Egyptian art, especially paintings, lean towards the naturalistic depiction of an object making good use of the highly abstracted and regimented visual canons. This is repeated in the use of different colours to represent the qualities and characteristics of an individual being drawn. It was the African influence on European artistic ideologoy at the being of the last century that created the wave of rebellion within art. The Occidental ‘soft’ Primivatism of the Impressionist Movement, which influenced the colourful Exoticism of Paul Gauguin and it is African abstraction has been running all the way through. Without a doubt Africa has influenced every Movement within art, stretching as far as Russia and playing a pivotal role in the work produced by sculptor Ossip Zadkine and friend El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich and effectively in their Suprematism Movement. Spain was not immune as Miro took up the batton with his abstraction within the Surrealist Movement and then later to Mondrain and the Modernist Movement. What goes around comes around and it is now all these aspects of abstraction and modernism and there many intellectual guises which are slowly beginning to filter back to the continent at a time when they are most needed.

Brighton Sango had no formal Western training but was highly intelligent and intuitive enough to understand that African Abstraction was the only true way to gain international artistic emancipation. Other artists in his position have chosen another approach mixing the media and using materials other than the stone to express their ideas. Personally, I believe that Brighton’s purist approach is the most coherent and effective. Tragically, in August 1995 Brighton Sango took his own life. His work speaks with great eloquence and his legacy will continue.

Who would have thought that contemporary African activism would come in the form of a rock and shaped by the movement of the stone itself? Over a decade has past since Sango’s passing but little has changed in the attitudes towards women in Zimbabwe. Traditionally women have expressed their artistic talent in batiks, weaving, lace-making, fabric design and embroidery.

Perlagia Mutyavaviri and her works

His work and ideas have been championed by another artistic rebel but this time, a female artist. She is perhaps the most gifted and talented stone sculptor of her generation, Perlagia Mutyavaviri. Her work looks like twisted metal but it is in fact hard Zimbabwean stone carved and created by hand.

Born in Harare in 1977, she took up sculpture at the turn of the Millenium at the age of 24 and now in her early thirties the hurdles Perlagia has already climbed are a good indication of the magnitude of the required commitment needed to succeed in this patriarchal environment. She is fully aware that an artist can be an agent for change regardless of sexuality and is a great successor of the late Colleen Madamombe.

True Independence has yet to be gained but Abstract Art will play the greatest role in defining the new Nations of Africa. This will give rise to the respect of the individual and place a value of life lived on this sometimes harsh continent.

Author: Joe Pollitt


N.B. For more information about Zimbabwean Sculpture speak to Vivienne @ http:// www.Zimsculpt.com

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Ceramics to Hairstyles to Crop Circles

Here are some interesting examples of how patterns have moved from contemporary African ceramics onto hairstyles and may have even inspired crop circles?

Kente Cloth | Ghana | African Abstraction

Here are some wonderful examples of "African Abstraction" from Ghana in West Africa. This style of textile is known as Kente Cloth.

I would like to blend the ideas of a British Artist, Bridget Riley amongst the textiles of Ghana - Kente Cloth - and see how Bridget's approach to colour and shape differs.

Karel Nel - South Africa

In the Presence of Leaves, constitutes a wonderful body of drawings that are elegies for our times: tributes to the beauty and symbolic value of trees and their threatened position through environmental exploitation.

Karel Nel has travelled extensively to remote parts of the world, collecting some of the largest leaves in existence. From the famous Coco de Mer palms on the Seychelles to Baobab fibres found in Morandava in Madagascar, and the Pandanus leaves of Rabal, New Island, in Micronesia, these exquisite specimens have been taken to Nel's studio in South Africa to become the very substance of his investigations into nature and the ecological conundrums of our time.

The new drawings evoke the simple life on North Island, a beautiful uninhabited island in the Seychelles where over the past four years Nel has explored and had the opportunity to work for specific periods. With a lean-to made of a huge palm leaf for shelter, and later in the exquisitely designed structures by Silvio Reich, he scoured the great palm forests of the island observing plants, birds, fruits and hundred year old tortoises.

