Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
Burning love for plants inspired two young Bulawayo people to combine sculpture and horticulture to create stunning, life-sustaining works of art.
They create sculptures made of plants inspired by their beautiful natural environment.
Their amazing life-size botanical sculptures bring magical fairy-tale landscapes to life in Bulawayo.
Mr. Simba Ncube (30) and Mrs. Fikile Mlalazi (23), both from Gumtree in Umguza district, just outside Bulawayo, create stunning sculptures; of birds, life-size human beings or giant animals whose figurative silhouette is impressively realistic and recognizable.
The art, known as living sculpture, is a concept they replicated from the Montreal Botanical Garden located in Quebec, Canada.
The Montreal Botanical Garden is recognized as one of the largest botanical gardens in the world with a collection of 22,000 plant species, 10 exhibition greenhouses and more than 20 thematic gardens spread over 75 hectares.
The picturesque garden, founded in 1931 by Canadian botanist Frère Marie-Victorin, is also a perfect place to enjoy the fresh air and natural beauty.
Living sculpture is any type of sculpture created with living, growing herbs, vines, plants, or trees. It can be functional and/or ornamental.
Sculptors throughout the ages have traditionally worked with non-living media such as clay, plaster, glass, bronze or even plastic.
While sculpting plants is not a new idea, its recent rediscovery by artists, horticulturists, gardeners and young people has given living sculpture groundbreaking popularity.
Mr. Ncube, a landscape designer, said he developed a passion for living sculpture after discovering it on the internet four years ago.
“In fact, it’s an idea we saw on the internet after visiting the Montreal Botanical Garden website and noticing that they have built a plant sculpture museum. We liked the idea and then 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 at first we did trial and error until we finally mastered the art and perfected it after three years of trying.
I’m 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 the living sculpture offers a very attractive 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 we use are a vital part of the sculpture and they have needs that must be met to keep the sculpture alive, and therefore may require special horticultural skills, such as grafting, to create the art,” said he declared.
“It is not an easy task to create an image using steel and wire mesh.
This work of art is not common in Zimbabwe let alone in Africa and the idea is to show our talent and earn a living.
Mr Ncube said they have yet to enter the market and recently sold a sculpture in Victoria Falls for $300.
“It was our first product to hit the market.
We hope that as we grow we will explore more opportunities and expand our business, especially taking into account that we have no competitors at this time,” he said. .
Their wire mesh sculptures are mostly in the form of animals and humans with vines and plant material grown on them.
The sculptures take the form of animals and humans and some of the notable sculptures in their nursery depict a couple kissing another (ideal for weddings), 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 replied: “We started this four years ago and it has been quite a long and bumpy journey for us.
It was 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 completed a degree in business studies, said she met Mr Ncube while he was doing landscaping work at a house in Bulawayo.
“I became interested in what he was doing and decided to partner with him until we decided to try plant sculpting.
We do horticultural science and the art of training plants to take the shape you want and that is only limited by your own imagination,” she said.
“We first create a desired frame and then join it by welding to reinforce it.
From there we use wire mesh to wrap the frame so we can stuff moss, which acts as a mature before planting flowers.
Ms Mlalazi said the sculpture is being held for two and a half months until the flowers completely cover the frame.
“Once the wire mesh and frame were completely covered, the plant would have taken the desired shape.
This art form is about creating and mounting living works of art made primarily from plants,” she said.