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.
"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.(1 Comments)
Bas-relief sculptures of the cardinal points at the Christopher Columbus Family Academy in New Haven help teach directions, and give students a deeper sense of place.
What if schools didn't just house educational activities, but actually inspired them?
Architect Barry Svigals designs both grade schools and college buildings, and unlike most architects, he incorporates sculpture and figurative work into his structures. Svigals says the combination of architecture and sculpture transforms buildings from simple vessels into reflections on who we are and why we're here.
"Figurative sculpture, in particular, has the power to engage people in an intimate relationship to their surroundings. It can bring to life the purpose and meaning of a building, enhancing its service to functional needs. We are on a quest for meaning - we seek a reflection of ourselves in everything. Now imagine if we found that meaning in our buildings" says Svigals.
Svigals is in town for the Society of College and University Planning's annual international conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center, but much of his work can be found in educational buildings in his home state of Connecticut.
A 950 pound bronze sculpture of St. Albert the Great serves as a pillar in the Albertus Magnus College while simultaneously celebrating the history and mission of the college.
Svigals says the history of figurative sculpture in architecture goes back to ancient times, and the two were disconnected only relatively recently - in the 1930s - when modernists moved away from art and ornamentation in their designs. And Svigals worries that, as a result, human beings are becoming more and more disconnected from their environment.
Today's architecture encourages egocentrism, rather than community. Each building shouts to be the most important. Really the questions each institution should ask as they begin designing a building are "How can we participate?" and "What can we contribute?" Our meaning is determined by our relationship to the community and the world at large.
Svigals says the modern movement has left a legacy of buildings that are simply self-referential, with no civic or personal meaning. Svigals says such buildings are missed opportunities for "deep branding," in other words, opportunities to speak to all who gaze upon them, telling them who you are and what you stand for.
Sculptures of apostles adorn the pilasters of The Carroll School of Management at Boston College, reflecting the college's Jesuit heritage.
Svigals says at a time when we are increasingly reminded of our deep connection to the world around us - through oils spills, earthquakes and hurricanes - it's time that we re-engage with our communities and our heritage.
Paraphrasing Gil Scott-Heron, Svigals says "the revolution will not be seen on our TV, but it should be felt in our buildings."(1 Comments)