Zimsculpt Stone Sculptures Carve Out Space at VanDusen Garden

Head to VanDusen Botanical Garden until September 25 for the third and final year of the travelling Zimbabwean stone sculture exhibit, Zimsculpt

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

“Reassured” by David Gopito is one of many stones sculptures on display at VanDusen Garden

Zimsculpt, an exhibition and sale of Zimbabwean stone sculptures, visits VanDusen Botanical Garden until September 25, 2011

It’s hard to imagine the difficulty involved in transporting more than 300 stone sculptures from Zimbabwe on a world tour – some weighing so much it takes five men to lift them – but the team behind Zimsculpt has managed this tedious task for over a decade, and brings this beloved Zimbabwean art form to VanDusen Botanical Garden for its third and final year in Vancouver.

Since opening in 1975, VanDusen Botanical Garden has not only promoted “knowledge and understanding of the world of plants and their fundamental importance to life” but supported local and international artists by displaying their works throughout the gardens.

This spectacular show of hand-carved stone sculptures, all of which are available to purchase, is the only North American stop on its international tour. Stone sculpture, an ancient tradition in Zimbabwe, has deep roots in their culture – in the Shona language, spoken by the majority of residents, Zimbabwe translates to “great stone house.”

See Zimbabwe’s Stone Artists in Action

Zimbabwean sculptor Patrick Sephani and Zimsculpt curator Vivienne Croissette stand in front of “Bride,” one of Sephani’s pieces of art

Founded by Vivienne Croissette in 2000, Zimsculpt is a celebration of Zimbabwe’s stone artists who transform raw materials into beautiful sculptures depicting human life, especially the female form, and the natural world including plants, animals and organic shapes.

For over 10 years, Croissette and the rest of the small Zimsculpt team have travelled around the globe with stops in Toronto, London, Bahrain and Dubai, showcasing dozens of Zimbabwe’s best sculptors including Passmore Mupindiko and Patrick Sephani.

Both Mupindiko and Sephani have come on the 2011 tour and can be seen carving stone imported from Zimbabwe on site at VanDusen until September 25.

Stone Sculptures Made for VanDusen Surroundings

“Mischievous Baboons” by Sylvester Mubayi

VanDusen Botanical Garden is the perfect backdrop for these striking pieces of art. With 55-acres and over 255,000 individual plants from around the world, the gardens allow each of the carefully placed sculptures to look as though they were made for their surroundings – like the “Mischievous Baboons” peeking out from behind tall grasses, the cascading heads of “Generations” mimicking the descending boughs of the evergreens behind them, and the extended female “Torso” reaching towards the sky like the surrounding flowers on tall stalks.

“Generations” by Witness Bonjisi

“Torso” by Celestino Mukavhi

The transformation of Zimsculpt’s pieces from raw stone to sculpture is described in the book Journey from the Depths of Zimbabwe. The mines where the stone is extracted have no fancy equipment. Picks are used to slowly break away the rock, and chains and human muscle are used to drag the heavy pieces onto trucks.

Many different stones are harvested to create the sculptures, from soapstone and serpentine to cobalt and opal, and the hardness of the stone dictates the difficulty required to carve them.

“Girl Playing With A Deer” by Samson Kuvenguhwa is made from soapstone, one of the hardest stones

“Of all mediums, it seems that stone is the most inconvenient. Awkward, heavy, expensive and subject to damage in an instant, one wonders why these artists continue. Almost invariably, they answer quite simply: I was born to do this,” says Journey from the Depths of Zimbabwe author Caro Williams.

All of the Zimsculpt pieces, from paperweight size to life size, are for sale until the exhibit closes on September 25 and partial proceeds will be used to support the garden.

VanDusen is open from 10am to 7pm throughout September and admission to Zimsculpt is included in general admission to the garden, which is located at 5251 Oak Street at the corner of 37th Ave.

Catherine Roscoe Barr, BSc Neuroscience, is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, and fitness professional. Before settling on the west coast she lived in Sydney, Toronto, Oregon, Montana, and practically everywhere in Alberta. She can be found jogging with her adorable dog, dining with her fabulous husband or voraciously reading anywhere comfy.