Zimbabwe: Female Sculptors Carve Way Through Barriers

Stone sculpture has not been an easy or very attractive genre to pursue for most female artists as it often involves menial work and some heavy lifting.

But the apparent absence of as many female figures in the genre, the challenge of breaking gender barriers and a zeal to create has resulted in a rare breed of women most of whom working under Chitungwiza Arts Centre (CAC).

A musician, poet, writer and voice over artist, Lingiwe Patience Gumbo, expanded her portfolio by adopting stone sculpture to become one of the few women in the trade.

"I began sculpture training at Chitungwiza Arts Centre late last year, October 2020 to be exact, when I was inspired by Mr Richard Mupumba," said Gumbo.

"He helped me understand that anyone could create, even though the industry is male-dominated. I found strength also when I discovered other women sculptors who are part of the Arts Centre."

Gumbo is going through a two-year training period after which she will graduate.

"Though I'm on a two-year probation, I have already carved seven pieces thus far," she said.

"I see daily that my artistic background helps me understand the art."

Gumbo's pieces mainly focus on nature and love as she grows to develop her own style.

"The journey has been interesting," she said. "First, I had to learn to hold and use the hammer, chisel, chasing hammer and other tools and understand the processes from beginning to end. It is exciting and daily I look forward to create a new piece."

Though male-dominated, the stone sculpture trade has had many greats among, them Agnes Nyanhongo, the late Coleen Madamombe, and Locadea Ndandarika, whose works are celebrated world over.

Gumbo feels there is enough space for women to occupy in stone sculpture.

"It is very friendly and encouraging for women because as we speak the number for women sculptors at the Chitungwiza Arts Centre since opening in 1997 has doubled and all age groups are represented, with the youngest aged 16," she said.

"More women are invited to become part of us."

The apparent support for female sculptors at CAC has also encouraged others to join in, among them Dorcas Mutemasango, who has since transformed her life from being a vendor toearning a living through sculpture. Born and bred in Msengezi, a rural area in Chegutu district where sculpture is not normally practiced, Mutemasango only got her first interaction with the trade while vending.

"I started as a vendor selling boiled eggs and beans, that's how I first interacted with stone sculpture," she said. "I got inspiration and I started towards the end of 2016.

"The industry is well accommodative to women and I'm also happy too to be part of it."

Mutemasango was taught how to sculpt by Givemore Mashaya at CAC, and overtime, the trade became her sole source of income.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unfriendly working environment for artists, as most of their work is acquired overseas.

"We rely mostly on tourists visiting the country to buy our work who could not travel due to Covid-19 restrictions," said Mutemasango. "With the relaxing of restrictions, we are hoping for increased sells."

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