Pick of the week
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.