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HomeArts + CultureShepherd Ndudzo's celebrated sculptures tell an untold history of southern African art

Shepherd Ndudzo’s celebrated sculptures tell an untold history of southern African art

The work of award-winning Zimbabwe-born sculptor Shepherd Ndudzo is right away recognisable. Fluid, elongated black our bodies and frame portions drift from white rock in a normal paintings. The our bodies are dancing or praying, protecting palms or achieving out.

Those figurative sculptures, carved out of stone (marble and granite) and picket (ironwood), had been lately proven along side his summary wood sculptures (titled Seed) on the FNB Joburg Art Fair in South Africa by means of Botswana’s Ora Laopi recent artwork gallery and analysis challenge.

The paintings by means of the artist (born in 1978) was once displayed as a party of the sculpture of Botswana, the place he lives and works. The display was once dedicated to his father, Barnabas Ndudzo, the famed writer of sensible, regularly life-size sculptures. In a documentary produced by means of the gallery, Shepherd tells how he was once taught to sculpt by means of his father. He says that his works talk about migration and lend a hand inform his circle of relatives tale.

Courtesy Ora Loapi

It’s a story that spans 3 neighbouring southern African international locations, all identified for his or her sculpture – Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. It exposes a historical past of shared traditions and faculties of training, of colonial-era gatekeeping and artwork global wars. It’s this historical past that informs the analysis for my PhD thesis on Zimbabwean artwork.

It’s my view that Shepherd Ndudzo’s paintings can simplest be totally preferred by means of working out his transnational tale and the way it has formed his lifestyles and occupation, appearing how artwork traditions are invented and reinvented throughout borders.

Kekana college

His father Barnabas was once born in Zimbabwe and attended the Kekana Faculty of Artwork and Craft within the past due Sixties. Early artwork faculties in Zimbabwe had been based and run by means of white missionaries and expatriates. However the Kekana Faculty was once based by means of a black artist and instructor. The varsity was once began at St Religion’s Undertaking close to Rusape by means of South African sculptor Job Patja Kekana within the early Sixties, lengthy prior to Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980.

Kekana had educated at Grace Dieu Undertaking Diocesan Coaching School close to Pietersburg (Polokwane). The similar establishment was once attended by means of Gerard Sekoto and Ernest Mancoba, two of South Africa’s outstanding black modernists. (Modernism was once an period of experimentation in artwork from the past due 1800s to the mid Nineteen Fifties. It noticed new concepts, new media and the uptake of socio-political issues.)

A man in a blue T-shirt with a bald head sits outside, in front of a wooden structure and thorn trees.

Shepherd Ndudzo.
Screengrab/Ora Loapi/Whispers of Picket

Kekana had settled at St Religion’s in 1944 and stayed till he died in 1995, excluding for the 3 years (1960-1963) when he attended artwork faculty in the United Kingdom. When Shepherd enrolled at St Religion’s Top Faculty in Zimbabwe within the early Nineties, he in short met his father’s getting older mentor.

Shepherd most commonly realized from helping and staring at his father at paintings. Like Kekana and all his scholars, Barnabas most commonly carved sensible statues and busts.

Artwork conflict

Zimbabwe is known for its “Shona sculpture” custom during which artists use hand-crafted equipment, patiently carving human and animal paperwork from serpentinite rocks. UK-born artist, instructor and museum curator Frank McEwen pigeonholed artists from more than a few ethnic backgrounds and other international locations – and no longer simply from the Shona people – in one misnamed cultural basket. Their particular person inventive types didn’t topic.

McEwen was once the founding director of the Rhodes Nationwide Gallery (National Gallery of Zimbabwe). Despite the fact that he was once celebrated for his efforts at selling Zimbabwe’s summary stone sculpture custom, making sure that the arena accredited it as trendy artwork, his presence was once unhealthy for artists who labored with media like picket and had been making sensible works, in addition to for the ones stationed at missionary workshops. (Figurative artwork represents present items. Summary artwork normally has no real-life visible reference. Realism refers to correct depictions normally portraying a sitter or style.)

McEwen most well-liked running with sculptors from the Nationwide Gallery Faculty and the Tengenenge workshop till he had a fall-out with its founder, Tom Blomefield. As reported within the press, Blomefield accused McEwen of stealing artists from his solid. Artwork historian Elizabeth Morton highlighted that once Kekana visited the Nationwide Gallery Faculty quickly after his go back from the United Kingdom he was once chased away by means of McEwen, who didn’t wish to see him close to his scholars.


With McEwen protecting probably the most robust place on the country’s central artwork establishment, artists from Kekana’s college discovered themselves at the outer edge of Zimbabwe’s mainstream artwork canon. They needed to depend on church commissions and instructing jobs. This most likely explains why Barnabas in short discovered himself undertaking “ecumenical workshops” for the Methodist Church in 1970 and 1971. Lately the nationwide gallery doesn’t have a unmarried piece of his in its assortment.

An artwork with a white base, like two legs, and a brown wooden circular top, decorated with carved balls, holes in three places.

Courtesy Ora Loapi

Barnabas headed south, discovering a house on the Federated Union of Black Artists (Fuba), an academy in Johannesburg. He settled in Botswana within the mid-Nineties. He taught artwork at Gallery Ann and different establishments prior to shifting to Thapong Visual Arts Centre the place he endured to mentor rising artists.

He received substantial reputation and admire in Botswana. And it’s in Botswana that his son Shepherd continues to sculpt, having moved to the rustic to begin with to help his father.


The more youthful Ndudzo collects the hardwood he makes use of from building websites, particularly from bushes bulldozed for highway building. He prefers marble from Zambia and Namibia which comes no longer simplest in white, but additionally in more than a few sunglasses of gray and brown. He highlights how voters of those international locations stroll around the geographical region in this useful resource, rarely appreciating its significance. The black granite he combines them with is most commonly from Zimbabwe.

An artwork with a white base, like water, and brown figures emerging from it, their postures ranging from apparently praying to holding hands.

Courtesy Ora Loapi

Lately, Shepherd took me to his house in Oodi village in Kgatleng district. His huge open backyard is his studio – the place his artist neighbours tolerate the deafening noise of his sculpture making.

Regardless that he talks about shifting clear of his father’s sensible taste, I nonetheless see robust components of it in his paintings. The bas-relief carving within the higher works of picket exhibited on the Joburg Artwork Honest is a superb instance. It’s a mode inherited from Kekana, who “taught his scholars bas-relief carving, and realism and working out of the picket grain”.

Thus I see Shepherd Ndudzo as an artist maintaining a legacy emanating from the Kekana college. Then again, his paintings oscillates between figuration and abstraction. It’s relatively conceptual in that it’s about concepts and relatively experimental in that it blends other components. The artist issues to the likes of Tapfuma Gutsa as his biggest inspiration. Gutsa reworked Zimbabwe’s stone sculpture custom, mixing stone with more than a few different components.


Shepherd’s resolution to commit his exhibition to his father and mentor is crucial gesture. It highlights the tale of a sidelined artist, most commonly written out of historical past, like others from the Kekana college.

A wooden carving with a sharp horn, like a buck's, made of many carved wooden balls, a wooden base and a face that looks a bit like a hoof.

Courtesy Ora Loapi

Artists are not making artwork in entire isolation. Highlighting the lineage Shepherd Ndudzo belongs to is helping us perceive his observe, collection of fabrics and aesthetic references.

It’s a lineage that’s transnational in outlook – linking Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe – and his fabrics are drawn from other international locations. This is helping us respect how creative observe can feed off artwork ecosystems throughout southern African borders.



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