Zimbabwean Artist’s Stone Sculptures Find Worldwide Praise

27 March 2020

When Dominic Benhura started creating traditional Zimbabwean sculptures as a young man 40 years ago, he never thought it would make him famous and rich.

He was born into a family of poor farmers in 1968. He grew up in Murewa, 90 kilometers northeast of Harare.

Today, he is now an internationally recognized artist and a leading master of sculpting stone – a hard substance that comes from the ground and is used for building and carving.

Zimbabwean sculptor Dominic Benhura carries a finished piece at his studio in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 2, 2020. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)
Zimbabwean sculptor Dominic Benhura carries a finished piece at his studio in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 2, 2020. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

Sculptors from Zimbabwe's Shona ethnic group use basic tools to carve expressive art into heavy pieces of stone. Some weigh several tons. The art form goes back to ancient Great Zimbabwe, founded in the 11th century.

Shona sculpture can be seen at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, the Indianapolis Museum of Art as well as the British Museum.

Benhura learned the art from other sculptors after moving to the capital Harare in 1979 -- one year before Zimbabwe won independence from Britain.

"I was so fascinated by people creating something out of stone, so I asked them if I could help them...finishing their work," he told Reuters reporters.

In time, Benhura found his own special way of sculpting. He creates sculptures that appear to have motion.

"My art celebrates life and I am inspired by my day-to-day life. I do animals, I do plants, I do birds," he said. He also sculpts women and children. He said he is especially drawn to them as subjects because he was raised by his mother and aunt. His father died before he was born.

Benhura's work brought him out of poverty. It has given him a life he describes as "blessed." When he was 23, he bought his first house in Harare. He now lives and works in one of the capital city's costlier neighborhoods.

Benhura has permanent displays of his work around the world, including Australia, Italy and several museums in the United States.

But he wishes his home country had more of the sculptures for the public to see. He said Zimbabwe simply does not have enough museums to keep the art.

"I wish we'd have more (museums) so that our work is also retained in Africa for future generations," Benhura said

I'm Jill Robbins.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

sculpture n. to shape stone or clay into art

carve – v. to use tools to create an object from stone, wood or clay

fascinate - v. to show great interest

bless - v. to give God's grace to someone

display - v. to show

museum - n. a place where the public can see art and historical objects