SENIOR LIFESTYLE WRITER
ON April 8 this year, the arts community was distraught at the news of the death of Tengenenge Sculpture Community founder, Tom Blomefield.
Blomefield, originally from the Netherlands, died in this native country and his remains were cremated and sent to Zimbabwe for burial at the arts centre.
However, because of Covid-19 restrictions, the burial was delayed for eight months and he was only buried last Sunday.
The man who established “the beginning of the beginning” came to the end of his cycle of life at the grand old age of 95.
And for those who attended the burial, it was an honour to witness the homecoming of a legend and proponent of a cultural revolution in this country’s creative history.
About 54 years ago, Blomefield established the Tengenenge Art Community at his farm in Guruve.
The community, a melting pot of the various ethnicities of Zimbabwe, serves as the greatest example of what creative and cultural industries can become through unity of purpose.
At the burial, artists, friends and diplomats bade him farewell.
Curiously, the burial proceedings were led by the Gule Wamkulu as Blomefield had been initiated into the Nyau culture.
Internationally-acclaimed sculptor Dominic Benhura, a benefactor of Tengenenge Sculpture Community, said he was honoured to work with the late Blomefield.
“On Sunday, we were basically celebrating his (Tom) life. It was more than a burial procession. We were celebrating him for the outstanding contribution he made to the local arts industry. Almost all the prominent sculptors started off at Tengenenge,” Benhura said.
The world renowned and multi-award winning sculptor described Blomefield as a farmer who had a passion for the arts.
“For him, it was more of a passion than a business. He strived for the best and original work and that was the reason why he persuaded me to buy the gallery (Tengenenge) in 2007 as he wanted his legacy to continue.”
Arts minister Kirsty Coventry said in a speech read by the director of arts, culture promotion and development in the ministry that what started off as a tobacco farm and chrome mine was hard hit by sanctions against the then Rhodesia and evolved into something entirely different.
“In 1966 this became a melting pot of cultures and a place where different languages were spoken. Migrant workers from Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia were some of the first stone sculpture practitioners, alongside locals.
“Soon this tale of resilience became the talk of the country, and the talk of the world, with names such as Josia Manzi, Enos Gunja and Sylvester Mubayi, who are still with us, and those who have since departed, such as Wazi Maicolo, Bernard Matemera, Henry Munyaradzi and Amali Malola, who became renowned sculptors because of the encouragement given by Blomefield.”
She added that to these great names, Blomefield acted as director, and also put his hand to sculpture as it is only natural for one to practise what they preach.
“Blomefield was energetic in promoting the works of the iconic First Generation, and as is present here around us, different generations have taken up their hammers and chisels to keep his vision alive.”
Coventry said this homecoming, though bittersweet, concludes a chapter of Zimbabwe’s art history that cannot be defined by any other word but luminary.
“A man who ushered in the Golden Age of sculpture, and this act today, to scatter his ashes in the place he, and many of you have called home for over half a century, makes him a true son of the soil.
“Blomefield was the shining example of what our ministry aspires to promote. He personified the 10 pillars of the creative and cultural industries that we are engaging now and we will, with the help of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, continue to support Tengenenge Sculpture Community, as he has left all of us a bountiful inheritance that shall, from hereon, stand the test of time.
“We hope that the spirit of Tengenenge shall continue to honour the legacy of Blomefield forever more.”
National Gallery of Zimbabwe executive director Raphel Chikukwa praised Blomefield for embracing the African culture during his lifetime.
“Tom was buried in an African way as he became part and parcel of the community which included Mozambicans, Malawians, Angolans and Zambians, among others. He was very accommodative of other communities despite him being a Dutch farmer.
“The Gule Wamkulu was leading proceedings at the burial as he was initiated in the Nyau culture. Some of us see it as naive and pagan yet these are other people’s cultures,” Chikukwa said.
“These communities are part and parcel of Zimbabwe as they were born and bred here. Their parents and grandparents came here as migrant workers and they got assimilated into different cultures including Nyau,” he said
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe promised to research more on Tengenenge Sculpture Community for the benefit of the community.
“As a gallery and researchers, we need to dig deeper into the history of Tengenenge as we always find new information every day.
“Our next project as cultural leaders is to urge our community to appreciate local art. Our artists are appreciated elsewhere but not here. Imagine, a number of countries were represented at the burial, from Germany, the Czech embassies among others,” Chikukwa said.