Outdoor art exhibit features hand-chiselled works from Zimbabwe

The ZimSculpt exhibit features hundreds of stone Zimbabwean sculptures. The exhibit runs until September 30 at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Visit torontobotanicalgarden.ca for details. It’s free. PHOTO: Contributed

It’s not often that you see a botanical garden planting rocks instead of groupings of unusual perennials or colourful waves of annuals and tropicals. But at the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) and adjacent Edwards Gardens, this is exactly what is going on.

Of course, the giant stones perched on large section of logs are not the usual granite or lumpy chunks of limestone — these rocks are part of the ZimSculpt exhibit, an exquisite display of
contemporary, abstract and traditional stone sculptures created by some of Zimbabwe’s finest artists.

The stunning artwork that is presented in the TBG’s perennial beds and perched among the towering banana plants and enormous alocasias of Edwards Gardens is a spectacular sight to behold, with some of the sculptures measuring nearly seven feet tall and weighing close to half a ton.

The medium used by the artists is definitely worth the price of admission (it’s free and open to the public) with many of the stones often mined by hand from the country’s vast geological deposits and carved without the use of any electrical tools, using only toothed hammers, chisels and sandpaper. The grain and markings of such exotic stones like spotted leopard rock, opal stone, the dark purple hues of lepidolite, black and gray springstone and a beautiful creamy coloured butter jade could even make the raw stone works of art on their own.

All of the pieces on display are for sale with a large percentage of the sales going to various Zimbabwean charitable organizations and of course, the artists themselves. Curator
Vivienne Croisette and her partner Joseph both live in Zimbabwe year- round and are passionate about promoting this unique form of Shona stone sculpture. They have been at the helm of the globe-trotting exhibit for the past 10 years, showing at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show and many other high-end botanical destinations throughout the United States, Europe and Canada.

Pricing is reasonable for durable stone art that follows the British and European tradition of displaying artwork outside in the garden. But like most art exhibits, the price of a few of the larger pieces might make your hair curlier than a plate full of rice stick noodles. As the song goes “if I had a million dollars” I would probably buy that life-sized panther displayed at the front entrance because it would look fabulous next to the pool.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a million and I don’t have a pool, so I suppose with a price tag of $15,200, I’ll have to put the panther purchase on the shelf for now.

For those who don’t have a suitcase bursting with bills, there is a smaller marketplace featuring touring Zimbabwean sculptors demonstrating their craft to the delight of many visiting school groups. The marketplace also has free guided tours, educational talks and a display of smaller objects that can be had for much less than the larger sculptures.

For those of you who prefer a more plant-based form of carving, don’t miss the two carpet beds created by the talented staff of the City of Toronto-owned Edwards Gardens. The smaller bed (30 feet in length) features a plant- based representation of two humming birds with the larger carpet bed displaying a touching and sometimes emotional tribute to the devastating fire that killed 16 horses at nearby Sunnybrook stables on May 21 of this year.

It is a beautiful depiction of a white spirit horse in full gallop racing towards the stables in an attempt to rescue her friends.

The carpet beds will be maintained until the first heavy frost and the ZimSculpt exhibition will run from August 3 to September 30th.

Admission and parking are free.

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