Shona Stone Sculptures: Modern Feel in a Traditional Art

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Shona Stone Sculptures: Modern Feel in a Traditional Art

The name Zimbabwe literally means "large house of stones," and the country is renowned for stone remains dating back to the eighth century B.C. The Sungkok Art Museum in Seoul is currently holding an exhibition of stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. The exhibition, titled "African Shona Contemporary Sculpture-the Mysteries of the Souls in the Stones," is the first of its kind in Korea and features 150 pieces of Shona sculpture.

The Shona are the major tribe in Zimbabwe and represent up to 70 percent of its population. The tribe is known for its skill, handed down for generations, in creating beautiful artworks out of stones.

Most of the works exhibited in Seoul are totem or figure sculptures made in Tengenenge, an art community in Zimbabwe. These works are different from other artworks from Africa, such as traditional masks, which have been shown in Korea before. The sculptures have a strong contemporary feel as they combine African sentiment and European sculpting style, whereas the masks seem more like craft than art.

The works exhibited this time include Bernard Matemera's "Watchful Spirit" and "Sitting Bird," Anthony Sabuneti's "Shocked Woman," Lamac Bonjis' "Wise Queen," Mapanda Crynos's "Family," Anthony Makurirofa's "Thinker" and M. Maudy's "Blind Head." Of these, Matemera's "Watchful Spirit" probably draws the most attention from visitors to the exhibition. Looking at this powerful piece, one is overwhelmed by a feeling of sublimity in animistic spirits. The figure's face is particularly striking because of its projected eyes and thick lips. All the exhibits are full of liveliness and beauty. Every piece boasts a unique expression created by exaggeration or the elimination of certain details.

According to Rhee Won-il, the senior curator of Sungkok Art Museum, Shona sculpture has been famous in Europe since the 1960s. It has been exhibited in many of the major galleries of the world, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Rodin Museum in Paris. It is well received worldwide and is considered superb by many Western critics. Frank McEwan, a British art critic who introduced modern art forms to the Shona sculptors in the 1950s, once said, "This art has meaning. It is imbued with an extraordinary and intense spirituality. It will get in you and work on you forever." Internationally, there are many collectors of Shona stone sculpture, including Prince Charles.

The exhibition continues until June 30. For more information, contact Sungkok Art Museum, 02-737-8643 (English service available).

by Cho Hyun-wook

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