Silence: A Comparison of Brighton Sango's Sculpture and Post-Colonial Zimbabwean Literature

Maureen Grundy, Class of 2000, EL119, Brown University

"The spider weaves silence out of patience. Sending spindly legs into the future, it weaves all of time into its hungering belly·Nehanda walks through the forest absorbing chaos out of the empty air. She brings out words with a lashing tongue, for those who are confronted with challenges too hard to bear can only defend themselves with speech. She knocks words out of the sheltering rocks. Silence is made speech, to flow commingled with fate-transforming words" (Nehanda, p. 89-90)

"Mazvita walks in gentle footsteps that lead her to the place of her beginning. Mazvita bends forward and releases the baby from her back, into her arms. The silence is deep, hollow, and lonely." (Without a Name, 103)

"Think of it, mother, tongues are bad things in the mouth of all who use them. Marita said words are little flames that are thrown around carelessly by all those who own them." (Bones, 109)

Brighton Sango's Silence. Click upon picture for (1) additional information about the sculpture and (2) a larger image, which takes longer to download.

Silence can be a powerful statement. Brighton Sango's sculpture entitled Silence embraces the idea that silence possesses its own way of communicating. While it is clear through Sango's work and the literary works of several Zimbabwean authors that silence must be evaluated and interpreted, one wonders what exactly the message is that artists and writers intend to convey in silence. In looking at passages from Nehanda, Bones, and Without A Name, silence is a recurring theme in post-colonial literature. Sango then pursues this theme through art, attempting to bring shape and form to silence.

Sango's stone sculpture appears to be polished down to a smooth, shiny, black finish. The color and shine appears even throughout the entire work and there appears to be no change in texture. Sango successfully brings form to the piece, while still maintaining an abstract quality. Silence takes the form of a person with a distinguishable head and a more abstract, curved body. However, while Silence takes on some sort of human characteristic, it is expressionless and without a face. In light of the post-colonial works of Vera and Hove, what might Sango be trying to say in representing silence in this manner?

In considering Vera's novel, Nehanda, silence arises from patience and is strangely its own kind of speech. Nehanda seems to depict a confidence that accompanies silence, as she claims that to break silence with speech is to give into a challenge and admit defeat. Similarly, Hove alludes to a certain pride associated with silence, where words are carelessly used and lack real meaning. By bringing these themes together with Sango's sculpture, we see this strength of silence conveyed through a speechless medium.

However, while it is possible to look at this sculpture as a piece depicting strength, it is also possible to consider it with respect to the looming silence in Vera's Without a Name. Silence hovers over Mazvita in this story while she stands in the village, looking over burned huts and her lost home. Silence, here, accompanies tragedy and loss. It is "lonely, hollow, and deep." Perhaps one could also look at Sango's piece as a representation of solitude and loneliness. If this is how the piece should be interpreted, then we start to look at this figure as if it is mourning a loss.

We do not know exactly how this piece should be interpreted, yet by comparing it to Zimbabwean literature, we can see the different meanings silence may possess. Whether the sculpture depicts the solidarity and confidence of silence, the loneliness and sadness of silence, or both, we are left to wonder how this work may come to have a greater meaning for Zimbabwean people. Does this sculpture represent the patience and endurance of an oppressed people? Does it represent the tremendous losses they experienced under colonial rule? Or is the sculpture trying to capture a more contemporary attitude in Zimbabwe, where people have silenced much of the past and forgotten the struggles the country endured? Perhaps the abstract element of this piece is its most important quality, allowing observers to draw from it anyone of these interpretations of silence.

Other Discussions of Zimbabwean literature and sculpture.

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