Exploring Zimbabwe African Art

Exploring Zimbabwe African Art

April 22, 2023

Zimbabwe, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, is known for its rich artistic heritage that spans across various forms, from soapstone carvings to paintings, ukama sculptures, serpentine sculptures, and more. Zimbabwean art reflects the country's diverse cultural traditions, history, and natural beauty, and is celebrated for its unique aesthetics, craftsmanship, and cultural significance.

One of the most renowned forms of Zimbabwean art is soapstone carving. Soapstone, a soft rock that is found in various parts of Zimbabwe, has been used for centuries by local artisans to create exquisite sculptures and figurines. 

One of the key regions in Zimbabwe known for soapstone carving is the town of Tengenenge, located in the northern part of the country. Tengenenge has been a hub for soapstone carving since the 1960s when the first artists began to experiment with the medium. Today, it is home to a vibrant community of soapstone artists who produce a wide range of sculptures in different sizes, styles, and themes.

Zimbabwean soapstone sculptures are often characterized by their curvaceous and flowing forms. Artists typically use simple hand tools, such as chisels and rasps, to carve the soapstone, revealing the natural beauty of the stone as they shape it. Many sculptures depict human figures, animals, and abstract forms, with themes ranging from traditional cultural motifs to contemporary social and political commentary.

One of the notable aspects of Zimbabwean soapstone carving is the close relationship between the artist and the stone. Artists often talk about how they connect with the stone and allow it to guide their creative process. They may work with the natural colors and patterns of the stone, or enhance them through polishing, sanding, or applying wax or other finishes to achieve a desired effect.

Soapstone sculptures are not only appreciated for their aesthetic appeal but also for their cultural significance. Many Zimbabwean soapstone sculptures are imbued with spiritual and symbolic meanings, representing ancestral spirits, mythological creatures, or cultural rituals. They are often used in traditional ceremonies, as well as for decorative and functional purposes in homes, galleries, and museums.

Zimbabwean soapstone carving has gained international recognition, with Zimbabwean artists showcasing their works in galleries, museums, and art exhibitions worldwide. The intricate craftsmanship, creativity, and cultural significance of Zimbabwean soapstone sculptures have made them highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts alike.

In addition to its artistic and cultural significance, soapstone carving has also provided economic opportunities for Zimbabwean artists and their communities. Many artists in Zimbabwe rely on soapstone carving as a means of livelihood, with the sale of their sculptures providing income and supporting their families. It has also contributed to the development of local art markets, tourism, and cultural exchange.

The process of soapstone carving begins with the selection of a suitable piece of stone, which is then shaped and chiseled by hand to create intricate designs. The artists often depict a wide range of subjects, including animals, human figures, and abstract designs, and use traditional techniques to bring out the natural beauty of the stone. Zimbabwean soapstone carvings are characterized by their smooth lines, fine details, and polished finish, and are highly valued for their artistic and cultural significance. These carvings are often used as decorative items, gifts, and souvenirs, and are considered a symbol of Zimbabwe's rich artistic heritage.

Another prominent form of Zimbabwean art is painting, which has a long history in the country. Zimbabwean paintings are known for their bold colors, expressive brushwork, and powerful imagery. Many Zimbabwean artists draw inspiration from the country's landscapes, wildlife, and cultural traditions, and use a variety of styles and techniques to create their works. Traditional motifs and symbols are often incorporated into the paintings, reflecting the artists' connection to their cultural roots. Zimbabwean paintings are highly regarded for their artistic value and are collected by art enthusiasts and collectors around the world.

Zimbabwean painting has a rich history that dates back many decades. It has evolved over time, influenced by various cultural, social, and political factors. Zimbabwean artists have developed unique styles and techniques, often characterized by bold colors, expressive brushwork, and powerful imagery.

One of the distinctive features of Zimbabwean paintings is their connection to the country's landscapes and wildlife. Many artists draw inspiration from the breathtaking scenery of Zimbabwe, which includes majestic mountains, vast savannas, and iconic landmarks such as Victoria Falls. Wildlife, including elephants, lions, and other animals that are abundant in Zimbabwe, also feature prominently in many paintings, capturing the beauty and diversity of the country's natural heritage.

Cultural traditions and motifs are also prominent in Zimbabwean paintings. Artists often incorporate traditional symbols, patterns, and motifs into their works, reflecting their deep-rooted connection to their cultural heritage. These motifs may be drawn from traditional Zimbabwean art forms such as pottery, basketry, and textiles, or from the oral traditions and rituals of Zimbabwe's diverse ethnic groups. Such incorporation of cultural elements adds depth and richness to Zimbabwean paintings, reflecting the artists' sense of identity and pride in their cultural roots.

