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Zata Deswage – Artist of the Month May 2023

Bringing Driftwood to Life

driftwood sculpture by Zata Deswage
Drift wood sculpture by Zata Deswage

Zata Deswage is the Woza Moya Artist of the Month for May 2023. His two bull sculptures, carved from wood collected from the forest floor, are featured on our Artist’s Wall for May 2023.

We have these two sculptures up for auction on our website for May 2023. Please click here to view the auction and place your bid.

Zata sells his work at the Shongweni Farmers Market each week and we encourage you to support him there.

Early Life

Zata was born in 1983 and grew up in a rural village just outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Living near the Dombashova caves, his family earned an income through carving and selling their traditional wood sculptures to the many tourists that visited the area.

Zata comes from a family of carvers

Zata’s grandfather and six uncles were involved in the carving trade. In addition to the African sculptures for the tourists, they carved yokes for oxen, cooking spoons and plates. The wood they used was chopped from the nearby forests and they even hand-made the tools they used for carving.

Zata was involved in the work from a young age and, together with his cousin and brother, helped with the fine finishing and polishing of the wood sculptures.

The shape and grain of the driftwood inspired him

When Zata was 12 years old he found a dead branch that inspired him. He looked deeply at the shape and grain of the branch and saw that it resembled a fish. He worked with the natural elements of the branch to bring the fish carving to life.

This was a very different approach to the traditional work done by his family. Zata began to understand the importance of preserving living trees. Instead of sacrificing trees for the tourist trade he began collecting only dead/driftwood from the floors of the forest.

His work is noticed by a collector

Zata had a lucky break early on when one of his unusual sculptures was noticed by a collector. The collector ordered 10 more pieces which started Zata on his journey as a wood artist. The income from his work allowed Zata to buy his own Grade 6 school uniform.

Lost years

His plans to become a carver were interrupted when his absent father came back into his life and took him away from his grandmother. His father decided that truck driving would be a better career for him. After a few lost years, Zata was able to return home and continue his art.

Sourcing the wood

Zata currently lives in Durban, but his wood is still sourced in Zimbabwe. He walks for hours inside the indigenous forests to find the right pieces of fallen wood and carries them to an accessible place. The wood is transported back to Durban where he does his carving.

COVID destroyed his income

As with many local artists COVID destroyed his income. The resulting travel ban and closing of the market meant that Zata had no outlet for his work. Out of necessity, he took a job in a factory cutting wood for furniture.

Nasty accident

Zata had an unfortunate accident while working at the factory and cut off three of his fingers. This is a huge loss for anyone, but for an artist who relies on his hands to earn a living it is devastating!

Back to work

Zata’s hand healed very slowly, and he went through a difficult time physically and mentally. It took months before he could carve again, and when he did it was a slow and painful process. The small tourist carvings, which are his bread and butter, now took him days to complete instead of a few hours.

Facing life with a positive attitude

Zata still covers his hand with a glove, as his disability is new and still very difficult for him to talk about. Despite everything, he continues to work and faces life with a positive attitude.

Christine Standeven, the owner of the Shongweni Market, has been a great pillar of support to Zata during this difficult period.

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