zeeBigBlog met with Argentinian born, art consultant Ani Talbot Wright in the world-renowned Art District of San José del Cabo. Ani is the curator and co-founder of the Muvezi Fine African Art gallery. Here is our Q & A with Ani and what she had to say about the gallery, its owners and Shona Art.
zeeBigBlog: Where does the word “Shona” come from?
Ani: Shona is the name of the Zimbabwe tribe as well as the name of their language. The Shona tribe is Zimbabwe’s largest indigenous group and 82% of the population of Zimbabwe speak the Shona dialect. The word “Zimbabwe,” the country’s namesake, is a Shona (Bantu) word meaning “stone houses.” Muvezi means “carver of the stone” in their dialect. Hence, the name of this gallery – Galeria Muvezi.
zeeBigBlog: How do Zimbabwe artists learn to carve and sculpt?
Ani: These artists work independently. Most of them work from their homes. They teach each other to carve. They use an apprenticeship teaching style, where the less experienced artists learn through helping with various processes. For example, once the artist decides what finish the final art piece is to have, the artist in training may do the sanding, which can take days and days of work. It is some of the hardest work, but it helps the trainee learn about the different stones, their hardness, minerals and the different finishes used and how to achieve them.
zeeBigBlog: What are most of the sculptures made of?
Ani: Everything is in stone. Zimbabwe is known the world over as the country with the most stone used for the purpose of sculpting, so the stones are locally sourced. I believe they have about twelve different types of stone. The artists like to use harder stones because they say it is more challenging for them.
zeeBigBlog: What are the different types of stone used for Shona Art sculpting?
Ani: There is a beautiful green stone, one of the hardest and it is called verdite or African gold. It is very rare now and very expensive. It is only available in small pieces.
There is springstone, a beautiful stone that can be finished to a high gloss which is great for detail. What I love about it is that it has a lot of iron in it and you can see a brown color in it. That is the iron that has oxidized. Every time you see springstone you will find some brown in it.
Some artists like to use is opal stone. You can find it with green and yellow hues.
Other artists use cobalt stone which can run from a creamy color to purples and greens. The colors in the stone reflect the weather and climate that the stone was exposed to, its depth and many other factors.
Another popular stone is called fruit serpentine stone. It has a lot of hues. The most colorful sculptures are made from fruit-serpentine stone.
zeeBigBlog: Each sculpture is intricate, unique and handcrafted. How many hours would you say on average goes into creating one of these sculptures?
Ani: I would say that two weeks is about the average time it takes to do a sculpture. That is seven days a week. It is a lot of hours, a lot of work.
zeeBigBlog: Do most of the Shona artists you work with live in Zimbabwe?
Ani: All the artists we work with live in Zimbabwe. Some of them travel to England, Holland, Australia and North America. This is where you will mostly see Shona Art. A company or a retiree who sells their work may take the sculptor with them on the trips so the artists can demonstrate how they create their sculptures. This provides the sellers and buyers with a more personal touch and helps them to relate better to both the artists and the sculptures.
zeeBigBlog: Do the artists you work with speak English or do you need an interpreter to communicate with them?
Ani: They speak English as well as their own native Shona (Bantu) language or dialect.
zeeBigBlog: What motivated the owners to start the Muvesi Fine African Art galleries?
Ani: It’s a funny story. It was started by Greg Stephen Pendura and Brian Carpenter, two businessmen from Edmonton, Alberta. One of the them invited the other to his home and while there, the host said, “Look what I just bought – this is Shona Art from Zimbabwe.” The other fellow replied, “I just bought a piece of Shona Art from another gallery. It’s also from Zimbabwe!” Greg and Brian found out about Shona Art at the same time and they both loved it.
zeeBigBlog: Why did they start the Muvezi Health Projects Society?
Ani: When the Greg and Brian started researching Shona Art they discovered that there are over 2000 artists in Zimbabwe and these artists were having a lot of problems getting their art out of Zimbabwe. They also discovered that there was a big malaria problem at the time in Zimbabwe, with one child dying every seven seconds.
Greg and Brian created and registered a foundation in Canada, called the Muvezi Health Projects Society. They then opened the Muvezi Art Africain in historic old centre of Québec City in Canada and I opened the Muvezi Fine African Art here in the art district of San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.
zeeBigBlog: How does the Muvezi Health Projects Society help Zimbabwe artists?
Ani: Initially the project involved us buying art from local Zimbabe artists which was coordinated by our Australian partner, Doug Dicker who lives in Zimbabwe.
We work mostly with about two hundred artists and buy enough to fill a container – about four hundred pieces at a time to sell in both of our galleries. Twenty per cent of the revenues of the company goes to the Muvezi Health Projects Society which is used to buy a silver solution which cures malaria which we get from Utah. This medicine was then distributed free to the mission hospitals in Zimbabwe.
zeeBigBang: I understand the foundation was closed in 2015.
Ani: In 2015 the owners closed the foundation because the corruption in Zimbabwe made working with them extremely difficult. Unfortunately, we are closing this gallery in San Jose del Cabos.
zeeBigBang: The Muvezi Art Africain still remains open in Québec City in Canada?
Ani: Yes, the Muvezi Art Africain remains open in Québec City. The store is located at 133 Rue St-Paul, in the historic cultural centre of old Québec City and is curated by M Benoit Poulin.
zeeBigBang: Can people continue to buy Shona Art through the Muvezi online store?
Ani: Yes. We will be selling about six hundred pieces of various sizes. Anyone can buy our Shona art at our gallery in Québec City or online through our website at www.muvezi.com.