Zimbabwean paintings are highly regarded for their artistic value and are sought after by art collectors around the world. Many Zimbabwean artists have gained international recognition for their talent and creativity, and their works are exhibited in prestigious galleries and museums globally. Zimbabwean paintings are known for their vibrancy, expressiveness, and emotional depth, capturing the essence of Zimbabwean culture, landscapes, and wildlife.

In recent years, Zimbabwean painting has also been influenced by contemporary issues and social commentary. Artists use their works as a form of expression, addressing pressing issues such as social inequality, political unrest, environmental concerns, and human rights. Zimbabwean artists have shown resilience and adaptability in using their art to reflect the changing social and political landscape of the country, providing a platform for dialogue, reflection, and activism.

Zimbabwean painting encompasses a wide range of styles, techniques, and themes. One prominent style is the "Shona style," which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and is named after the Shona people, the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe. Shona-style paintings often feature abstract and stylized forms, with a focus on human figures, animals, and traditional symbols. The use of bold colors, intricate patterns, and expressive brushwork are hallmarks of this style, creating visually striking and dynamic compositions.

Another notable style is the "Nyanga style," which originated in the Nyanga region of Zimbabwe. Nyanga-style paintings often depict the local landscapes, with an emphasis on the mountains, forests, and rivers of the region. These paintings are known for their detailed and realistic depictions of the natural world, capturing the beauty and serenity of the Nyanga landscapes.

Zimbabwean painting also includes contemporary and experimental styles, with artists pushing the boundaries of traditional techniques and exploring new ways of expression. Some artists incorporate mixed media, collage, and other innovative techniques into their works, creating unique and thought-provoking pieces that challenge conventional notions of African art.

Themes in Zimbabwean painting are diverse and can include social, political, cultural, and environmental issues. Many artists use their works as a form of social commentary, addressing topics such as poverty, inequality, gender roles, and human rights. Zimbabwe's complex political history and social struggles have also been depicted in paintings, reflecting the artists' engagement with their society and the world around them.

In addition to paintings, Zimbabwe is also known for its unique sculptures, particularly those made from stone. Stone sculptures are typically carved from serpentine, a type of mineral-rich rock found in Zimbabwe, which comes in a wide range of colors, from dark green to vibrant orange. Stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are often referred to as "Shona sculptures," named after the Shona people who have a long tradition of stone carving. These sculptures are known for their intricate details, bold forms, and spiritual symbolism, often depicting human figures, animals, and abstract forms.

Another notable form of Zimbabwean sculpture is the "ukama" or "family" sculptures. These sculptures are often made from wood and represent familial relationships, depicting human figures in stylized forms that convey a sense of unity, love, and interconnectedness. Ukama sculptures are typically characterized by smooth lines, simple forms, and minimalist aesthetics, reflecting the artists' emphasis on the importance of family and community in Zimbabwean culture.

Zimbabwean art, including African paintings and sculptures, has a significant cultural and economic impact in the country. It provides a source of livelihood for many artists and contributes to the preservation and promotion of Zimbabwean cultural heritage. It also serves as a form of expression and activism, addressing social and political issues, and contributing to the dialogue and discourse on various topics in Zimbabwean society.

As mentioned, there are various platforms where Zimbabwean paintings can be found, such as galleries, museums, and online art marketplaces. Online African Art galleries like offer a wide variety of African paintings, including Zimbabwean art, showcasing the diverse styles, themes, and techniques of Zimbabwean artists. These platforms provide an avenue for artists to showcase their works to a global audience, promote Zimbabwean art and culture, and contribute to the economic empowerment of local artists.

Ukama sculptures, also known as "family" or "relationship" sculptures, are a unique form of Zimbabwean art that holds deep cultural significance. These sculptures are typically made from hard stones such as serpentine or verdite, and depict human figures in various poses, often representing family relationships, social connections, or spiritual beliefs. Ukama sculptures are characterized by their intricate details, expressive forms, and spiritual symbolism. They are often used in traditional ceremonies and rituals, and are believed to bring blessings, protection, and good fortune to the families or communities that own them.

Ukama sculptures are typically hand-carved from various types of stone, such as serpentine, springstone, and opal stone, which are found abundantly in Zimbabwe. The stones used for Ukama sculptures are often chosen for their distinct colors, patterns, and textures, which add to the aesthetic appeal of the final artwork.

One of the defining features of Ukama sculptures is the use of multiple interwoven figures, which are intricately carved from a single piece of stone. These sculptures often depict human figures, often in abstract or stylized forms, interacting with one another in ways that symbolize the complexity and interconnectedness of human relationships. They may show family members, friends, or community members embracing, holding hands, dancing, or engaging in other activities that convey a sense of closeness, unity, and shared experiences.

