[ 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.]
Born in 1964 in Rusape, a small town in the North East of Zimbabwe, Mutasa maintains that he was born an artist. Art was always his favourite subject at school, he would be the one who was chosen to do the class maps and charts, and to this day his school still uses the charts he drew. After he completed school he enrolled in college to study Public Relations, a career he gave up when he decided to follow his mind and take up sculpting full time.
Mutasa's older brother Gregory was working for a local company called African Art Promotions, he was carving Verdite busts and animals, generally known in Zimbabwe as fine art. It was through that Joe started to work in stone. Realistic heads and animals were to form the majority of Joe's subject matter for the next four years, his medium being almost exclusively Verdite, the incredibly hard, brilliant green stone unique to Zimbabwe. The skill required to work in Verdite is not to be underestimated, as it is one of the most tough and demanding stones. His sound technical back ground is very obvious in his work today; he has the ability to dominate most stone, and he has assumed the position of master of his media. Mutasa, however, became bored with realism and increasingly more interested in the portrayal of a feeling or emotion from within. His desire to express what he felt finally caused him to stop working in Verdite and go in search of something new.
His quest lead him to Chapungu Sculpture Park, when in 1987 he began to work with a group of sculptors who had assembled there. This was before the Artist Residency Programme had been formally initiated, but since the conception of Chapungu there have always been sculptors working at the Park. Other members of the group included Colleen Madamombe, Agnes Nyanhongo, Locardia Ndandarika and Samson Kuvhenguhwa. It was Samson who inspired Mutasa to become more serious about the expression of one's inner feelings, he also encouraged him to do his best, to not settle for lines not as strong as they could be, or forms which are not perfect. You could not find two stone sculptors whose styles are so different but the influence of Kuvhenguhwa is evident, his solid technical background and the guidance have combined to produce work of great technical skill.
Mutasa has received much support from Chapungu during his career and is now into his second year as a resident at the Park. Never revising anything he has done before, each new work from him is a surprise, the most notable of recent months is Sisters in Harmony. The long elegant forms stretch almost into infinity and speak tenderly of the love inherent in a close family relationship. This subject of family relationships plays an important part in Mutasa's work especially its role in the changing Shona society. As he says of his piece The Son-in-law's Present, "Most young people today don't want to pay their dues to their in-laws so you start to get broken families. With this piece I want to express the need for people to return to old values. It is a mother with the new jacket that was given to her by the son-in-law. She is happy."
Mawdsley, Joceline. Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe. Harare: Chapungu, 1997.