One of Zimbabwe’s finest artists who belonged to the famous First Generation sculptors, Sylvester Mubayi died on the 13th of December 2022.
Confirming the death, National Gallery of Zimbabwe Director Raphael Chikukwa, who also worked with the sculptor as Curator at the Venice Biennale in 2017, expressed shock at the death of the artist.
“It is with sad heart to inform you about the death of one of the last surviving First Generation sculptors, Sylvester Mubayi. He joined the ancestors and his late wife around 10:30pm,” said Chikukwa.
The NGZ director said he had learnt a lot from Mubayi.
“As the Executive Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe who worked with Sekuru Mubayi for the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennial as his Curator I learned a lot from Sekuru Shumba Mubayi,” he said.
Chikukwa added: “The National Gallery of Zimbabwe Board, Management, and the Zimbabwean art community in general is in pain now.
“Another Veteran Artists gone, and his work stands tall in the front of the gallery, sculpture garden and in our permanent collection. Sekuru Mubayi, you have gone, and we are blessed with what you left us. RIP Shumba Nyamuzihwa,” said Chikukwa in his statement.
Mubayi was born in 1942 in the Chihota Communal lands near Marondera, Mashonaland East Province. He passed on residing in Zengeza, Chitungwiza where he had built his home.
He worked as a tobacco grader after leaving school before moving to the capital city Salisbury (now Harare) in 1966 to work at the Chibuku Breweries. He joined the Tengenenge Sculpture Community in 1967 as one of its first members, and later worked at the Workshop School in Vukutu, Nyanga that was founded by Frank McEwen, the first director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
Mubayi, who was named in the top ten sculptors in the world by The Guardian in 1991, also served as an artist-in-residence at the Chapungu Sculpture Park. His works are flaunted in several world museums, galleries, universities, and public places.
McEwen lauded Mubayi as the “greatest sculptor of all time” and after McEwen’s death his bequest of sculptures to the British Museum included six pieces by Mubayi. According to Jonathan Zilbert, Mubayi at that time used skeletons as a recurring theme in his work, intending them to illustrate ancestral spirits and blood sacrifice.
An exhibition of sculptures which toured South African cities in 1968–9 included a stone carving Nzuzu (Waterspirit) by Mubayi and it won an Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Award for sculpture.
His sculptures were inspired by stories of spirits and the supernatural, combining human and animal forms. The stones used include springstone and lepidolite. In 1988, Michael Shepherd, a British art critic commented:
“Now that Henry Moore is dead, who is the greatest living stone sculptor? Were I to choose, I would choose from three Zimbabwean sculptors — Sylvester Mubayi, Nicholas Mukomberanwa and Joseph Ndandarika.”
“May his soul rest in eternal peace. In his lifetime he has been a mentor and role model to many artists in the sculpting industry. Mubayi was one of the artists that AVAC Arts consulted and enjoyed working and learning from. He was the embodiment of one of the greatest custodians of our sculpting culture and tradition for our nation Dzimbadzemabwe (Zimbabwe) which means The House of Stones “, said Terrence Musiyiwa the founder of AVAC Arts.
Currently Available works by Sylvester Mubayi: