To Richard Mteki, a Shona sculptor of some standing, the sculpture is realised before it made, and never leaves him when it is sold or taken away. Like Chewa's earthbound spirit mfiti, the sculpture may steal into Mteki's head uninvited in the night, and awaken him in the morning, impatient to be translated in stone.
If the subject appears to Mteki as if in a dream, his realisation of it is no hazy recollection but a total recall, and a fully formed impression. Here is a decisive rendition of shape and form, a use of recognizable images that are as clear to us as if we had dreamed them ourselves. In a sense, it is as if Mteki is possessed by his sculptures, being their permanent host.
God and Mwari are one to Mteki, inhabiting both heaven and earth. Each has a dwelling place in people, animals, birds and nature. To Richard Mteki and his brother Boira, God and Mwari are "moving art", never remaining in one place, changing where and how they live at will.
His are small compact sculptures; the breadth of their statement is larger than their scale. In them it seems that the real world offers its hand to the spiritual realm of the Shona and gently guides it through its operations. Here he comments that the spiritual world is in need of worldly guidance, of education in the ways of the mortal realm, and of dialogue with its individuals.
Mteki is a consummate depicter of age. In many of his heads, the lines are deeply etched like furrows in the skin. Eyes are closed as if by the weight of memory, stockpiled over the years. If these subjects want to sleep through the presence and spend their waking hours in the past it will be a long vigil. Many of Mteki's stones resembled human forms before they became sculpture. Heads, torsos and limbs are apparent in the natural form of the stone. The stones are like solid slabs of flesh, muscle and sinew.
His twins comprise a massive body, generously accommodating two heads with one hand prepared to do the work of four, and not doubt one heart that beats in place of two. This work expresses the inseparable nature of the twins. On occasion his work speaks of youth before age. His head is cushioned on a pillow of uncarved stone, sleeping peacefully, perhaps dreaming of the sculpture it has become. Here the stone seems softly mottled, the lines like creases in a baby's skin, the features awaiting full formation, the forehead awaiting the presence of hair. His N'anga's eyes are closed after a long day of magical deeds. Perhaps he has run out of magical cures and needs some time to restore his powers.
His Zimbabwe Bird is now at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. This is a massive bird which, nonetheless, rests lightly on its huge base as if it is preparing to fly. It fears to leave the high civilization it represents, to cease to be a symbol of that civilization and become a real bird. It may explore that civilization from the sky and then perhaps rest on a pillar of the Western Entrance of Great Zimbabwe. All beak and massive talons, this is a bird of prey, ready to tear to shreds the smaller species, and claw its way through the sky.
Biography curtesy of Stone Sculpture in Zimbabwe: Content, Context and Form by Celia Winter Irving
Artist: RICHARD MTEKI
Title: Mother & twins
Size: 42 x 32 x 17 cm
Media: Serpentine Stone
Price: R 25 000