By Robert Mukondiwa

The jury has been out on the stone sculpture carved by renowned stone art mason Dominic Benhura and quite frankly, they haven’t demanded too much time to deliberate.

President Robert Mugabe and First Lady Grace Mugabe pose with statue by Dominic Benhura outside State House Harare, Zimbabwe.

The 7,8 metre statue purportedly depicting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe seems to have been given a unanimous verdict by the onlookers.

Simply put, if ever art were subjected to the dictates of criminal justice, Benhura would be before a tribunal in The Hague facing a 7.8 metre 3 tonne of crime against art, with slimmer prospects of being let off the hook than perhaps even Adolf Hitler.

A picture of the monstrosity had the Zimbabwean head of state standing next to it visibly, for want of a better word, ‘stone faced, with an inanimate look where nobody could read what the president was thinking of the latest addition to his art collection.

A safe assumption should be that the ‘artwork’ has by now been given its deserved space in a dark dingy corner somewhere in State House alongside the dusty worn Wrex Tarr Chilapalapa songs vinyl records and woolen Rhodesian suits Ian Smith failed to collect on his way out after he handed over the keys in 1980.

It deserves to be there.

And probably the president, as far as art goes, will stick to his favourite two taxidermy lions which guard the State House doors.

The fact that Benhura even had to speak out in ‘defence’ of his eyesore in the media is more than telling in itself.

Art-good art, like that famed ‘mombe’, Samson the CSC cattle of the nineteen-eighties, is supposed to speak for itself. That this hideous lump needs to have subtitles and a disclaimer is evidence that something went terribly wrong.

The social media sphere went mad. An outpouring of mostly shock could be read across the entire world, with a few sprinklings of support for Benhura, many of which were probably just kind hearted art lovers who felt they had to be nice to Benhura for all those months of carving a nightmare.

But where did the nightmare start?

In all honesty, Dominic is and always has been a master of the abstract. He has created some of the best gems the world has seen; yes world!

Image result for swing me mama sculpture
President Nelson Mandela accepting “Swing Me Mama” by Dominic Benhura outside the President’s office in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Dominic Benhura’s fingers have the uncanny and almost effortless ability to write poetry through stone. Pieces like Swing Me Mama, Our H.I.V Friend, or the Dance Of The Rainbirds- these are gems that have spoken subtly to the world as Benhura has breathed life into dead black stone and animated it into sheer living beauty.

Benhura was out of his comfort zone and thus, as an abstract artiste, attempting this commission, assuming he was indeed commissioned, was always a catastrophe waiting to happen. He never should have attempted it.

The fact that you can even decipher the president’s face means he strayed from his subtle artwork

Typical Benhura piece on a good day….

, in spite of his insistence that he didn’t.

It wasn’t his forte. The bush-men were amazing artistes but they would never have been best suited to paint the iconic frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Michelangelo’s stead. Pablo Picasso could never be expected to have done a Rembrandt in spite of the both of them being experts in their artistic genres. To expect Picasso to ditch Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and produce The Night Watch iconographic painting would be stretching it. It wasn’t up his avenue.

And certainly, while he has an ‘orchestra’ of his own, Alick Macheso could never do a cover of ‘O sole mio, Nessun Dorma or Habanera which demand a-let’s just say-rather different orchestra.

Dominic Benhura will have to live with the flak of having committed this unforgivable crime in the name of art for one reason; he accepted the task and therein lies his faux pas of solid-no pun intended- judgement.

If Dominic Benhura were, say, a gynaecologist and the President approached him wanting a heart-bypass would he perform it simply on the back of the fact that he is a doctor? I hardly think so. It is the same question he should have asked himself before he took on this task.

Now he has done something that South African satirist and cartoonist Zapiro would be envious of as it much likely passes for a sad caricature of an otherwise towering historical figure.

The best thing would have been to create a structure that speaks through symbolism as opposed to this-a clearly schizophrenic attempt to be an abstract artiste and one who defines the form all in one. Not a good idea.

And without fail the world media will latch onto this and run endless copy until their fingers are red and swollen. Benhura just needs to have some very thick skin. The next few weeks are going to be rather-wait for it-rocky for him!

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