Bernard Takawira

(1948-1997) Zimbabwe
The Story

Bernard Takawira was born in the mountainous Nyanga district in Eastern Zimbabwe, third of six children. Their father was often absent for work, and their mother, Mai, assumed a dominant role. He was well known for her knowledge of Shona myths and stories, and would share them with her sons; these tales had a deep influence in both Bernard’s older brother, John’s, and Bernard’s careers as sculptors.

Bernard trained as an agricultural advisor to the government after leaving school, but was encouraged by John, an established sculptor, to try carving stone. John introduced him to Frank McEwen, who was running the Shona Studio Workshop in Vukutu at the time. Bernard soon began spending all of his free time at the workshop.

Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Bernard struggled with his sculpture as it was uneconomical to fetch stones from one end of the country and transport finished works to the National Gallery in Salisbury (now Harare) for sale. He left his governmental position in 1977, and, coming to Harare, found that life in the capital suited him much better and allowed him to work at his own pace and to find suitable raw materials. He worked as a full-time sculptor from then on.

Bernard’s approach to his art was typical of Shona sculpture:

he imagined the subject or form within the stone, and, by removing the rough stone, liberating the sculpture within.

Bernard was selected to represent Zimbabwe at an International Sculpture Conference in the USA in 1982. He was awarded first prize in the National Gallery’s (NGZ) annual exhibition and the NGZ’s Director’s Award of Distinction in 1988. His work was part of the ground-breaking exhibition Shona Sculptures of Rhodesia at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London in 1972, and in numerous exhibitions thereafter