What’s in a name?… Tradition from Zimbabwe

TafuraHeartToHeartThe naming of a child holds importance in Shona culture. A child’s name might indicate what was happening historically when they were born, it might hint at a struggle within that particular family, or perhaps provide insight into the hopes and dreams for the child. As someone with a very distinct first name (and one that does not come from my language and culture), I’ve often given a lot of thought to the power of names and what my Shona name should be. At a recent event, I heard a powerful performance by Nigerian youth slam poet, Toluwanimi Obiwole, that strengthened my own views about our cultural naming traditions and the affirmations that come when we, and others, embrace our African names.

With the birth of my first child, who is growing up in a white majority culture as part of the Zimbabwean diaspora, naming took on a different type of importance. My son’s name, Kwayedza, was a marker of his cultural and racial identity — a connection to the culture that we are trying to instill in him despite being far from family members speaking Shona, the rural environment of my hometown of Nyanga, or the cultural responsibilities he’d be learning along with his peers.

In his 3+ years of life, we’ve become somewhat accustomed to people’s struggles to say his name and (disappointingly) their desire to assign their own nickname for him. Other times we’ve experienced the validation of his identity when people make a special effort to learn his name. To our family, this effort is one way that people show they truly value inclusion. It makes me feel that my child — his full self — is being seen.


Among my grandparents’ and parents’  generations, you commonly hear British and Christian names. Other times, you might hear names like Gift, Memory, or Forget. British colonizers did not allow children to attend school with Shona names, so they translated them directly into English when parents went to collect their baby’s birth certificate. Parents were often told their child’s Shona name was ugly. Our names are the reminders of the minute and massive ways that our culture has been erased. As an artist and human defined by my belief in centering my African-ness, I am always in the process of deepening my understanding of how my culture was lost, can possibly be found again, and is at risk of being torn from us each day. When I’m sculpting in the tradition of my grandfather, I’m reminded of what I seek to carry on to the next generation — in the stone, in my children’s names, in the power of my language, and the depth of our traditional spiritual truths.

This is what is on my mind as I sculpt each day, contemplating the simultaneous weight and lightness of naming our second child in the weeks to come.

From the (snow) covered studio… Uncovering warmth & life in the stone

More than IvoryThe winter is a challenging time for someone who typically enjoyed 80 degree days growing up in Zimbabwe. During the snowy Colorado winter, I have to make a special effort to seek out things that warm my soul and inspire me in the studio.

For the average person from the African continent, life is directly tied to movement and rhythm. When I feel frozen (literally and figuratively!), I return to movement and music. You’ll frequently find me listening to old school favorites by beloved Shona musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. This is often the cure for any “artist-block” that I experience.

There’s no shortage of movement inspiration in our house — my wife is a dancer and my son, Kwayedza, (like most 3 year-olds) seems to never stop! Whether Kwayedza is expressing himself while listening to his favorite Congolese soukous music, or imitating a jumping frog, I find inspiration in his energy. When my hands are feeling a little too icy to keep sculpting, or the snow covered scenery isn’t motivating me in the studio, I retreat to our home where the energy of Kwayedza warms my soul.

When I look back on my work from 2015, I see this focus on movement and rhythm reflected in my sculpture. My latest piece is undoubtedly influenced by the playfulness in my life (how can you get more playful than leap frog?).

As I dream of the summer temperatures and Colorado sun warming me in the backyard while I tap away with my hammer and chisel, I’m reminded that there will be no shortage of energy in the Tafura home soon… we’ll be welcoming a new sculptor in June 2016. More inspiration to come!

Best wishes in this snowy season,



My Latest Collaborator

My 2 year old son, Kwayedza, seems to talk nonstop these days. One of his favorite things to talk about is “Baba working” (which seems to always include a hand gesture, mimicking a hammer tapping a chisel). His sweet little voice opens my heart, especially when he asks for his boots (his favorite sculpting attire!) and his tiny hammer.
He chisels and files away at his opal stone while I chip away at my latest piece. Working side by side with him brings me a little closer to home, where I typically sculpt alongside my mother and my uncles. We offer each other artistic advice, intersperse our work with jokes and enjoy listening to Zimbabwean music together while we sculpt.

The creation of a piece doesn’t happen in isolation from family and friends; for me, the latter are integral elements that feed my soul and have a direct impact on the artistic process and finished work. And while I can’t be surrounded by my large family of sculptors these days, I have a pretty good sculptor in training to keep me company and lend inspiration to my work!

More than Ivory: Standing with the Elephant

IMG_2831For years, many people have asked me about the sculpture, titled “Elephant Shadow,” that reserves a special space on my business card. I attempted to capture the mystifying spirit of this powerful creature, but I also wanted to convey my own devastation at humankind’s destruction over this earth. In a way, the piece felt like an apology to the natural elements that we have so carelessly destroyed.