These extraordinary Coco de Mer palms grow exclusively in a tiny eco-sphere within the chain of islands. After complex negotiations with the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Nel was able to harvest three vast coco de mer palm leaves to accompany him back to his studio. Transformed into works for this exhibition, and into one commissioned work which will return to North Island to be installed in the library, the new series of large drawings describes a natural luxuriance. The leaves are set in atmospheric, elemental architectural spaces. Reflected in the works is Nel's meditative approach to the natural world: to its temporal dynamics and the lines, points and relations where art, science and biology meet.

Karel Nel is one of South Africa's most distinguished and internationally respected artists. A contemporary of William Kentridge and Marlene Dumas, he is Associate Professor of Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, and follows a private path, moving internationally as a collector and curator of traditional African artefacts. He is a former Fulbright scholar to the University of California, Berkeley and is the winner of numerous awards, commissions and residencies. His work may be found in every museum and public collection in South Africa, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. His work has also been collected by major private collectors in Europe.

Source: Art First | http://www.artfirst.co.uk/karel_nel/pe_nel_05.html

Andries Botha - African Curios - South Africa


'Ungayithenga inhlizyo nomongo wami - (African curios)'

The former portion of the title is in Zulu and translates into
English as 'You can buy my heart and my soul'


"In African mythology the elephant reincarnates carrying the soul of a murdered God. It is thus the embodiment of the transmigration of souls. It is also the metaphor for the world's preoccupation with Africa as an exotic location. The elephant thus embodies the world's romanticism with Africa. In part it is the Colonial panacea: wildness can be contained, civilised and taken back to the ballrooms of the First World as a trophy." Andries Botha

© Andries Botha 2009. site by pilotfish

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

RIP | Colleen Madamombe 1964 - 2009

Artist | Colleen Madamombe

Colleen Madamombe one of Zimbabwe's best known and much loved sculptors died earlier this week. Born in 1964, Colleen was one of only a few female sculptors in Zimbabwe and certainly the best known. Her work added a new dimension to the complexity of modern Zimbabwe. She boldly tackled the issues within society and purely by the nature of her craft and the use of the heavy “Spring Stone” denoted a sea change in the possibilities for women in Southern Africa. Colleen was considered a creative portal and clearly opened up real opportunities for future generations of female stone sculptors.

It is only recently that women have even attempted to work with the hard and
heavy stone. Spring stone has a rich outer "blanket" of reddish brown oxidised rock and emerges from the quarry like natural sculptures and this is often a source of inspiration to the artists. There are a few mines where this stone is found, but Guruve, in the north, is the preferred site. A beautiful dark stone, it polishes to a brilliant shine because of its high density of carbon. Spring stone was Colleen's preferred material and stone of choice and as with most other stones that are mined for the purpose of sculpting, this stone was mined by hand on communal lands.

Waiting For A Bus by Colleen Madamombe (Spring Stone) 2008

Colleen celebrated the fuller African physique and her distinguishing style was a refreshing approach away from the more traditional mystical works produced by the first generation of Shona sculptors. Throughout Colleens works she tried to communicate the injustice that affected the lives of women and their status. Her subject matter was deeply rooted in the traditional role of Shona women and the works have an energy and movement to them with the contrast of rough and polished parts of the stone.

Colleen represented the voice of a new generation of Zimbabwean women.

Artist’s Statement:

“I am inspired by the activity of women and I work hard to show this in my sculpture. In recent pieces I have used natural areas of the stone with rough workings to emphasise this movement – the texture follows the rhythms of the body. This contrasts with the more finished areas of the face and hands.”

Her sculptures are in numerous Collections around the world. Her presence in the artistic community in Zimbabwe and worldwide will be greatly missed.

© Joe Pollitt, 2009