Tons of spiritual art from Zimbabwe

How do you install sculptures that weigh as much as 3-1/2 tons and are as tall as 10 feet?

With forklifts and cranes, of course.

At the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, 67 sculptures from Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, will be featured in the exhibit, "Chapungu - Custom and Legend: A Culture in Stone," April 28-Oct. 7. Traveling to many US cities over the next six years, the exhibit marks the first time that so many sculptures from Zimbabwe will be on display in the United States.

Roy Guthrie, director of the Chapungu Sculpture Park in Zimbabwe, says visitors are uplifted by this exhibition. (It was recently displayed at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, near London.) One African-Caribbean visitor commented that "the sculptures are a journey of reflection and a reconnection with the spirit."

"It is very inspirational and very spiritual, and that comes [through] over and over again," Mr. Guthrie says.

It's no wonder that the park and the exhibit are named after the Bateleur eagle, native to Africa. Chapungu is believed to be our spirit messenger, the bird of good harmony, says exhibit curator David Chidumo. Some of the works include "Protected by Our Spirits," which depicts a family with a large hand and eye in the palm of the hand, and "Swing Me Mother," a young mother playing with her child and swinging her around.

The sculptures - some installed on tree stumps, as pictured at left - are made of natural stones from Zimbabwe, including springstone, verdite, and opal.

Two decades ago, "the country was going through a difficult time," says Guthrie, "fighting for independence. Nobody came to Zimbabwe. These works are very valid and important and we should try and preserve something in the country for our own sculptural heritage."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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