Mashudu Netsianda, senior reporter
THE ardent love of plants inspired two Bulawayo youths to combine sculpture and horticulture to create amazing works of art that sustain life.
They make sculptures of plants, inspired by their beautiful natural environment.
Their amazing botanical life-size sculptures bring magical fairytale landscapes to life in Bulawayo.
Mr. Simba Ncube (30) and Mrs. Fikile Mlalazi (23) both from Gumtree in the Umguza district, just outside Bulawayo, make beautiful sculptures; of birds, life-sized people or gigantic animals whose figurative contours are impressively realistic and recognizable.
Known as living sculpture, the art is a concept they replicated from the Montreal Botanical Gardens in Quebec, Canada.
Montreal Botanical Garden is recognized as one of the world’s largest botanical gardens with a collection of 22,000 plant species, 10 exhibition greenhouses, and more than 20 themed gardens spread over 75 acres.
Founded in 1931 by Canadian botanist Brother Marie-Victorin, the picturesque garden is also a perfect place to enjoy fresh air and natural beauty.
Living sculpture is any type of sculpture made with living, growing grasses, vines, plants or trees. It can be functional and/or decorative.
Sculptors throughout the ages have traditionally worked with non-living media such as clay, plaster, glass, bronze or even plastic.
While plant sculpting is not a new idea, its recent rediscovery by artists, horticulturists, gardeners and young people has given living sculpture an innovative popularity.
Mr Ncube, a landscape architect, 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 built a plant sculpture museum. We liked the idea and decided to replicate it afterwards,” 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 trial and error until we finally got the hang of the art and after three years trying to perfect it.
I am a landscape gardener and we really like plants so when we saw this idea we were curious and wondered how it was done.”
Mr Ncube said that living sculpture offers a very attractive mix of art and science.
“Creating a living image gives you the opportunity to bring your own unique vision or idea to life.
The plants we use are an essential part of the sculpture and they have needs that must be met to keep the sculpture alive, and so special horticultural skills, such as grafting, may be needed to create the art,” he said.
“It is not an easy task to create an image with steel and wire mesh.
This artwork is not common in Zimbabwe, let alone Africa, and the whole idea is to showcase our talent and make a living.”
Mr Ncube said they have yet to penetrate the market and they recently sold a sculpture in Victoria Falls for US$300.
“That was our first product to hit the market.
We hope that as we grow, we will explore more opportunities and expand our business, especially considering that we have no competitors at the moment,” he said.
Their mesh sculptures are usually shaped like animals and humans with vines and plant material on them.
The sculptures take the form of animals and people and some of the remarkable sculptures in their nursery depict a couple kissing others (great for wedding venues), a lion and a rabbit.
Mr Ncube said a sculpture needs constant watering and trimming as part of routine maintenance and to keep it in shape.
Ms Mlalazi weighed in: “We started this four years ago and it’s 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 learned from our mistakes and corrected them.”
Ms Mlalazi, who recently graduated with a degree in business administration, said she met Mr Ncube while he was planting a garden at a house in Bulawayo.
“I became interested in what he was doing and decided to work with him until we decided to try plant sculpture.
We’re doing horticultural science and the art of training plants to take on a desired shape and it’s only limited by your own imagination,” she said.
“First we create a desired frame, then we weld it together to reinforce it.
From there, we’ll use wire mesh to wrap the frame so we can cram in moss, which will act as mature before flowers are planted.
Ms Mlalazi said the statue will be kept for two and a half months while they wait for the flowers to completely cover the frame.
“When the mesh and frame are completely covered, the plant would have taken on the desired shape.
This form of art involves creating and assembling living works of art made primarily from plants,” she said.