Contemporary Art Market: Sculptures help to save rare species: Barn showcase for Zimbabwean works

A BRITISH zoologist has imported Zimbabwean stone sculptures to exhibit and sell in aid of wildlife conservation. Part of the proceeds will go to Earthwatch Europe, which provides funding for research, and Rhinowatch, the black rhino conservation project.

Zoe Jewell, who founded Rhinowatch in 1990, is staging the show at a 16th century barn in Cambridge from this week. Many of these sensual sculptures are semi-abstract images of figures or animals.

While West African sculpture long ago came to Europe, inspiring Picasso, Brancusi and Giacometti, Zimbabwean sculpture has only come to prominence relatively recently.

Mission schools in the 1930s and 1940s had encouraged the local people to produce works of art, but it was Frank McEwan, an English art critic, who in the 1950s was instrumental in inspiring them to produce art for art's sake, rather than for a practical or religious purpose.

However, as Ms Jewell explained, even today, 'the Shona believe in vitalism - that a presence or spirit is inherent in the stone and that the carving of the stone is directed by the spirit within'.

Nicholas Mukomberanwa is one of the foremost Zimbabwean sculptors. Although he has been sculpting for 35 years, the market for his work has flourished in the past decade and his prices have quadrupled. Praying Woman, a semi-figurative image of a woman that gives life to the stone, is priced at pounds 28,000.

Among other pieces is a semi-figurative bird, The Vulture, by Henry Munyaradzi, at pounds 23,500. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are several pieces under pounds 400. The cheapest is pounds 75, for a tiny semi-figurative piece, The Shy Bird, carved by Sanizani Akuda in brown serpentine stone.

The disparity in price, Ms Jewell said, depended on the artist's reputation and the size of stone: 'It can cost as much to freight as to buy something.'

One sculptor travelled 150 miles to Harare, at least 20 miles of it on foot, carrying 30kg of sculpture, to show her. He said he did that routinely.

The exhibition at Hall Barn, Fen Ditton, Cambridge (0223-293424), runs until 15 August.

(Photograph omitted)