It sounds like a pretty heavy topic, and while this is true, the piece was also a way for me to express a sense of hopefulness — that we can tread more lightly on this earth, with more respect for all creatures and the environment.

This is on my mind more than ever since the birth of my son, who’s now two years old. I think we can agree that this message still needs to be heard — wildlife organizations fear the African elephant could be extinct in the next decade or two. I’m interested in creating art that inspires rich conversation in families and our communities and reminds us of who we must strive to be, so that the power of our natural world is still here for future generations. Let’s use art to inspire change!

Contact Marissa@TafuraSculpture.com for dimensions and pricing on this new piece.

Broken stone: Finding answers where you least expect


When visiting a collector’s home recently, we were discussing the artistic process of sculpting a piece from its earliest conception, when the couple asked, “What if the stone breaks just as you’re at the final phase of finishing the piece?”. Many people — who’ve grasped the tremendous amount of dedication it often takes to bring a stone from its raw form into an expressive entity with its own personality — ask me this question.

When I approach a raw stone, I must be equipped with a variety of tools (beyond the obvious chisels, hammer and sandpaper) and the most important device is my own mindset — my emotional balance and perceptive abilities. I must remain humble. Like a raging river that will prove its power by drowning you, the stone will often remind you that we cannot conquer the power of the natural world. I have to be in dialogue with the stone, and meet it on its terms, with respect.

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There’s often an unexpected twist or turn in the conversation with the stone. I’m tapping, tapping the chisel with my hammer. My heart feels full today because the process is heading just where I want it to go. Spring weather is coming and the memory of snow mounds are finally melting. In a short breath, my contentment abruptly deflates. The stone cracked. The upper portion of the piece lays there lifelessly.

I have two options: discard everything into a pile of rubble or continue the conversation. I choose to listen. When I do, I sometimes I find answers where I least expect them. Often, a beautiful piece is born because I’ve remained open to what my conscious mind could not conceive.

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Sharing Memories of Christmas in Zimbabwe

Although Christmas is not part of our indigenous culture or religion in Zimbabwe, and our holiday is very different from how families celebrate in the U.S., the true meaning is very much the same. For kids in Zimbabwe, Christmas is a magical time. And at the heart of the celebration is family – just as it is in the U.S. and in other places in the world. 

While my U.S. born wife reminisces about the magical feeling associated with Santa and his reindeer, I recall the excitement associated with exotic food and new clothes reserved just for the December celebrations. I also associate it with the return of loved ones who had moved to the cities.

As part of our countdown to Christmas, kids would fantasize about the enormous amounts of unique foods we’d eat on Christmas day, saying things like, “I’m going to fill my stomach until it bursts!” or “I’m going to eat until I’m full to my throat!”, while rubbing our little hands together in anticipation. We’d count the coins we’d saved throughout the year, predicting how much we’d have to spend on treats to celebrate our special day.

Every Christmas, my grandfather would slaughter a cow or goat and we would braai (grill) a portion of the meat, while drying the remaining meat on a line hanging above the kitchen fire. Other coveted food and treats included fat coeks (homemade donuts), fresh bread made on the fire, jam and butter, soda, and rice (in place of our staple, sadza). We enjoyed non-indigenous fruit, like apples and oranges. This fueled our imaginations as to what the city and life beyond Zimbabwe must be like.

On Christmas morning, we would complete the usual routine of milking the cows, and then we’d go fetch water to bathe or go to the river to wash ourselves. We dressed up in our new clothes, and although the pair of trousers from my grandparents didn’t quite match with shirt gifted to me from my uncle, it didn’t matter to me.

Later in the day, all the kids gathered together and set off on the 20-mile walk to the shops, where we bought candy, biscuits (cookies), and Center Cools (unfrozen freezer pops, since we didn’t have refrigeration). As we approached the shops, we could hear music blasting from speakers, as each store competed with another for the highest quality stereo and the latest music from Zimbabwe’s best musicians. I would start feeling nervous, with adrenalin pumping through me and butterflies in my stomach – all because of the excitement of the unknown. The area would be overflowing with people dressed in their finest clothes.

After buying our treats, we ate our candy and saved the best item for last. We’d wander around chomping on our chewing gum like we were at an exhibition. Once in a while we would squeeze into a crowded store to bust out our best move on the dance floor.

On the long walk home, we’d show off our biscuits and Center Cools to our friends. Although we were bragging in a sense, we would always share our treats, because generosity with food is one of the most highly valued traits in our culture.

As a boy, I may have dreamed of the glamorous city lifestyle and fancy toys, but even at a young age, I knew that my culture, village life, and close-knit family are what defined my happiness. When our enormous family all gathered in one place for Christmas, life felt complete.

Zimbabwean Sculptors Bring Art to Stone

Thanks to Kenneth Jessen and the Loveland Reporter-Herald for a wonderful article, detailing the work of me and my mother, Agnes Nyanhongo. It’s always a special opportunity to share some of  the more specific details about what motivates my work and what I’m striving to convey.

