A shoal of fish are suspended in a synchronised leap. Each aquatic body flows seamlessly into the next, forming an undecipherable entity. Masterfully rendered in three dimensions, the thrashing fish become a latticed column of fluid dark stone. Sheperd Deve’s ‘Spirit of the Sea’ is one of many beautiful examples of contemporary Zimbabwean stone-carving at Assembly’s George Square Theatre. There is nothing special about the jobbing hosts of little birds and carved pebbles which form the bulk of the exhibition – they are attractive, but appear in a reduplicated mass which is too clearly commercial to induce artistic contemplation.
It’s the larger individual pieces that stand out. Deve’s interwoven fish appear straightforward, but their solid forms hold a quiet enigma which characterises the best sculptures on display. ‘Transformation’, carved in springstone by Tonderai Sowa, is part unfurling leaf, part treble clef. The abstract curl is deceptively aesthetic – its poise conceals a surprising power of form. Sowa plays with the texture and colour of bisected surfaces to great effect. Gregory Mutasa provides another artwork over which the eye and mind are permitted to linger. His ‘In My Dreams’ portrays a woman of serpentine stone. Glowing with the dark mineral’s inner warmth, she curls up on her side. Her hair, fanned out, has been delicately picked out in white etchings. The effect is gently sensual. It’s one of the sculptures that carves a fine line between garden-centre kitsch and genuine feeling; in this case, it’s the latter that wins out: the sleeping form has an air of placid mystery and pleasing weight.
‘Zimbabwean Sculptures’ is a selling exhibition, with a percentage of profits going towards an education fund for AIDS orphans. A worthwhile cause is happily complemented by some very worthwhile artworks. Unfortunately the exhibition suffers from being too small. Whilst the cute, smaller animal pieces will hopefully attract buyers, I felt that there were not enough of the quality pieces on show. It would have been nice to see more, and to have them displayed in less cramped, appropriately lit surroundings where they could be better appreciated.