Derere's art world shines on

HARARE - As you enter the Dominic Benhura stone sculpture studios in Greendale, Harare, a gigantic abstract piece titled “Kakombe” greets you.

The sculpture’s story is not easy to read, but as the heavily dreadlocked artist, Stanford Derere explains to you the dynamics surrounding this creation, you feel enriched.

After 27 years of sculpting and painting, there is little you can take away from Derere’s mastery art which has been exhibited locally and abroad to critical acclaim.

The catalogue of his sculptures that are displayed at the studios are all his stories. Stories about our traditional culture and social being, stories about our struggle to master spiritual wisdom through art and stories about humanity and earthly life.

Derere is one of the selected resident artists at the Dominic Benhura studios and together with his colleagues have for years produced telling award-winning sculptures.

As a sculptor and graphic artist, Derere feels a close connection to the people of the land and it is this connection that he tries to portray in his new piece, “Kakombe.”

Sculpted over two months, the more than two-metre sculpture mixes various materials, from wood to metal, producing some wonder image that looks like a traditional puzzle.

“In in our tradition, Kakombe simply implies to some happy drinking especially after a good harvest. If you look closely at this sculpture, it comprise of tswanda, mbira instrument, the horn and all. “Kakombe” is an all-encompassing musical instrument rooted deep in traditional beliefs and values,” said Derere.

It is the joining of other materials to the sculpture which catches the eye. “The sculpture is from the opal stone, but it has metal elements from the mbira instrument and wood installations which makes it very abstract. The African beads give weight to the sculpture’s traditional flare and semblance.”

Derere works at the Dominic Benhura studios where he also carves very elegant birds.

His fragile elegant birds are etched with minimal lines in subtle combinations of stone, wood and metal.

“As they nestle, dart, fly or simply contemplate, they have the assurance of being in perfect harmony with nature’s scheme of things. It is a vision which stirs not only the poetic sense, but brings to mind the fact that such a world is under threat,” said Derere.

The gifted artist was born in Mutoko in a family of eight boys.

“As a kid we used to spend a lot of our time playing with clay — this was the beginning of my interest in art. This was when I started tending to small plots of land for vegetables.

“When I started school the interest was more on drawing. This was during the comic book era and I was getting more interested in drawing and painting,” said Derere.

Between 1955 and 1986 he joined Bat Workshop, an in-house arts training programme under the National Gallery of Zimbabwe where he specialised in painting and print-making on wood.

“I latter switched to sculpture but I still like to paint,” said the artist whose biggest breakthrough came through participating in annual exhibitions at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe from 1985 to 1991. In 1988 I was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for the sculpture piece “The Beekeeper.”

Derere admires the San people who since thousands of years ago left their unsurpassable legacy of graphic art scattered over rock faces across Zimbabwe.

“San rock art, sophisticated in its abstraction and powerful in its minimal statements of power, grace, vitality and suppleness of animal form. I too respond to the grace and vitality of animal being and most particularly of birds,” said Derere.

The artist’s ambition is to help younger people to understand the art form, especially children from the rural lands.

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