Photo gallery: Great Yarmouth sculptor’s African adventure in art

A sculptor has carved his mark on the world-famous African art scene with a series of powerful works inspired by the country's edgy energy.

Jason Parr, from Gorleston, was astounded by his own prolific and stunning output while working in the heat and dust of a fading Zimbabwean summer - and has a wealth of material he hopes to share with local people through talks and presentations.

The self-taught 42-year-old was invited by the curator of the national gallery in Harare to stay in the country's third largest township during the prestigious Hifa Festival and beyond.

It meant lodging with local families and experiencing life in the raw as they eked out a living - but always with big beaming smiles which belied the grinding poverty.

But the highlight of the trip was mingling with stone carvers at the village of Tengenenge - a community of sculptors and the birth place of the modern Zimbabwean sculpture movement in the 1950s.


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Mr Parr first connected with the artisan community through a film called Talking Stones which explained its approach to art as chipping away to discover what was already inside.

And the chance to visit and quarry stone from the celebrated site for his own creations was 'the opportunity of a lifetime' which fuelled a spike in creativity leaving many Africans open-mouthed.

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In just a matter of weeks Mr Parr had hewn 12 large pieces, each at least 2ft tall, from single slabs of rocks and many smaller ones to be given away as gifts.

The festival theme of 'unevenness' perfectly chimed with his experience which saw him enjoying glass-chinking champagne receptions with high ranking officials, and coming 'home' to the impoverished township where he felt most at ease.

During the two-month trip the former Lynn Grove High School pupil was most happy working furiously in the dirt yard under a mango tree watching chiselled faces and figures emerge from black serpentine stone.

The astounding speed at which he worked and willingness to get his hands dirty helping out with chores earned him an 'honorary African' title from his genial host Timothy Akuda, a journalist who often worked for free and the grandson of a first generation sculptor.

His visit encompassed an eye-opening family funeral, serious illness -losing two stone in two days - and a lively procession of artists across all disciplines.

Carving solidly for the first five weeks he was keen to produce work of a standard that would be accepted by the national gallery - whose initial invite was based on what they saw on his website.

In the end he was elated to find that four were accepted, and Drowned for Pounds - his gift to the gallery - will remain among the collections.

Arriving in Chitzun Wiza, a township which supports one million people, he found a place of dirt roads and make-shift shops where cobblers sewed car tyres to soles and the word falling from everyone's lips was 'dollar.'

By day the township was safe and bustling but at night it developed a front-line feel where going out alone was tempting fate.

Nevertheless he did experience the township's nightlife, where the barman sold beer through a cage and a lump of raw meat to cook outside.

He said: 'Materially we are very rich but spiritually we are very poor. I was so inspired I found it hard coming back. I worked really hard and did lots of drawings too. I've just sold one of Timothy's wife and will be sending the money back to them. I went to some posh buffets with champagne but we were filling our pockets with food for the township. I felt more comfortable there. It was a dream trip.'

Mr Parr, who is currently living in Beccles, works in residential schools. His African adventure was aided by a �400 grant from Seachange Arts. He hopes to help others connect with African art via talks and presentations.

Mr Parr does work with local schools and is well-known for his totem poles.

Contact him via pasonjarr@yahoo.co.uk or 07909 864157. Visit www.pasonjarr.co.uk.

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