Shona Stone Sculpture Brings Africa to Atlanta Airport

Caring Mother by sculptor Lambeck Bonjisi
Carved of green serpentine, Caring Mother by sculptor Lambeck Bonjisi is one of the works included in the Atlanta International Airport exhibit from Zimbabwe.

Turning a block-long concourse into a gallery, Atlanta International Airport spotlights a collection of stunning artworks by Zimbabwe’s Shona stone sculptors. Sophisticated stone art has become an icon of the southeastern African nation whose artists use only manual hand tools to create works of hulking size but delicate detail.

More than a thousand years ago, when the rest of sub-Saharan Africa built its structures from branches, mud and thatch, the Shona people of what is now Zimbabwe gloried in their skills as stone carvers. They built massive structures of intricately-fitted, mortar-free stonework, topping some of the largest with huge soapstone sculptures of eagles. The very name of their modern-day country translates to “stone buildings.”

Vast veins of sculpting stone
Making their impressive engineering and artistic history possible was the fact that the Shona land is underlaid by vast veins of soapstone, black springstone, green serpentine and other deposits of relatively soft, easily carved and eminently polishable mineral deposits.

In the 1960s, as widespread social unrest, political struggles and bloodshed began the process that led to independence from former British rulers, communities of Shona artists engaged in a renaissance of stone sculpture. The new Shona stone art drew the attention of international art circles and the sculptors’ works — some weighing a ton or more — have now been exhibited in major cities around the world.

Generation Pyramid by Gedion Nyanhongo,
Generation Pyramid by Gedion Nyanhongo, son of a sculptor. The work depicts four generations of a family and is carved from springstone.
Sculpture polishing tools from Africa
Making the often-massive Shona stone works even more impressive is that they are all carved and polished with simple hand tools, as they were in earlier periods of Shona history.
Galactic Dancer by Tapfuma Gutsa
Galactic Dancer by Tapfuma Gutsa, who trained via a scholarship in the City and Guilds School in London. The work is carved from springstone.
Traveling Family by Amos Supuni
Traveling Family by Amos Supuni, who is from Malasi but has spent most of his life in Zimbabwe. He got interested in sculpture at a local workshop, then studied it in Tanzania before returning to Zimbabwe to open his own studio.
Protecting Spirit by Sylvester Mubayi
Protecting Spirit by Sylvester Mubayi who was influenced by museum exhibits to become a sculptor. The piece is in sprintstone.
Conversation by Agnes Nyanhongo
Conversation by Agnes Nyanhongo who is the best known woman sculptor in Zimbabwe’s community of stone artists. The daughter of a sculptor, she got early training in her father’s studio.
Conversation by Agnes Nyanhongo
Conversation by Agnes Nyanhongo, a long shot.
Welcome Baby by Agnes Nyanhogo
Welcome Baby by Agnes Nyanhogo who female figures tell the story of Zimbabwean family life.
Woman Showing Traditional Salute by Edronce Rukodzi
Woman Showing Traditional Salute by Edronce Rukodzi depicts a greeting to village elders. The artist was influenced by a relative to become involved in sculpting.
Nzuzu the Water Spirit by Nicholas Mukomberanwa,
Nzuzu the Water Spirit by Nicholas Mukomberanwa, one of the most famous and respected of Zimbabwe’s stone masters. He first learned to sculpt in wood before moving on to stone. The work is of green serpentine.