At the Gallery
Colleen Madamombe was born in 1964 and holds an inspirational role within the stone sculpture movement as she was one of only a handful of women sculptors in Zimbabwe, often rated as one of the best. The Internationally acclaimed sculptor is one of the best known and most sought after female artist in the Zimbabwean sculpture movement.
She was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia now Harare, studied for a diploma in Fine Art at the BAT Workshop at National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
In 1986 Colleen got married to sculptor Fabian Madamombe and joined him in Chapungu Sculpture Park the following year. Colleen began to experiment with stone sculpture and worked at Chapungu for three years and became very close friends with Agnes Nyanhongo, another veteran of the movement.
Her work added a new dimension to the complexity of Zimbabwean stone sculpture through her commitment to a theme.
She utilized her technical and artistic skills to highlight the special qualities of women, as well as to communicate the inequities that affect their lives and status.
Colleen’s subject matter is deeply rooted in the traditional role of women. She was interested, not just in the emotional, spiritual side to a woman’s life, but is also fascinated by the basic physical appearance and movement peculiar to her sex.
This aspect of womanhood was depicted with clarity and conviction, revealing pride, authority, energy, endeavour, sadness, tenderness, and often humour.
Although she was a reserved person in demeanour, she had strong feelings about the changing role of women in Zimbabwean society. In some of Colleen’s early works, she gave importance to different subjects ranging from ants, bees, butterflies and caterpillars.
Madamombe admitted to a fascination with the apparent humility of insects – a humility which she felt the human race has lost. Other creatures, such as cats and zebras provided interesting subject material, but this fascination with the smallest of living things eventually elapsed.
Colleen worked predominantly in Springstone (a local type of hard serpentine rock much used by Zimbabwean sculptors), but also used Opal stone, for example for her major works such as “The Birth”, which was part of the Chapungu permanent collection.
She used both rough and polished stone in her sculpture, often leaving parts of the surface of the stone in its raw oxidised form to provide colour for hair or clothes, while creating expressive faces, arms and hands in the fully polished black stone.
Skirts would sometimes be chiselled to a rough grey surface, while other clothing such as a blouse was stippled to a finer texture. The overall effect and subject-matter was instantly recognisable.
With all these subjects, she watched as close as possible, but finally carves from a strong mental image and the memories she holds of the animal, insect or person.
Madamombe worked predominantly in hard black Springstone, often using the outer blanket of the stone and creating many different textures to contrast with the polished surfaces. Her recent major works include; Dancing Woman, Growing Well and My Wedding Day. Some of these works, especially The Birth are considered to be amongst her finest artworks in recent years.
Colleen Madamombe was a unique artist of the Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture movement. She has created her own distinct style of African women. Black (Springstone) or green (Opal Stone) hands and faces and richly decorated raw areas of the stone for the dress are the trademark of the sculptures made by her.
She was cognisant of her role as a woman sculptor of renown, her sculptures full of pride and happiness have a direct appeal to everybody, not least the women in the rural areas of Zimbabwe, and thus creating a direct link between great art and people of the countryside in Zimbabwe.
Moreso, Madamombe celebrated the fuller African physique and her distinguishing style was a refreshing approach away from the more traditional mystical works produced by the first generation of Shona sculptors.
Throughout, Madamombe’s works she tried to communicate the injustice that affected the lives of women and their status.
Her subject matter was deeply rooted in the traditional role of Shona women and the works have an energy and movement to them with the contrast of rough and polished parts of the stone.
She has won the award Best Female Artist of Zimbabwe consecutively over the past three years and is considered amongst the finest new talents from this Zimbabwe.
Her sculptures are in numerous Collections around the world. Through determination and aptitude Colleen received world acclaim.
She died on May, 31 2009 and is buried near her rural home in Zvimba.
An exhibition about her life and works was held at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in March 2010.