Agnes Nyanhongo

Joceline Mawdsley, Former Exhibitions Curator, Chapungu Sculpture Park, Harare


[The following essay has been adapted with the kind permssion of the Director, Chapungu Sculpture Park, from Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe (1995). All images Chapungu Sculpture Park, Harare.]


Agnes NyanhongoBorn in 1960 in Nyanga, Agnes Nyanhongo is now considered one of the most prominent and successful of Zimbabwe's sculptors and the most acknowledged woman in this field. She is the daughter of the well known sculptor, Claud Nyanhongo, and as a child spent a great deal of time helping him with the polishing of his work. The sensitivity with which she expresses her ideas and the respect for the material that is so apparent in her work could arguably have resulted from these early formative experiences.

She began sculpting full time atan early age and in 1983 embarkedon a three-yearcourse atthe B.A.T. Workshops in Harare, where she was considered to be one of the most promising students. Her quiet determination and belief in her work have carried it along a purposeful and individual path and have now earned her much critical acclaim and many awards. She works quite extensively with the human form, sometimes specifically with female issues, but always expressing a calm and watchful strength that seems so true to her own personality and character.

Agnes Nyanhongo derives some inspiration from the stone itself, but much of her work depicts the natural world around her; making close observations, but ultimately working from her own mental images of the subject. However, it is with traditional Shona myths that she has become increasingly involved recently. Not only does she feel that these have great relevance now, but she believes, as a sculptor, she has a responsibility in keeping them alive. "It is easier for artists as they can portray them in a striking figurative way which, when combined with a strong title, will remind or tell the viewer of an important story and this will remain with them." Her work is always attractive, with easy lines and areas of beautiful finish alongside other, unworked surfaces. As a result the images she produces, already universal by there nature, are presented in a combination of simplicity, quiet dignity, beauty and finesse.

Women's issues have run through her career. "I try somehow to express the role women play in society and the way they are being treated - they are still not free. They are struggling for freedom. Men must also see this because it is something that exists between men and women." At times her work has a rather

specific message; for example, Nehanda - Spirit Medium, depicts the role of the national heroine Mbuya Nehanda, who inspired the first uprising against the white settlers in 1896. Other memorable works are The Conversalion, with its Mona Lisa type effect of changing moods and tensions, The Family and The Thinker.

Nyanhongo has now worked at Chapungu Sculpture Park in Harare for seven years, and her work has taken its place alongside those of the greatest Zimbabwean sculptors in many successful exhibitions both in Zimbabwe and internationally. Together with Colleen Madamombe the exhibition "Woman Achievers in Africa" is presently on a world tour.

References

Mawdsley, Joceline. Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe. Harare: Chapungu, 1997.


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