Article by Ogova Ondego
Published September 4, 2007
‘Pleading’, by Dominic Benhura
When he dropped mathematics, physics and chemistry that would have seen him pursue a science career, his rural family was so incensed that the young man had to find refuge with a relative in Harare. A year later, in 1981, that school drop out embarked on sculpting that would forever leave an indelible mark on his life. That young man is today Dominic Benhura, an internationally known artist for his gigantic Shona stone sculptures dealing with humanitarian issues, family values and the delight of the natural world of Zimbabwe. OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
“My motivation for being a stone sculptor is the love of it,” Benhura says. “Somewhere in my heart I always felt that stone was my future.”
Founder of the Harare-based Dominic’s Studio that houses at least 30 male and female sculptors, Benhura says, “I am one of those people who have been lucky enough to spend the better part of my life doing what I enjoy.”
Works from Dominic’s Studio�that organises international sculpture workshops�have been collected and shown in many parts of the world while some of the studio�s artists have won local and international awards.
Saying his work “celebrates the things I hold dearest: My wife, my children, my culture”, Benhura adds that “All my pieces come from the sketches I make whenever I get an idea for sculpture. I don�t dream my pieces and they don�t have fairy tales behind them but they come from my memory and experience.”
Benhura’s ‘Baby Steps’
Married with five children, Benhura was born on January 1, 1968, some 12 years ahead of Southern Rhodesia’s political independence from the British. He is not only considered a leading figure among the Zimbabwean sculptors working in stone but he has also received more awards and accolades for his work and service to humanity that he care not to count.
Benhura has also had the good fortune to present his artwork to former South African president, Nelson Mandela, besides being commissioned by individuals and organisations like the United Nations Development Programme to produce art work for them.
Benhura, who has traveled to almost every part of the globe conducting workshops and residency projects and has his stone sculptures all over the world, is also a painter and fashion designer. Though he specialises in sculpting, Benhura designs his own denim and jeans clothes. He says Masiiwa: A Love for Life, a 55-minute documentary film on his life directed by Tawanda Gunda Mupengo, is meant to encourage parents to allow their children to pursue art as a career. And Benhura, who hadn’t sculpted before fleeing to Harare, should know better.
To Benhura, a good sculpture has line and it flows in an interesting way.
“If I am not happy with what I have done I don�t display the sculpture, I leave it for a while and then try to rework it after months or even years,” he says.
Sculptor Dominic Benhura attends to an admirer
The economy of Zimbabwe, like many other things in that troubled southern African nation may have failed, but many young artists are coming up all the time. Only private schools, though, have art in their curriculum.
Benhura says he experiments a lot in his work in order to excell. He laments that the depressed economy in Zimbabwe has adversely affected the arts scene as the fate of any art is tied with travel, and leisure that may be broadly defined as tourism.