Green lawn stretched out from St. Paul College catching the eastern sunshine. The whine of electric saws buzzed through the air and a high, thin clank of metal meeting rock sang between stone sculptures in various stages of completion.
He wasn’t hard to spot. Lazarus Takawira’s impressive bulk, standing at 6′ 7" stood out amid the other sculptors. That he used hand tools exclusively also identified him as the stone cutter from Zimbabwe. "As you can see, God created me with the proper strength so that I can attack anything," Takawira smartly says.
Attack is probably the right word to use. The dolomite rock upon which he worked looked to be a 6′ x 8′ x 5′ solid box. Collected from within the state of Minnesota, it was one of fourteen potential sculptures. Public Art St. Paul sponsored an International Stone Carving Symposium which lasted from May 22 to June 30 of this year.
Takawira sat quietly talking to me, but after a time began to hammer on his rock, sharp shards flew out, first biting into his weather-worn skin before making their way to sting my arms and hands.
"When we first came here last month, what happened was, we were told to choose the stone we want. As I was walking around this (particular stone began) to talk to me and to say, ‘Lazarus, can you have me?’ then I picked it up. As I picked it up, I started working with it, not knowing what was going to come out. At the end of the day when I was working with it, here comes a sculpture; it’s a woman like that (he points to another ten-foot-high stone sculpture of a woman’s head) and the title of this sculpture is called Too Much in My Head."
Takawira carves wonderful Shona sculptures and also tells illuminating stories, not quite parabolic and yet, broad enough in character and situation so as to tell the story of every woman and every man.
Many of Takawira’s pieces revolve around his relationship to women. "You see, in Africa, there are some of our men, they don’t handle properly their wives. You see, they abuse them. Some of the churches they say, ‘we don’t want a woman to preach because she’s a sinner.’ Then my question to them is, ‘a sinner?! Who is a not a sinner?’ They say, ‘a woman is the one who ate the apple.’ Then I say, ‘where was Adam?’ and they don’t have an answer for that one. Now I’m saying to my only people, please try to handle your wife properly," says Takawira, ever sympathetic to the plight of the African woman.
He then told me the story that the Minnesota stone had divulged to him before he began his sculpture for Public Art St. Paul. "In the event that this woman (the subject of his sculpture) was in trouble, for instance I’m going to give you a very good example. In Zimbabwe there is a dog called Jack. If you want to play with Jack, if you handle it very hard, it’s going to bite you. But if you handle it very carefully, it’s going to walk with you all over the land. Women must be handled appropriately, don’t handle them like slaves of work, whatever, I don’t believe that…Now this woman she’s now thinking it’s better to either divorce this man or commit suicide. Those two choices. Now comes the Peacemaker. I’m the Peacemaker and I’ll settle this—Too Much in My Head." (chuckle)
Some of the stones are nearly complete. Takawira’s stone has only just begun to take on a recognizable shape. "We are finishing at the end of this month. But let me tell you this. When a woman is pregnant, she doesn’t give you time when she gives birth. I don’t think this is going to be finished on the 29th. I am committed to coming here next year. It will wait for me," says Takawira. Besides, he informs me, "my art critic is not here. My wife is my art critic."
Before hammering in earnest, Takawira tells me about how he came to stone carving. "If I come today and say I’m one of the best artists, but I forget my mother, I’m making a very big blunder. In 1962, my mother used to, when I was going to school, she used to say, ‘can you finish my sculpture?’ And I used to say, ‘I don’t know how to do anything, it’s a very dirty job and I don’t like it.’ But at the end of 1962, I did this sculpture called, Looking Backwards, it’s an eagle. And my mother asked me what was the title and I thought to myself: looking backwards, I was doing very wrong things. I didn’t look forward. Now this is a beautiful job and I started to dream that. Then I became interested in sculpture from 1962 up to now. My father was a um, well he was a politician, but I’m not a politician myself. He was into politics and I didn’t follow his steps." Then the chips are flying off his hammer, knifing the air, piercing his skin and mine.