There is only one place art lovers can view and acquire stunning sculptures created by Israel Chikumbirike, whom many call the “Michelangelo of Africa.” Jeff Morris’ new Mweya Gallery in Long Branch’s downtown district exclusively represents Chikumbirike and fellow Zimbabwean sculptor Robin Kutinyu.

“These artists are masters in their respective genres, and their creations are deeply spiritual with traditional ties with messages that transcend everyone’s diverse backgrounds,” said Morris. “We have created a showcase so Israel and Robin can share their gifts with the world.” Prior to opening, the gallery space was gutted and completely renovated to Morris’ vision.

An expert in African art, Morris previously owned the acclaimed Afridesia Gallery, which occupied two Red Bank locations, first on Broad Street and afterward on Bridge Avenue, between 1998 and 2003.

“Once I closed the gallery, I started importing large outdoor sculptures,” he explained. Since 1998 he has placed pieces in private collections nationwide as well as in Canada and Europe. He began curating Zimbabwean contemporary sculptures in 1996, the year he met Chikumbirike on his first buying trip.

Nicole Spread

“We met stone carvers through a friend,” recalled Morris.

“After we bought from one, they would take us to another and so on. Eventually we were led into a yard where I saw a beautiful large green sculpture, the most lifelike I had ever seen. Out walked this man with a big smile and an obvious gentleness. It was Israel.” One and a half years later, as Afridesia opened, the men began their business relationship through an exclusive agreement.

Chikumbirike, who has no formal training, is legally blind in one eye. His art career began as a youthful hobby that became a serious pursuit. The sculptor begins his pieces by visiting quarries until he “sees an old spirit” wanting to be released from the stone. He works primarily in verdite, a light to dark green metamorphic rock. Success, however, brought demands for marketable custom creations at odds with his artistic vision. He opted for a life of artistic seclusion to continue his personal spiritual journey, he said.

Robin Kutinyu, who works in bronze and stone, has been surrounded by art his entire life as his father was an acclaimed sculptor who specialized in wildlife and oil painting. By age five he was finishing his father’s pieces and selling his first collection of birds and turtles at ten. Ever since, he has been “completely absorbed by the movement and anatomy of animals, the human figure, and sculpture.” Known to travel thousands of miles to find an unexplored quarry to source stone, Kutinyu has studied Donatello, Bernini, and Rodin to enhance his understanding of how the human body can be presented.

“I’ve seen many talented artists in my 13 visits to Africa, where I have viewed over a million sculptures,” said Morris. “These gentlemen are the best of the best. One almost waits for the piece to speak or walk of the pedestal. Mweya (pronounced m-way-a) means ‘spirit’ in the local language of central Zimbabwe.”

The art Morris presents “has been heavily scrutinized regarding subject, material selection, workmanship, and finishing,” he said.

“Over the years Israel, Robin, and I have formed a personal relationship,” he continued. “I want to get their art in front of people who can appreciate it and give them the exposure and affirmation they deserve. I believe the greatest art is a spiritual expression, which knows no age or era. The art of Africa has its source in the most ancient spiritual roots of humankind. We look forward to introducing art collectors or seekers of all generations and backgrounds to view these pieces up close.”

Due to COVID-19, Morris is operating by appointment only as of press time.
659 Broadway, Long Branch / / 732.443.4650