By Novell Zwangendaba – JOHANNESBURG – Randburg-based visual artist, Benjamin Tuge is to say the least,a standalone talent. He is such a versatile sculptor, a master carver of thought-provoking woodcarvings , a satirical landscape and portrait painter, a spiritual scribe, and a visionary thinker. Born in 1 969 in Masvingo, a town in south-eastern Zimbabwe and the capital of vaKaranga people. He was raised in a town close to Great Zimbabwe, the national monument from which the country takes its name Zimbabwe. In this town Tuge endured a rural upbringing as an unknown herdboy and from humble beginnings as a village artist, he has risen to become one of the most promising sculptors to have emerged from the troubled Southern African country.
As a sculptor who specialises in human figures, Tuge’s fine art, abstract and contemporary works are created with various types of woods , metal, paintings, and stone.
He enjoys exploring African lifestyle and culture. He develops art images where the traditional way of life of the African people is portrayed, and adds a touch of humour in detail.
His art pieces tell us the stories about life and the spirit of the African people.
Tuge favours Ironwood for carving because “these woods have texture and grain suited to his style of work.”
“I started the work of art at a tender age of five. That time my fans were my peers in the village. Whilst herding cattle, I used to enthuse them with drawings on sand.”
“At school art was my favourite subject, while the teacher was elaborating on a certain subject, I would grasp a word or two and start creating images and works of art,”
Tuge received his Primary education from Mafuba Primary School in Masvingo , and furthered his Secondary education at Zengeza High School in Chitungwiza.
He got his Art training at Driefontein Mission in the year 1990 to 1992, under the instruction of the late Cornealius Manguma. During Manguma’s era, a renowned art instructor the mission produced notable talents such as prominent artist Bernard Matemera, and Tuge’s own elder brother Gilbert.
The artist vividly recalls the days artists would live and eat art at the Driefontein Mission, ” Those days were great my friend. Manguma’s works were well known in places such as the USA, Italy, Germany,England, Spain and other places in Europe. Whenever he toured these countries, our works too would accompany him.”
“Now my worry is the institutions like Driefontein are not as active as they used to be, and the situation does not allow the nurturing of future artists and talents, ” lamented Tuge. “I am very much worried because many great artists including the one who did the famous nyaminyami came from Driefontein.”
Later on in the year 1993, Tuge relocated to Bulawayo where he worked for Sondelani Exports, an arts boutique which was owned by Jewish collector Bezel Stein. As a resident artist there at Sondelani he received mentoring and further training from Stein until the time he departed and went solo in the year 1996.
“During the 193-96 period I majored in fine art, and from then onwards I took a serious turn to wooden art and stone sculptures.”
Following his brief stint at Sondelani, he turned his attention to exhibitions but due to lack of resources he only managed to take part in one exhibition held at the National art Gallery in 1997.
His work is included in many of the South Africa’s’ premier galleries and boutiques. He has sold extensively in the United States, Canada and Italy, and has had numerous expositions including exhibitions held successfully in art galleries such Everard Read gallery in Johannesburg. His art has appealed to several individual collectors local and abroad.
He also attended the Artists Under the Sun workshop programme, where he learnt other contemporary art forms under the direction of experienced artists from different parts of Africa.
His work has been widely selected for private collections and commissions, including some by European collectors.
Tuge is inspired by the beauty of nature, he primarily works with raw materials like wood, stone, peatier , bronze, steel, and stainless steel. His style ranges from representational to abstract typically using the human figure and nature’s organic shapes as his subject.
An example of Tuge’s work in peatier, “NGOKO (DUNG-BEATTLE) My passion, my tradition, my food”, probes the FIFA World Cup 2010 fever, as the world sets attention on the premiere soccer spectacle to be held in South Africa in June this year.
One of his pieces, a carved woman dancing on top of an African drum, depicts scenes of craftsmanship, arts and cultural life in Southern Africa.
As an example of his broad range of talent, he is a sculptor/model-maker who has designed commissioned statuettes and homewares for many years.
To see Tuge’s creations visit his home studio in Randburg. He will be doing wood carving demonstrations and idea refreshments will be served. (www.artmajeur.com/bentuge)