From Zimbabwe to Bloomington


The showroom floor of Mhiripiri Gallery in Bloomington

Sitting in the heart of Bloomington is a large piece of Zimbabwe. Literally thousands of pounds of quarried stone have made their way around the world and onto the showroom floor of Mhiripiri Gallery.

Years previous, gallery owner Rex Mhiripiri made a similar journey, from what was then Rhodesia. Mhiripiri considers himself a most fortunate man, making a living sharing the cultural treasures of his homeland.

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"This art form is named after the Shona people of Zimbabwe. I happen to be Shona. Here, Zimbabwe art works speak to Americans without me saying a thing. Black Shona speaking folks talk [through their artwork] to predominantly White English speaking locals. These strangers meet in our gallery.The cold stone works are their common language, warm, friendly, even loving and embracing, saying, 'Shake hands!'"

Zimbabwe stone carving dates back 900 - 1200 years. According to Mhiripiri, Zimbabwe is the only African country that has a tradition in stone carving.


Sculpture by Shona artist Colleen Madamombe

Mhiripiri says Shona sculpture often depicts emotionally strong, and at times, overpowering images from Shona Tribe fables, folk tales, myths and real life stories. Depictions of everyday events in the lives of the people - their spiritual beliefs, fears, hopes, and taboos - are a common trait.

The environment is ever present. The flora and fauna. The animal world. The interaction between these and the people is sometimes so intimate, so entwined that works showing animals turning into humans and vice versa are common. This metamorphosis theme has resulted in some of the most powerful, and most famous sculptures by Zimbabwe's foremost names, such as the late Bernard Matemera.


Sculpture by Bernard Matemera

Over the next several months, Mhiripiri will be highlighting the work of three Shona sculptors: Bernard Matemera, Colleen Madamombe and Godfrey Kurari. Between them they represent more than three generations of sculpting in the Shona tradition.

Mhiripiri says, while Shona sculpture is now well known in many parts of the world, it took a long time to gain credibility with the art world.

The Kingdom of Zimbabwe had already died and disintegrated by the time the British arrived and planted their flag to make Zimbabwe the British Colony of Rhodesia. Effective colonizers do not trumpet the glories of the peoples they subjugate. If anything, colonists expend huge amounts of energy convincing themselves, the world (including the colonized people themselves) that "locals" or "natives" are incapable of contributing anything of worth, anything uplifting, positive and deserving knowledgement and recognition.

Mhiripiri says those stone carvers are now getting some of the recognition they deserve. He says the trade is now drawing many new stone carvers, but that's in large part due to Zimbabwe's high unemployment rate and the relative success of the small industry.

Mhiripiri Gallery is located on Penn Avenue in Bloomington.