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Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

In 1981, I was priv­i­leged to visit Bernard Takawira in Harare, then a town­ship at­tached to what was still called Sal­is­bury in newly in­de­pen­dent Zim­babwe. Bernard was the mid­dle of three broth­ers who were at the fore­front of the first gen­er­a­tion of Shona sculp­tors. Even though it was a time of op­ti­mism, when one heard the whites talk­ing hap­pily of ‘Good Old Bob’, there is of­ten a sense of wary me­lan­choly in Bernard’s work that touches me pro­foundly. His fig­ures and forms are the prod­uct of his blended Chris­tian and Shona spir­i­tual her­itage.

When I asked him if he be­gan carv­ing with an idea in mind, he said no, he al­ways let the stone tell him what it wanted to be. Al­though his style was very dif­fer­ent, I think that he would have loved the power of Michelangelo’s Slaves strug­gling to emerge from the rock.

His stu­dio was merely the yard around the house, where the sun would help the steatite carv­ings to ab­sorb oil to pro­duce a deep patina. They stood around there, with no se­cu­rity; as he said, his neigh­bours would not con­sider them valu­able. Bernard died in 1997, his el­der brother John nine years ear­lier; they were re­vived for me by a lot in Dreweatt’s Spring Sale, a carv­ing by the third brother Lazarus, who was born in 1952, and I be­lieve is still ac­tive. The 13in-high sculp­ture (left) is of a man with his hand on his head, a pro­tec­tive ges­ture that in­stantly brought to mind Bernard’s Think­ing Man on my man­tel­piece. De­spite this sim­i­lar­ity, Lazarus’s at­ti­tude to his stones is dif­fer­ent. He fol­lows an­other of the early Shona mas­ters, Ni­cholas Mukomber­anwa, who said: ‘You must put your own his­tory into the stone rather than present the his­tory of the stone only.’ To em­pha­sise the self-ref­er­en­tial el­e­ment, Lazarus some­times in­cludes a self-por­trait by way of a sig­na­ture. This piece, signed con­ven­tion­ally, sold for £490.

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