After two weeks of sculpting workshops with two different groups of students, I’m feeling energized and inspired. That is quite a feat considering the whirlwind of the last 6 weeks — full of travel to summer art shows, joining SmithKlein Gallery, and many hours in the studio.
Students from New Hampshire, Utah, Missouri, California, and Colorado gathered at Chapungu Sculpture Park, a beautiful outdoor park with walking paths, tree-shaded areas and native plants designed around the 82 Shona stone sculptures that are on permanent display. Determined to find their artistic voice, the students transformed raw opal stones into completed sculptures. While we had several students who had attended my workshops in the past, we also had several beginning students who were learning the technique for the first time.
One of the most beautiful parts of the experience for me was the way that our little communities grew in such a short time. Students’ enthusiasm, personalities and varying skill levels created a diverse group that made everyone feel valued and included.
In Zimbabwe and most cultures in Africa, community is an essential part of life. There is a concept called “ubuntu” — which means “I am because we are.” It emphasizes the importance of every person in the community and acknowledges the limitations of the individual without the support of others.
This is what was on my mind as I watched the students bond in such a short time. They even included passers-by in the sculpting experience, sharing information about Shona stone sculpture with people visiting the park and inspiring others to attend my workshops in the future.
Students were fortunate to also be taught by my mother, Agnes Nyanhongo, who was also my first teacher. Her calm demeanor, patience and confidence in the students washed away their moments of self-doubt, as many explored this medium for the first time.
On the last day, we gathered to share Zimbabwean food, nhopi — butternut squash cooked with peanut butter — and mutakura, a dish made of beans and maize. When we finished eating, my mother spontaneously sang a few lines from a traditional song, about being satisfied after a wonderful meal. I shared a bit about my own journey as a sculptor, the influence of my upbringing and the topics I am most inspired to communicate through my work.
While my son played by my feet, I thought about his own life journey and my wish that whatever path he follows, he gets to pursue what he is most passionate about, in a supportive, vibrant and inspiring community.