Read the full article here.

Carving Out Community

IMG_2089After two weeks of sculpting workshops with two different groups of students, I’m feeling energized and inspired. That is quite a feat considering the whirlwind of the last 6 weeks — full of travel to summer art shows, joining SmithKlein Gallery, and many hours in the studio.

Students from New Hampshire, Utah, Missouri, California, and Colorado gathered at Chapungu Sculpture Park, a beautiful outdoor park with walking paths, tree-shaded areas and native plants designed around the 82 Shona stone sculptures that are on permanent display. Determined to find their artistic voice, the students transformed raw opal stones into completed sculptures. While we had several students who had attended my workshops in the past, we also had several beginning students who were learning the technique for the first time.

One of the most beautiful parts of the experience for me was the way that our little communities grew in such a short time. Students’ enthusiasm, personalities and varying skill levels created a diverse group that made everyone feel valued and included.

In Zimbabwe and most cultures in Africa, community is an essential part of life. There is a concept called “ubuntu” — which means “I am because we are.” It emphasizes the importance of every person in the community and acknowledges the limitations of the individual without the support of others.

This is what was on my mind as I watched the students bond in such a short time. They even included passers-by in the sculpting experience, sharing information about Shona stone sculpture with people visiting the park and inspiring others to attend my workshops in the future.

Students were fortunate to also be taught by my mother, Agnes Nyanhongo, who was also my first teacher. Her calm demeanor, patience and confidence in the students washed away their moments of self-doubt, as many explored this medium for the first time.

On the last day, we gathered to share Zimbabwean food, nhopi — butternut squash cooked with peanut butter — and mutakura, a dish made of beans and maize. When we finished eating, my mother spontaneously sang a few lines from a traditional song, about being satisfied after a wonderful meal.  I shared a bit about my own journey as a sculptor, the influence of my upbringing and the topics I am most inspired to communicate through my work.

While my son played by my feet, I thought about his own life journey and my wish that whatever path he follows, he gets to pursue what he is most passionate about, in a supportive, vibrant and inspiring community.

Creative Process: From the Quarry to the Gallery

As a boy, I traveled to the stone quarries with my uncles, sometimes in search of stones with particular shapes, driven by an artistic idea. Other times we sought out a variety of shapes and sizes, which would guide us — essentially letting the raw, natural qualities drive the artistic possibilities. IMG_0649

Stones are extracted using block and tackle. In order to move a large stone down the mountain, several men use levers to roll the stone.

Most people in the U.S. are stunned to learn that the stone I sculpt comes all the way from Zimbabwe. While Colorado offers marble and other types of beautiful stone, I prefer to carve the stone I became familiar with as a young child, learning from my grandfather, uncles and mother.

When carving, I rely almost exclusively on hand tools so that I can better respond to the natural qualities of the stone and make adjustments gradually as I work.


I start by removing portions of raw stone, but I leave other oxidized areas of the stone intact so that in almost all of my pieces, you can see part of the natural element in its original form. I use chisels, files and rasps in order to define and smooth parts of the stone. If I want to achieve a polished look on portions, the stone is heated and a clear wax is applied.

Working in stone is incredibly fascinating to me because I’m forced to comply with its natural qualities. The stone’s color variations can either help something about the sculpture — like a face — to really stand out, making the piece even more beautiful than you had imagined.

When I’m able to humble myself and surrender to the innate properties of the stone, I find that my art really communicates something in a universal and authentic way. That is always my goal.


Stalin Tafura Makes His Mark Through Traditional Stone and Traditional Bronze Sculpture

We are very excited to announce a major development in the career of artist Stalin Tafura. Tafura, a third generation artist from Zimbabwe, has worked exclusively with stone since childhood and is now introducing his work in limited edition bronzes. Monuments_BoxStudio_front

Tafura has been an artist in residence exhibiting with Chapungu garden exhibits throughout the world and is the son of renowned sculptress, Agnes Nyanhongo. Tafura has been recognized as one of the most promising sculptors of his generation.

Tafura has won international recognition from one of the best fine art foundries in the world. TMC Foundry in Thailand has published artists from every continent, including Kevin Box and J. Seward Johnson Jr. from the U.S., David Meredith from the U.K., and now Stalin Tafura from Zimbabwe.

InART 2This has resulted in Tafura’s stone originals increasing in price as he joins the ranks of historical sculptors like Henry Moore, Miro and Picasso, who cast their traditional stone and wood originals in bronze. See this new generation of bronze pieces at InART Gallery in Santa Fe and at Sculpture in the Park in Loveland, Colorado on August 8-10, 2014.

Tafura will be teaching a stone carving workshop, August 18-23, 2014 at Chapungu Sculpture Park in Loveland, Colorado. Due to high demand, the workshop is filled beyond capacity.

Please join us in celebrating this achievement with Tafura as he and his family of works take on new heights.