Zimbabwe means "house of stone" and its people are descended from an ancient culture of stone carving. In the ruins of the kingdom of Great Zimbabwe (AD 1200 to 1450) large, beautifully sculpted soapstone birds and anthropomorphic figures were found. When the kingdom went into decline so too did the practice of stone sculpture. 

In the 1950s, British art enthusiast Frank McEwan became curator of the National gallery of Rhodesia. He was determined to support the growth of African art, an area previously derided by the colonial government. His efforts laid the foundations for one of Africa's most important art movements.

Zimbabwean sculpture has now been exhibited all over the world, including the Musée Rodin in paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Mara sculpture represents both established and up-and-coming artists ensuring fine work and exceptional quality.



The symmetry, spirituality and simplicity of ancient African art have a powerful presence in Zimbabwean sculpture; themes that also influenced the 20th Century Modernists like Picasso and Matisse. 

The spirit world plays an important role in Zimbabwean society and is often a source of inspiration for the sculptors. Themes from daily life and traditional cultural are also common subjects, as are animals wild and domesticated. Every Zimbawean has a family "totem": an animal that looks after them and must be protected in return. 



Most sculptures are made with stone from the serpentine geological group; sedimentary rocks metamorphosed  by intense heat and pressure. Rich in iron, when exposed to water, beautiful deep rust colours appear. The hardest forms of serpentine are most popular with the artists, like jet-black springstone, cloudy fruit serpentine and dappled leopard rock. Opal stone is a softer form of serpentine and occurs in a delicate milky teal.

Less common and highly prized is verdite, a semi-precious deep green stone. Over 3500 million years old, Zimbabwean deposits are of a uniquely high quality. Mines are small and open-cast causing minimal environmental impact.