Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE ardent love for plants inspired two Bulawayo youths into combining sculpture and horticulture to create amazing works of art that are life-sustaining.
They create sculptures made of plants from inspiration drawn from their beautiful natural surroundings.
Their astonishing botanical life-size sculptures bring magical fairy-tale landscapes to life in Bulawayo.
Mr Simba Ncube (30) and Ms Fikile Mlalazi (23) both from Gumtree in Umguza District, just outside Bulawayo, create stunning sculptures; from birds, life size human beings or giant animals whose figurative outline is impressively realistic and recognisable.
The art, which is known as living sculpture, is a concept which they replicated from Montréal Botanical Gardens located in Quebec, Canada.
Montreal Botanical Garden is recognised as one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens with a collection of 22 000 plant species, 10 exhibition greenhouses and more than 20 thematic gardens spread out over 75 hectares.
The picturesque garden, which was founded in 1931 by Canadian botanist Brother Marie-Victorin, is also a perfect place to enjoy fresh air and natural beauty.
Living sculpture is any type of sculpture that is created with living, growing grasses, vines, plants or trees. It can be functional and/or ornamental.
Sculptors, through the ages, have traditionally worked with non-living media such as clay, plaster, glass, bronze, or even plastic.
Although sculpting plants isn’t a new idea, its recent rediscovery by artists, horticulturalists, gardeners and young people has given living sculpture an innovative popularity.
Mr Ncube, a landscaper, said he developed the passion for living sculpture after discovering it on the internet four years ago.
“Actually, this is an idea that we saw on the internet after visiting the Montreal Botanical Garden website and noticed that they have constructed a plant sculpture museum. We liked the idea and thereafter decided to replicate it,” he said.
Mr Ncube, a self-taught sculptor, said it took them three years to master the art.
“We are talented and in the early stages we have been doing trial and error until we finally mastered the art and perfected it after three years of trying.
I am a landscaper and we really love plants and so when we saw this idea, we were curious and wondered how it was done.”
Mr Ncube said living sculpture offers a highly appealing blend of art and science.
“Creating a living sculpture gives you the chance to bring your own unique vision or idea to life.
The plants that we use are a vital part of the sculpture and they have needs that must be met to keep the sculpture alive, and thus may require special horticultural skills, such as grafting, to create the art,” he said.
“It is not an easy task to create an image using steel and wire mesh.
This piece of art is not common in Zimbabwe let alone in Africa and the whole idea is to showcase our talent and make a living.”
Mr Ncube said they are yet to penetrate the market and recently they sold one sculpture in Victoria Falls for US$300.
“That was our first product to go to the market.
We hope as we grow, we will explore more opportunities and expand our business, particularly taking into account the fact that we don’t have any competitors at the moment,” he said.
Their wire mesh sculptures are mostly in the form of animals and human beings with vine and plant material grown on them.
The sculptures take the shape of animals and humans and some of the notable sculptures at their nursery depict a couple kissing each other (ideal for wedding venues), a lion and a rabbit.
Mr Ncube said a sculpture has to be constantly watered and trimmed as part of routine maintenance and keeping it in shape.
Ms Mlalazi weighed in: “We started this four years ago and it has been quite a long and bumpy journey for us.
It has been a learning process for us and I remember our first sculpture was a horse and the creation was disastrous, but from there, we learnt from our mistakes and corrected them.”
Ms Mlalazi, who recently graduated with a diploma in business studies, said she met Mr Ncube when he was doing landscaping at a house in Bulawayo.
“I got interested in what he was doing and decided to partner him until we decided to try plant sculpture.
We are doing horticultural science and the art of training plants to take a desired shape and it is only limited by your own imagination,” she said.
“We first create a desired frame after that we then join it through welding to strengthen it.
From there we use wire mesh to wrap the frame so that we are able to stuff in moss, which acts as mature before planting flowers.”
Ms Mlalazi said the sculpture is maintained for two and half months as they wait for the flowers to fully cover the frame.
“Once the wire mesh and the frame are fully covered, the plant would have taken the desired shape.
This form of art involves creating and mounting living artworks made mostly from plants,” she said.