A stroll around Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens may reveal unexpected figures tucked into thickets or peeking from behind flower beds. These would be the exquisite stone sculptures dotted discreetly around the grounds.
They represent the Shona style of art, whose Zimbabwean origins date back no further than the 1950s. Even in such a short time, this school of art has gained a global reputation, not just as great African art, but great art in the broadest sense.
When admiring the carvings, stop for a moment and consider not only the artistic inspiration but the hard work involved. Some stones, like vibrant green vedite and bold black serpentine are stunning in their beauty, but are unyielding and difficult to work. Soapstone, on the other hand (most often found at roadside stalls), comes in a variety of gentle browns and blacks and is so soft that novices learn their art on it using wooden tools.
Some of the Kirstenbosch pieces are more abstract than others, but all are worked lovingly and have many hidden meanings. Gods, spirits, ancestors and totems are popularly interpreted in stone, and animals, birds and reptiles are usually styled to reveal their characters. Deep human emotion and relationships are also very powerfully portrayed in these Shona carvings, most of which are for sale.