Henry was born in 1931 in the North of Zimbabwe. With no schooling, he spent his childhood herding cattle and hunting game with spears, bows and arrows. For many years he held jobs as a blacksmith, carpenter and tobacco grader. He began sculpting in 1967 and went by the name of Henry of Tengenege. Henry now boasts more international exhibits, more awards and distinctions, and more admirers than any other Zimbabwe sculptor.
His work is based on simple uncluttered form and makes a bold and powerful statement… it’s as uncontrived as you can get, yet as sophisticated as anything you will find anywhere. It is spontaneous, elegant, original, yet unmistakably contemporary and modern in every respect. When asked about the inspiration for his work Henry replies, “I look at the stone and see how it is. Sometimes I see in the stone a lion, an owl, a man, a sheep. Sometimes if I start and the theme isn’t successful I’ll leave the stone and take another. The things I see in Zimbabwe I sculpt.”
Henry Munyaradzi approaches stone as if smoothing a troubled brow or using a cool hand to relieve fever. Henry takes the edge of the heat off the stone, gently and firmly removes it from the natural world and establishes its primacy as art. Henry’s is unmistakably contemporary. His work has more relevance as art than as an aspect of Shona cultural practice. The issues dealt with are issues of style, the truth to materials, and the power of the surface.
To Henry nature is not inanimate, it has a mind of its own and possible powers of reason. Thus, he ascribes to nature as well as animals and bird, facial features, eyes to see with and mouths to speak. These are indicated by horizontal lines, vertical lines, and circular incisions in the stone. Highly expressive, they take on the guise of the subject and often convey meaning more fully than form. Often the iconography is based upon Christianity, displaying the simplicity and conviction of a good and unquestioning believer. They have little sense of hallmark, and sometimes provide the subject with its most distinguished feature. It is possible through these ideograms to make a two dimensional as well as a three dimensional reading of subject and see Henry to be as much a graphic artist as a sculptor, with a new and less ephemeral material than paper.
Henry spoke little about his work. He allowed us to say what we feel about it and feel what we like about it, to establish meaning for ourselves and even to impart to it a subject of our own choice. Our feelings about his work are as important to Henry as they are to ourselves, and this is part of the caring and sharing which is the basis of Henry’s sculpture.
Henry Munyaradzi’s sculptures are in private collections all over the world. His exhibitions have won him well-deserved accolades in the world of contemporary art. His work makes an artistic statement of quiet elegance that is not easily forgotten. Henry passed away in 1998.