Shepherd Ndudzo has won several awards including the outstanding piece award at the Beijing Biennale in 2012, and has exhibited in Botswana, China, Korea and many parts of the world. Basing his creativity on his personal experiences, Ndudzo’s work is often characterised by its elongated forms and recurring use of bodily features including hands, feet and arms enlarged in search of balance between meaning and beauty. Specific character details are not important to him as he prefers to emphasise texture and form.
In his first exhibition at home, “Ndafunga Dande: Yearning for Home” currently showing at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, the Botswana-based artist showcases 16 wood sculptures which point to his longing for home and the common conversations of those in the Diaspora.
Ndudzo’s craftsmanship in wood brings the viewer the affliction of being away from home. His ability to extract poesy from dead wood and pose new paradoxes is compulsive. What is most enigmatic about this exhibition, however, is that Ndudzo achieves the impossible with nefariously hard wood eventually exacting fluid movement from his creations. The viewer can see that Ndudzo is possessed with a robust sense of humour coupled with eye for detail that brings his contemporary figures to life and makes them accessible to all.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) conversed with Ndudzo (SN) with regards to his journey as an artist and his debut exhibition at home.
NGZ: When was the first time you decided to become an artist?
SN: When I first started making works I was just making them for fun but on this fateful day a lady passed by our house and asked me who had made a piece which was at the back.
I told her that I had made the piece and she immediately asked me if I was selling it and if so how much I wanted for it. I was really shocked because the work was not even finished yet but the lady proceeded to buy the work and that is when I knew that sculpting was for me.
NGZ: What is the drive behind the concept and title of the exhibition?
SN: The concept of this exhibition came into my mind when I realised that I had done many exhibitions in most parts of the world including China, Botswana, Korea, South Africa and I had not done anything at home. I felt this was the ideal moment to do this specific exhibition.
As for the title, I always listen to Oliver Mutukudzi’s song “Ndafunga Dande” and I saw it fit to make the title of my debut exhibition at home “Ndafunga Dande” which literally translates to “Yearning for Home”.
NGZ: You work predominantly in wood, why that medium?
SN: When I actually moved to Botswana the stones there were not really suitable for the kind of work that I wanted to execute. Wood was the most available medium I thought I could use. As soon as decided to work with wood I wanted to be different, something that would represent my ideas and concepts and not to follow the same stereotypical sculptural forms of wood that I saw from day to day.
NGZ: You mostly work with iron wood, why is that?
SN: When I first started out I remember I made a sculpture from Marula wood which I exhibited in an exhibition which ran for three weeks. What I noticed is that at the end of those three weeks my work had already started developing holes and it was dilapidating just after as little as three weeks.
That is when I embarked on a journey to find the perfect wood that I could use to express my ideas while making sure that the work was durable and that is when I discovered iron wood otherwise known as lead wood.
It is a very hard kind of wood and it is very durable. When I am creating an artwork I leave it exposed to the elements and after the work is finished I normally apply wax or oil just to make sure the work is well polished and preserved.
NGZ: Why the elongated form?
SN: It is a form of expression that I prefer to use in expressing my ideas. When I was searching for unique ideas to develop my own style I quickly realised that in most cases when people are working with wooden sculptures, they tend to incline to wood’s natural state of growing vertically but I thought instead of making my sculptures vertical I could make them horizontal and that is how I developed the idea of the elongated form that is prevalent in most of my work. The elongated form is also an extension of my imagination and visual expression.
NGZ: The mixed media aspect of your work includes stone, what influenced or inspired the execution of these works?
SN: For me it is quite exciting when I am experimenting with different types of medium and it is not just experimenting for the sake of experimenting. For example with some of the works featured in “Ndafunga Dande” I wanted a particular stone which could contrast with the wood to give a very good balance and perspective.
NGZ: Would you take us through some of your works in this exhibition?
SN: Yes, sure. This one is called worshippers. The nation of Zimbabwe is a nation of believers be it in Christianity or traditional belief. With this piece I wanted to showcase how passionate people are in praise and worshipping and the numerous feet represent the number of times that people pray and their dedication to God the Al- mighty.
When I come up with ideas I make sure that they are special and close to my heart. Another interesting fact about me is that I love books and literature. I used to have a book shelf at home which I would look at almost every day.
This other day as I was reading a book titled “Reclining”, I had a thought that I could make something interesting out of the books in my book shelf.
So that is how I ended up making this piece. It was a very long process but I am happy with the outcome. You know your mind is like a bank which stores different images and when the right moment comes you see the whole artwork in front of you. It might take a day or a month, a year or two years to develop that image into something but it does happen.
This one looks like ladies with a wig. I actually went somewhere and it was a very cold day so we were warming ourselves around a fire. I noticed that the log which was burning was like a wig but by the time I realised that the wood looked like a wig it was almost burnt up.
I then searched for the kind of wood which looked like a wig to portray a fashion trend that has become common amongst contemporary women in today’s world, which is also the social aspect of my work.
NGZ: What has been the reception to your work in the past against the commanding Stone Sculpture environment?
SN: In most places that I have gone to exhibit my work people tell me that my work is different, its unique. When I create I make work that is very special. So I believe that the reception of my work up to this point has been amazing.