Renowned sculptor Dominic Benhura shrugged off the melancholy of losing a father before he was born to become one of the country’s best artists. He has been in the game for almost four decades now and has seen it all, producing scintillating sculptures and touring the world with his works.
Benhura says his life was not that rosy growing up, but he soldiered on and grasped the rudiment of sculpting from his relations to become a master of stone art. Now he is one of the finest sculptors with works dotted almost all over the globe. He speaks of his life journey to stardom.
“Life was not so great since my father passed on while I was in my mother’s womb. So I learnt to sculpt with clay while heading neighbors’ cattle to while up time.”
“It so happened that my aunt took me to stay with her in the city and my life changed. She afforded me an opportunity to go to school and, to be honest, life turned for the better for me since then.
“With clay sculpting skills that I horned while in my rural areas herding neighbours’ cattle, I was excited when I saw artists working on stone when I came to Harare in 1979. I tried my hands by helping my aunt’s son, Tapfuma Gutsa, and his colleagues.
“Not long after, I was now making my own pieces. Tell you what, tourists frequenting the arts centre liked my works very much as they said they were different from the works of my mentors.
“Some people were shocked that I had created the sculptures because they claimed they were too good for my age. I was young then, but equally great for my age. So, my works sold well to the extent that I could afford to pay my school fees so I could finish my studies.
“I went up to A-Level, which I did not finish because of my interest to pursue sculpting. Initially, people I lived were not happy with my decision to quit school at such time when education was regarded as the key to success in life.
“I was a bright student and was studying science subjects, but I just felt I had to quit because I had found love in sculpting. During those days, art was despised in some quarters, so because of my background and that I was a bright student, they thought if I followed the academic route, I was going to secure a better career in life.
“I know I disappointed many people who used to complement me for being gifted academically and were looking forward to me passing with flying colours, but inside me, I felt I was more of an artist than an academic.
“After my decision to quit school for sculpting, many were not happy with me, but I’m grateful that my aunt and her husband, with whom I was staying, supported me.
“Quitting school for art was my best decision even up to now. Even though they were sceptical about what the future held for me, they still gave me unconditional love and support as I embarked on my art journey. My aunt cared and still cares for me like a little boy.
“My first piece was a head of a woman. I have large pieces around the world in public and private collections.
“I am biased towards women and children because I was brought up by my aunt and mother. I feature women mostly in my art as a way to celebrate all mothers in the world for being vehicles used by God in our journey of life on this planet.
“The interaction between mothers and children puts a smile on my face, so I interpreted it through my sculptures. That is why I also do not put facial features because it (mother-and-child) is an endless universal theme.
“Piracy remains a big challenge in the industry despite people continuously talking about it ever since. I have wasted a lot of time and resources trying to protect the future of this industry in the courts, but all were in vain.
“Piracy cheapens our efforts while people who did not invest anything from such ideas openly steal from us without any measures being taken against them. Piracy has become a cancerous problem across the arts sector, but I’m hopeful that one day, we shall win the fight against it.
Political icons sculptures
“I have done a lot of sculptures for different prominent political figures such as Chinese President Xi Jinping (two pieces), the late former President Robert Mugabe (several pieces), the late South African President Nelson Mandela (one piece), former Zambian President Rupiya Banda (one piece), Netherlands Princess Maxima and President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“I’m married and have five children, two boys and three girls.
“After more than four decades of working and travelling experience, my dream is to have a bigger place to spend the rest of my life nurturing and scouting for young talent around the country, especially from rural areas.
“I want to give rural arts and crafts practitioners a window to market their work. I also want to contribute to the creation of the country’s tourism awareness with my friends around the world through that centre.
“I am really excited and it is slowly emerging like the moon.”