As early as 6 or 7, sculptor Peter Rujuwa was carving soapstone into animals in his village in Zimbabwe. He never thought it would lead to a career; because his father thought his art was disturbing to his schoolwork, he pursued accounting. He worked in administration and management for an insurance company before returning to art. But now, he sells his stone and wood sculptures at exhibitions and museums in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
As refugees from Zimbabwe, Rujuwa and his entire family moved to Indiana eight years ago. They left, he said, because of the oppressive political environment. “You just have to follow the leader blindly, which is not a part of me. I’m not a political person, but I like to be able to express my views.”
He and his wife, an administrative assistant for Indiana University, and children live on the Southside, and he works out of his home. He uses the stone he buys for sculpting as decorative rock in his backyard until he decides to work with it, using a basic chisel and mallet, sharp iron spikes, files, sandpaper and beeswax. The shape of the rock, he said, dictates what he will carve from it. “The medium must dictate what I’m going to carve eventually,” he explained. “It’s like looking at a cloud. The more you look at it, the more you see something. And as you cut the stone, the image can change into something even better.”
He works on several pieces at once, occasionally abandoning one for a while before coming back to it. Forcing a piece, he said, is a mistake. He specializes in the themes of family unity, wildlife and love; currently, his unfinished projects include a stone fisherman and a lion and lioness on the hunt, carved from wood. Other than being taught to use a chisel, Rujuwa has never received any formal art lessons, and his first tools were homemade — chisels shaped, sharpened and cut from iron rods.
The education he did have came from informal gatherings around an established artist. His favorite, Mischek Chipunza, has had a great influence on his style and career. Rujuwa himself is open to mentoring aspiring sculptors; if someone is interested in learning the basics, he’s happy to help. The artist’s personal taste, he has found, has very little to do with what others want to buy. “There’s no rubbish in art; everything you do is good. The first ones to go (sell) were the ones I thought were the worst. Anyone can do sculpture if they want to, if they have the patience to start.”
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