One of the country’s foremost art and sculpture venues, Chapungu Sculpture Park, is set to return, reviving hope for scores of artists who have been affected by its liquidation last year.
A recent visit by Harare News revealed that renovations are underway to the main office building of the arts village. Roy Guthrie, owner of the venue, says that although it is not going to be soon, plans are underway to reopen the place to artists and art lovers. “We hope to open with a celebration honouring over 80 artists who have been part of the village over its 20-year lifespan,” said Guthrie.
Chapungu Village and Sculpture Park was the dynamic centre of Zimbabwean stone sculpture. It was part of the movement that emerged in the 1950s under the tutelage of Frank McEwen, the founding director of the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe, who established the Workshop School that is synonymous with world renowned sculptors such as Mukomberanwa, Muteki, Mukarombwa, Takawira, Ndandarika and Mubayi.
To fill the gap left by the departure of McEwen, a number of commercial galleries opened in competition with the National Gallery in the now lucrative sculpture trade. The most prominent was Gallery Shona which was run by Roy Guthrie.
Around 1980 he purchased a vast tract of land in Msasa, part of which was Doon Estate, where he established Chapungu Village and Sculpture Park with a typical village flavour to it. He expanded quickly, nurturing new talent that became an important part of the Zimbabwean art scene.
In the late fifties Frank McEwen had brought together an unknown group of young men with the aim of promoting Shona sculpture and introducing it to the international art world. “The benefits to artists were substantial and we hope to pursue that goal again. Resources permitting, we will be back to the early years,” said Guthrie.
Over the years many artists hailing from the centre had a constant income and some of them bought substantial properties in the suburbs of Harare and in the Ruwa area. In these areas, and other high-density suburbs, they set up studios which welcomed young talent as assistants and apprentices. The pressure to produce meant that high production and even larger pieces took precedence over one-on-one mentorship. This led to the decline in quality of sculpture in Zimbabwe.
When the recent financial crisis set in, the village was not spared. The same woes touched the dealers too, sending Guthrie into a brief involuntary exile. When Guthrie left for the United States where he has been organising exhibitions, the management committee left in charge failed to maintain the previous high aesthetic standards and the quality of the work on display plummeted. Finally, despite bail-out efforts by Guthrie, Chapungu went into liquidation in October 2012 and the remaining sculptures were sold.
Collection, preservation, promotion, encouragement and documentation have been Chapungu’s main roles since 1980. The policy of acquiring major works for the permanent collection has enabled the park to mount many of the most important and comprehensive exhibitions of past years. It has also meant that these works remain as part of the sculptural heritage of Zimbabwe.