Own Correspondent and AFP
Renowned sculptor Dominic Benhura says his President Mugabe sculpture – roundly ridiculed as ugly – was never meant to look exactly as the President’s image.
Benhura defended himself this week saying those who were criticising the sculpture did not understand Zimbabwean art.
Benhura was pictured in the Herald newspaper standing next to the president and first lady Grace Mugabe at the unveiling of the giant stone statue outside State House.
The carving, about twice the height of Mugabe himself, shows the 92-year-old leader with his trademark glasses and thin strip of moustache, holding up a clenched hand, in salute.
“I took up the challenge and did my best. Normally, I do not do portraits. Obviously, it did not come out the way some people expected it,” Benhura told reporters.
The statue was rapidly shared on social media, with many people questioning whether it bore a resemblance to the president, who has ruled over Zimbabwe since 1980.
“Robert Mugabe has just been sculpturally insulted and he (has) not figured it out,” newspaper proprietor and activist Trevor Ncube said on Twitter.
“If I was Robert Mugabe the dictator, I would have arrested (Benhura) and killed the statue.”
President Mugabe has reportedly praised the artwork. “This is wonderful art and the artists naturally are gifted people, absolutely gifted,” he was quoted as saying by the Herald.
“To see oneself reproduced this way and that way, replicated, it’s something that should be more appreciated than just by saying thank you.”
Stone sculpture is a celebrated art form in Zimbabwe, and Benhura has won national prizes for his abstract work, as well as tackling subjects such as plants, trees and reptiles.
A series of his sculptures depicting children in a leapfrog game is on permanent display in front of the Harare mayoral offices.
He said it took him six months to produce the Mugabe statue but declined to say how much he was paid.
“This is our president,” he told the press at the unveiling. “He is our number one so I wanted to give it a strong impression.”
He said the piece represented his signature style that did not reproduce his subjects in exact images. The sculpture has been roundly condemned on social media and ridiculed as very ugly.
“I think most people do not understand my art and they do not understand the difference in art styles. That sculpture was never meant to look exactly as the President’s image.
“I do not do exact figures. Some artists do exact figures, but I do something that makes my work different,” said Benhura.
“If a number of artistes are commissioned to do a piece on a certain subject, there is need for a difference. If all the pieces have striking resemblance of the subject, they will look the same and nothing will differentiate the artists.
“This is the style I have mastered. My collectors can identify my pieces when they see them anywhere in the world because I chose to be different and that is my signature.”
Benhura said there is no way he would do a shoddy job when it was the only opportunity that he got to show his President the work that has seen him raising the country’s flag in many parts of the world.
“Honestly, no one would abuse such an opportunity. I wanted the President to see what I do and if I had changed my style it would not be sincere. This is the art that has made my name and this is the style that differentiates my pieces.
“If we all do refined pieces of subjects, we come up with the same art and that is not what art is supposed to be. Art is about uniqueness and that piece has attracted attention because it is unique.
“I used my plain style and that is why I did not put much detail. That is Benhura’s work. It has been like that over the years. It is my original work and art is about originality.”
Benhura said the piece took him six months to complete because of his busy schedule. The piece weighs three tones and is 7, 8 metres tall.