I’ve been pretty silent on social media over the last year, and I know many of you have noticed. Yes, I’m the quiet type, but this was really quiet–even for me. Countless people have asked me about my 14-foot, 11-ton sculpture, “when will you be done?”
I didn’t know. Sometimes I felt pressured by these well-intentioned questions. I felt like the giant sculpture was looming over me, asking me unanswerable questions in my sleep. And I felt drawn in by the process of working with one piece of stone so intimately over such a long period of time. it was like reading a book you can’t put down.
Now I know that that uncertainty was a critical element of finding the way forward. If this experience had been stable, predictable, and comfortable, I know that I wouldn’t have grown as an artist or as a person.
My documentary film project was like the uncertainty of the sculpture, but on steroids.
I initially conceived of the project with a very personal question I was trying to answer: How do I reconcile the rapid changes in my culture with my desire to hold on to my African-ness? How is this reflected as I practice my art in this different cultural context, trying to pass the art onto my kids in between playdates and hot dogs and PBS Kids shows?
As I investigated some of the very basic information for the documentary, doubts emerged and the questions inevitably changed. The truth set me on a different path.
I stumbled upon contradicting information on the origins of stone sculpture in Zimbabwe, and realized that we as a people have embraced a false narrative. It’s even difficult for me to write that sentence. I realize that the counter-narrative will not be comfortable or easily accepted in our culture.
Could this “tradition” — something that I inherited from my grandfather, my mother, my uncles, and was now passing to my children — actually be something that came from outside our people? Something that was imposed on us?
And if that’s the case, does that mean that the spiritual connection to sculpting stone was never really there?
As I continue to pursue the documentary, but through deeper research and less of a focus on capturing footage, I find myself wanting to depersonalize the story. I urge myself to focus on historical facts. And then I visit the Smithsonian in Washington DC and find my grandfather’s name in their records, and other reminders that this is personal.
When I started the documentary film project, I read that the average documentary film takes something like ten years. Now I think I know why. The trajectory to the truth is never a straight line.