Above: Teddy Mitchener with Sharon his wife as a model for a mask. Copyright Sharon and Teddy Mitchener
Published: The East African Nation magazine February 2020
I was at the Nairobi Gallery that houses part of the late Joseph Murumbi’s (Kenya’s first foreign affairs minister) amazing art collection from all over Africa. On that day l was staring at a poster of a singularly beautiful mask of a powerful queen from the Benin Empire of the 16th century. It was of Queen Mother Idia done in ivory and iron inlay.
And it’s housed not in Africa but at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in the US.
Above: Stone Sculpture from Zimbabwe. Courtesy: Carola Rasmussen
Published: 4 May 2019
Tucked away near Malindi’s powdered white beaches and tropical blue waters that are more famous for sun worshippers and ocean sports including all the sharks, whales and dolphins that swim by, l’m in a garden that’s an open art gallery of the most amazing sculptures from Zimbabwe. Strolling around l learn more of the country and its art.
The most famous of Zimbabwe’s stone sculptures are the Zimbabwe stone birds that are the country’s emblem.
House of Stones
“Zimbabwe is the Shona word for ‘house of stones’,” tells Carola Rasmussen, a former journalist turned art collector where her garden gallery in Malindi is called Ndoro showcasing more than 300 stone sculptures.
“Ndoro (in Shona language) is a spiral sea shell that washes up on the East coast of Africa. It’s grinded flat. Local women healers wore it on their forehead,” explains Rasmussen. It was also worn by chiefs, their wives and daughters as symbols of authority.
“When the Portuguese came in the 16th century, they noticed the ndoro. They then made them in porcelain back home and returned with them to exchange them for gold, ivory and other items. Today they are collector’s items.”
Her collection of stone sculptures has many pieces from the first generation of 20th century Zimbabwean artists, none of who had any formal education in the arts which makes their work even more intriguing. They are based on local legends and the spirit work.
Zimbabwe’s stone sculptures date from 500 years ago.
The most famous of these are the Zimbabwe birds found in the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe built in the 11th century and inhabited for the next 300 years. When first reported to the outside world in the 16th century by the Portuguese explorer Joao de Barros, it was one of the world’s most extraordinary finds that still baffles many.
The elaborate stone buildings were built using no cement.
The Zimbabwe birds were only seen in the city by a European hunter, Willi Posselt in 1899 and many taken away. They were positioned around an altar in the centre of an enclosure.
Post- Colonial Stone Sculptures
In contemporary times, the sculpture movement also known as the Shona sculpture movement took the art world by storm because critics and art collectors could not understand how this art had emerged in an area that was seen as artistically barren unlike the great sculptural heritage of West Africa. The emergence of the Shona sculpture movement was coined an art renaissance and a phenomenon.
During Mugabe’s regime the art world suffered but now a younger generation of artists hopes that foreign gallery owners and tourists will return.
I never imagined l would learn so much about Zimbabwe in Malindi but art is universal. So enjoy your days exploring Malindi besides enjoying its tropical beaches and warm ocean waters, scuba diving, snorkelling and exploring historical sights.
A Dozen and more things to see in Malindi Town
Statue of Mekatilili wa Menza, the fiery heroine who led the Giriama community in a rebellion against British colonial rule in 1913-1918. She died in 1924 and was buried in the Dakatcha woodlands outside Malindi. Dakatcha woodlands is home to Hell’s Kitchen, a series of eroded gulleys and home to rare birds like Clarke’s weaver and the Sokoke scops owl.
Henry the Navigator’s monument
It’s on the grounds of Malindi National Museum. It was unveiled in October 1960 by the Portuguese consul in Mombasa to honour the prince 500 years after his death in 1460. The monument also honours the Sultan of Malindi and Ahmed Ibn Majid, the local Malindi marine pilot who navigated Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama on the sea route to India.
Vasco d Gama pillar and the quaint makuti-thatched Portuguese Chapel commissioned by Vasco Da Gama the Portuguese explorer in 1498 on his epic voyage to India via Malindi. He was the first European to do the route.
The century-old House of Columns near the church that served as a palatial home, hospital and museum and now a library.
Malindi Sea Fishing Club – Malindi is the best place for deep sea fishing. The season runs from July till March. It’s one of the few spots in the world where anglers can try their hand at a Grand Slam (three different billfish a day), a Super Grand Slam (four different billfish in a day), and a Fantasy Slam (five different billfish species in one trip). The billfish are Black, Blue and Striped Marlin, Sailfish and Broadbill Swordfish.
Best Beach – stretching all the way to the Sabaki River and the towering sand dunes of Malindi.
Malindi Golf Club – a charming club by the seafront with a rare cycad and baobab by the fairways.