Miami Beach Botanical Garden Transformed Into African 'Sculpture Park'

Jul 5, 2013

Sculpting is a family affair for Zimbabwe based artist Brian Nyanhongo and his siblings. He's one of 19 kids, eight of whom followed in their dad's footsteps and became Shona sculptors. Several works from the Nyanhongo family are currently on display at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens

The traveling exhibit was put together by a gallery based in Zimbabwe called Chapungu Sculpture Park. Part of the gallery’s mission is to promote the work of artists like the Nyanhongos' by holding exhibits all over the world.

Brian Nyanhongo's sculpture titled Silent Pride sits at the entrance of the garden.

"It's a tribute to women in general, and the role they play in our society,” Nyanhongo said.

The roughly hewn, natural rock at the base of the sculpture gradually smooths out and morphs into the shoulder, neck and head of a woman—a large woman. Nyanhongo estimates the statue weights about one and a half tons, all of which he carved by hand from a very hard type of rock called Springstone,  commonly used by Shona sculptors. 

Several of the sculptures look like they've walked straight out of a Picasso painting, although curator Brad Guthrie said the older generation of sculptors wasn’t exposed to Western art for many years.

"You've got these guys who started sculpting in Zimbabwe back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when there was sanctions on what was then known as Rhodesia,” Guthrie said. “They were cut off from the outside world. But, they were producing this work that stands out anywhere in the world."

Guthrie explained that  Shona sculptors have a unique approach to their art. Many of the artists refuse to plot out a plan on paper for how they want their sculpture to look before they start carving. Instead, they allow the rock to “tell them” what to do and guide the artistic process.

Nyanhongo said the exhibit has received a good reception in the Miami region—several works were also featured at Fairchild Tropical Gardens earlier this year. But he said he’s also enjoyed showing his work here partially because it's so hot out, it feels like home.

"I have an opportunity to work in an environment that is similar to Zimbabwe given the temperatures here,” Nyanhongo said.

There are more than 20 sculptures on display at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden all of which can be seen for free through Nov. 16, and there are several smaller works featured inside if you find the Miami heat a little too much. The garden is open 9 a.m. to 5.p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.