Ukama sculptures are known for their fluid and curvaceous forms, with the artists often using simple hand tools to carve the stone and create smooth, flowing lines. The sculptures may also feature intricate detailing, such as facial expressions, hairstyles, and clothing, which are carefully carved to convey emotion, identity, and cultural symbolism.

Ukama sculptures are deeply rooted in Shona culture, which is one of the largest ethnic groups in Zimbabwe. The Shona people have a strong tradition of stone carving, and Ukama sculptures are seen as a way to preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage and social dynamics of the Shona people. They often reflect the importance of community, family, and relationships in Shona society, as well as the spiritual and ancestral beliefs that are integral to their culture.

Ukama sculptures have gained international recognition for their artistic quality and cultural significance. They are often exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, and many Zimbabwean artists who create Ukama sculptures have gained acclaim for their skill and creativity. These sculptures are not only appreciated for their aesthetic appeal but also for their deep cultural significance, which reflects the unique artistic traditions and cultural heritage of Zimbabwe and the Shona people.

Serpentine stone, a type of hard stone that is found abundantly in Zimbabwe, is also widely used in sculpture. Zimbabwean serpentine sculptures are known for their unique colors, patterns, and textures, which are derived from the natural minerals present in the stone. Artists use hand tools to carve, shape, and polish the serpentine stone into intricate sculptures that depict a wide range of subjects, from animals and human figures to abstract designs. Zimbabwean serpentine sculptures are highly regarded for their artistic and cultural significance, and are often used as decorative items, gifts, and collectibles.

Serpentine stone is a metamorphic rock that is typically green in color, although it can also be found in shades of yellow, brown, and black. It is named after its characteristic appearance, which resembles the skin of a serpent due to its smooth texture and often mottled or veined patterns.

Serpentine stone has been used for various purposes throughout history, including as a material for carving and sculpture. In Zimbabwe, serpentine stone has a long-standing tradition of being used by local artists to create intricate and expressive sculptures, which have become one of the most renowned forms of Zimbabwean art. The use of serpentine stone in Zimbabwean sculpture can be traced back to the 1950s when artists such as Joram Mariga, Bernard Matemera, and others began to experiment with the medium.

Zimbabwean stone sculptures carved from serpentine stone are known for their distinct style, often characterized by smooth, curvaceous forms and expressive details. Artists use hand tools, such as chisels and rasps, to shape the stone and bring out the inherent beauty of the material. Serpentine stone is highly regarded for its durability and ability to hold fine details, making it well-suited for intricate sculptural work.

The serpentine stone found in Zimbabwe is known for its unique and varied coloration, ranging from deep green to lighter shades with intricate patterns and veins, which add to the aesthetic appeal of the sculptures. The artists often work with the natural colors and patterns of the stone, using them to enhance the visual impact of their sculptures.

Beyond its artistic uses, serpentine stone also has cultural significance in Zimbabwe. It is believed by some Zimbabwean communities to possess spiritual and healing properties, and it is sometimes used in traditional rituals and ceremonies. The use of serpentine stone in Zimbabwean sculpture has also contributed to the country's economy, with Zimbabwean stone sculptures being highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts around the world.

In recent years, there has been growing awareness and concern about the environmental impact of serpentine stone mining in Zimbabwe, particularly in terms of deforestation and soil erosion. Some efforts have been made to promote sustainable practices in serpentine stone mining and ensure that the industry benefits local communities and the environment.

In addition to soapstone carvings, paintings, ukama sculptures, and serpentine sculptures, Zimbabwean art encompasses a wide range of other forms and mediums. These include traditional crafts such as basket weaving, pottery, and beadwork, which are often passed down through generations and are an integral part of Zimbabwe's cultural heritage. Contemporary art, including mixed media, installations, and performance art, is also emerging as a vibrant and dynamic part of Zimbabwe's art scene, reflecting the country's evolving cultural and social landscape.

Zimbabwean art is not only appreciated for its artistic value, but also for its cultural significance. Art plays a crucial role in Zimbabwean society, reflecting the country's history, traditions, and social dynamics. It serves as a medium for expressing cultural identities, preserving traditional practices, and addressing contemporary issues. Zimbabwean artists often draw inspiration from their cultural heritage, incorporating traditional motifs, symbols, and techniques into their works, which helps to maintain and promote the rich cultural legacy of the country.

Furthermore, Zimbabwean art also serves as a means of economic empowerment for many local artisans. The production and sale of art and craft items provide livelihood opportunities for numerous Zimbabwean artists and craftspeople, contributing to their economic well-being and supporting local economies. Art markets, exhibitions, and galleries are also important avenues for showcasing Zimbabwean art to the world, generating income, and promoting cultural tourism.

