WHEN the pandemic first hit the world, Zimbabwean stone carver David Ngwerume picked up his hammer and chisel and began working on the first of a collection of COVID-19 inspired pieces.
Nearly two years and 14 sculptures later, one has made its way to China after being selected for the ninth Beijing International Art Biennale, an exhibition featuring the works of thousands of artists from more than 100 countries. .
The room, Towards the third wavedepicts a woman receiving a Covid-19 vaccine from a hanging pair of hands.
Ngwerume created it in June last year, just before a third wave of the pandemic hit the country.
“When I heard a third wave was coming, I called it Towards the third wave. I was encouraging people – let’s get vaccinated, prepare for whatever is coming and variations,” he says.
Omicron prevented Ngwerume, who also has his own law firm, from accompanying his sculpture to China, but at his home in Harare he remains determined to continue adding to his COVID-19 collection. Its ambition is to produce and exhibit 25 to 30 sculptures.
Ngwerume began carving while still at school in Musana, northeast of Harare, under the tutelage of renowned sculptor Cosmos Muchenje.
He liked the idea of the sculptures being widely visible and thinks they can convey a message better than a painting that has to stay indoors.
Stone carving has a long tradition in Zimbabwe and Ngwerume collects different materials from quarries and mines in the country.
It was his father who inspired him to practice law and make art at the same time. Ngwerume was academically gifted and he always had ambitions to pursue a profession.
“My dad encouraged me to do both,” he says.
“He said to me, ‘You can’t be a good artist without academic qualifications, you’ll end up not understanding how the world moves’.”
Now Ngwerume makes sculptures from his home studio.
The idea for the COVID-19 collection was born in the early stages of the pandemic, when Ngwerume found himself thinking about what people were going through and how to reflect it through his art.
“COVID-19 was facing people in all parts of the world. It is a humanitarian catastrophe and not selective between rich and poor, black and white, Muslim and Christian… it cut through all that divides humanity,” he says.
“I felt inspired [and thought about] what role I should play to raise awareness, to inspire the world. How can we fight this pandemic together and how can we get out of it?
Ngwerume’s first sculpture from his self-funded collection is a female figure wearing a mask.
After vaccines were created, he made a sculpture called Arms — a half-torso with a pair of hanging arms holding an injection.
He explains: “The reason it’s a moiety is because I didn’t want it to be seen as a genre. I wanted it to resonate with everyone. »
He also created a sculpture called Hygienewhich shows the washing of both hands.
“My ambition was to evolve with the world, to play my part and to convey messages to the world,” says Ngwerume.
Her work has attracted international attention, beyond the Beijing Biennale, and has been featured in various media.
“No artist was doing something like that and it spoke in tune with the times,” he says.
Ngwerume’s ultimate dream is to see his work exhibited around the world, including at the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva.
“Coming from a small country in Africa, I go unnoticed and unrecognized and I wonder if this will happen,” he says.
“Maybe it will just be a wish. I’m not going to stop what I’m doing even if I end up exhibiting at home and even if the galleries don’t look at me.
He adds: “I will continue, my spirit continues to soar.” – The Guardian