Sometime in 2008 at an art gathering, an interesting question was asked 'Is there going to be a fourth generation of stone artists in Zimbabwe?'
The question was very crucial, timely and insightful, I thought. Never before had that question been raised as far as I could tell. This was so much because over the past years the generations seemed to find their way and place with ease and artists would fit just like in a jigsaw puzzle. Why ask the question now was my first thought.
Is there any threat to the future generations?
For the past five decades Zimbabwe stone artists have been categorised into generations not mainly according to one's age but solely on the basis of the period one started working with stone.
This means that Kakoma Kweli belonged to the second generation yet he was born in 1928 and Fanizani Akuda belonged to the first generation yet he was born in 1932. The fact that Fanizani started sculpting in 1967 and Kakoma 20 years later in 1988 makes a very big difference and that difference is best explained by these generations.
Another example can be that of Thomas and Dominic Benhura. Thomas was born in 1948 and Dominic in 1968 yet Dominic belongs to the second generation and his elder brother belongs to the third generation.
Again this is so because Dominic started working with stone in the early 1980s before his brother became an artist. The list goes on, interestingly with emphasis being put on the period the work was started rather than on one's age and this makes everything so beautiful and meaningful.
Without doubt these generations are the vital centre if ever one is trying to write down the history of stone art and artists in Zimbabwe, be they anthropologists, art critics, collectors, historians or students of art.
A generation roughly covers a period between 10-25 years. So the first generation covers roughly from 1950-1970s, the second from about 1980-1990 and the third from about 1991-2000.
With the history of these past generations clearly recorded we always refer to them time and again because they have been correctly recorded. We don't argue whether Lazarus Takawira or Tapfuma Gutsa belong to the first or second generation because that history clearly shows that they belong to the second.
We know that Henry Munyaradzi, Bernard Matemera, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Fanizani Akuda, Joram Mariga, Edward Chiwawa, Boira and Richard Mteki and others belonged to the first generation.
Artists who were enthusiastic and experimental graced the second generation. These were the artists who took a different way from the usual by introducing a lot of movement and mixed media.
The artists who were very patient and worked very hard to attain everything they have.
These are the same artists who finished their works with the highest degree and precision. We can talk of Dominic Benhura, Gideon and Agnes Nyanhongo, Anderson Mukomberanwa, Fabian Madamombe, Eddie Masaya, Mike Munyaradzi, Joe Mutasa, Tapfuma Gutsa, the late Colleen Madamombe and others.
The third generation followed with some vigour but not with the same impact as the second generation. Artists like Lawrence Mukomberanwa, Vengai Chiwawa, Euwitt and Wellington Nyanhongo, Perlagia Mutyavaviri, George Mubayi, Daniel Baradza, Elvis Mamvura, Samkele Mhlaba, Godfrey Kututwa and others graced the generation.
Generations have without doubt played a crucial role and we just wish they shall continue to do so, but the crucial question still standing is: "Is there going to be a fourth generation?"
The fourth generation is supposed to be somewhere between 2001 and 2010. Eleven solid years have now gone and things are not yet very clear as to the identity of this generation.
The most interesting yet so funny fact about all this is that the artists who are supposed to occupy this generation are out there working very hard.
Evidence to suggest that artists who are supposed to take the lead in this fourth generation are that new artists are introduced to this trade each year. The fact is that there is something hindering the identification and recognition of the fourth generation and that has to be identified.
For a generation to take its stand and be identified a lot has to happen. First, the occupants of that generation have to do something tangible, new and original.
We know that Bernard Matemera, Henry Munyaradzi and Fanizani Akuda once worked together side by side at Tengenenge but their art wasn't influenced by each other.
The big problem with the supposed fourth generation is that instead of creating something new the occupants are busy copying works by their predecessors. If they are not copying they are busy duplicating their own works which they did some years back.
The quest and the insatiable desire to have something new on the market are not being fulfilled by this generation.
It seems those who belong to the second generation are mainly the ones moving forward and creating new things. Of course there can be some individuals who are supposed to belong to the fourth generation who are striving to do their best and are getting little recognition but this will never make a big impact because an artist or two will never make an entire generation.
If ever the forth generation is to be recognised the occupants have to create something new that is different from the first and second generations.
Back in the years the transformation from fourth to the second generation had a big impact and was very visible, attractive and beautiful.
The second generation sculptors were more interested in movement and theme. They did not allow the stone to dictate its destination but they shaped it their own way in order to take control of it.
They did not allow themselves to be influenced by the first generation.
The fourth generation is haunted by the image of their inadequacy. The following are some of the inadequacies:
Lack Of New Techniques
The old style of making sculptures has been explored by the previous three generations and the market has become saturated with it. During last year's Kristin Diehl Sculpture Prize, one of the judges, Tapfuma Gutsa was very much concerned by the lack of fresh ideas from young artists.
This was much so because much of the work seemed to represent Gideon and Agnes Nyanhongo, Dominic Benhura and some great old masters.
Because of the age restriction in this competition much of the participants are those who belong to the fourth generation.
They lack the capability to introduce new techniques and styles. New generations are supposed to represent their fresh and energetic ideas not to represent works from previous generations.
There is a misconception that all ideas have been explored and it's hard to have new ideas. If you are an artist you are challenged to bring in new ideas and to think properly. Art and new ideas can never be explored.
New ideas can never be explored unless if you are a copycat and you lack the talent. The unfortunate thing with new artists at the moment is that they have to prove their prowess and talent more than any other generation. Decades back many artists got away with it.
Stone Artists and Sculptors
If the truth be told we have a lot of stone sculptors than stone artists yet in actual fact we need more artists rather than sculptors.
The difference between the two is that when you are a sculptor you just work the stone without employing any skill or technique.
Sculptors alone lack a strong mind and the capability to think outside the box. Examples of sculptors can be those fail to go beyond the confinements of their original art.
However, when one is referred to as a stone artist it implies there is more to the way he tackles his work and the stone. It means he employs skill and talent and has matured mentally and artistically.
It means one is using human creative skill and applying it. That is why it has been said that to be an artist is to believe in life.
So creativity is not a possession of all. Unfortunately the fourth generation is so much made of sculptors rather than artists.