Zimbabwean art is also deeply connected to the country's history and struggles for independence and social justice. During the colonial era, art and craft became a means of resistance, with artists using their creativity to express dissent, assert their cultural identity, and voice their grievances. In post-independence Zimbabwe, art has continued to play a significant role in reflecting the aspirations, challenges, and achievements of the nation, with artists addressing social, political, and environmental issues through their works.

Moreover, Zimbabwean art is often imbued with spirituality and symbolism, reflecting the country's diverse spiritual beliefs and practices. Many artworks, such as ukama sculptures and serpentine sculptures, are believed to have spiritual powers and are used in rituals and ceremonies to invoke blessings, protection, and healing. Art becomes a conduit for connecting with the spiritual realm and reinforcing cultural beliefs and traditions.

Zimbabwean art is a diverse and dynamic tradition that encompasses a wide range of mediums, styles, and themes. Here are some additional aspects of Zimbabwean art:

Wood carving: In addition to stone sculpture, wood carving is another prominent art form in Zimbabwe. Local artists often use different types of wood, such as teak, ebony, and jacaranda, to create intricately carved sculptures, masks, and other decorative objects. Wood carving has a long history in Zimbabwe, with some traditional woodcarving styles passed down through generations of artists.

Wire and metal art: Zimbabwe is known for its unique wire and metal art, which involves using discarded materials such as wire, metal scraps, and recycled objects to create sculptures, masks, and functional items. This form of art often requires great skill and creativity, as artists manipulate the wire and metal to create intricate and detailed designs.

Textile art: Textile art in Zimbabwe encompasses a wide range of techniques, including weaving, batik, embroidery, and fabric painting. Textile artists often create colorful and intricate works that reflect local cultural motifs, patterns, and stories. Textile art is used for both functional and decorative purposes, including clothing, accessories, and home furnishings.

Ceramics: Ceramics is another growing art form in Zimbabwe, with artists creating a wide range of functional and decorative ceramic objects, such as pottery, tiles, and sculptures. Ceramics often incorporate local clay and traditional firing techniques, resulting in unique and distinctively Zimbabwean styles.

Contemporary art: Zimbabwe also has a vibrant contemporary art scene, with artists exploring various mediums and styles to address local and global issues. Contemporary Zimbabwean artists often push the boundaries of traditional artistic forms, experiment with new techniques, and engage with social, political, and cultural themes in their works.

Art and social commentary: Zimbabwean art has often been used as a form of social commentary, addressing issues such as politics, identity, gender, and human rights. Many Zimbabwean artists use their works as a means to express their perspectives, critique societal norms, and raise awareness about pressing issues.

Art and cultural heritage: Zimbabwean art is deeply connected to the country's rich cultural heritage, with many artists drawing inspiration from local traditions, folklore, and history. Artworks often incorporate cultural motifs, symbols, and narratives, serving as a means to preserve and promote Zimbabwe's diverse cultural identity.

Art and community development: Art has also played a role in community development initiatives in Zimbabwe. Art centers, galleries, and workshops have been established in various parts of the country to promote artistic skills, create economic opportunities for local artists, and contribute to cultural preservation and tourism.

Zimbabwean art is a multifaceted and evolving tradition that reflects the country's cultural richness, social dynamics, and artistic innovation. It continues to be a source of creativity, expression, and cultural pride for Zimbabwean artists and communities, and an important aspect of the country's cultural landscape.

In conclusion, Zimbabwean art is a rich tapestry of creativity and culture, encompassing various forms such as soapstone carvings, paintings, ukama sculptures, serpentine sculptures, and more. It reflects the country's diverse cultural heritage, history, and natural beauty, and is highly valued for its artistic and cultural significance. Zimbabwean art serves as a medium for expressing cultural identities, preserving traditions, addressing contemporary issues, and promoting economic empowerment. It is also deeply connected to Zimbabwe's history, struggles, and spirituality, making it a vibrant and dynamic expression of the nation's creativity and cultural richness.

Size Guide

Centimeters (CM)

Inches (IN)

50CM x 40CM

19 11/16 in X 15 3/4 in

50CM x 50CM

19 11/16 in X 19 11/16 in

60CM x 60CM

23 5/8 in X 23 5/8 in

70CM x 50CM

27 9/16 in X 19 11/16 in

80CM x 60CM

31 1/2 in X 23 5/8 in

100CM x 80CM

39 3/8 in X 31 1/2 in

140CM x 110CM

55 1/8 in X 43 5/16 in