In a tiny shop at the Waterfront, Boniface Chikwenhere carves away at a beautiful piece of wood.
Quietly, patiently he works his chisel and before long a giraffe’s face emerges from the brown wood.
Once complete, this African animal will join the other beautiful sculptures of birds, elephants, rhinos and turtles on display; each showing off its unique design, each a testament to nature’s beauty.
Using driftwood as his choice of material, the soft-spoken Zimbabwean-born artist explains how the wood provides a “unique edge” due to its weathered state.
“My job is to interpret what nature has already sculptured,” Boniface says humbly.
Besides nature he also acknowledges his grandfather Vhashi Chikwenhere who taught him how to “read shapes and objects”.
Born in a tiny mining town called KweKwe, Boniface comes from a long line of family who worked with either stone or wood.
“KweKwe has a lot of soapstone which is easy to work with because it is a soft stone but I fell in love with wood around 12. I found it was better to work with because it already had character.”
Married at a young age with two children, Boniface recalls the hardship he experienced working in Harare.
“It was becoming difficult to raise a family in Zimbabwe. I had just lost my job and even with work, inflation was so high my salary would be up within two or three days.”
These harsh living conditions prompted Boniface to search for greener pastures which he found when he relocated with his family to South Africa in 2013.
Living in Cape Town has given him the freedom to “dream bigger” he says. He wasted no time in establishing himself as a serious artist and started selling his sculptures at the Country Craft market in Somerset West.
Today Boniface runs his own business called Unique Driftwood Creations which employs seven people. He hosts regular exhibitions at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens through the South African Society of Artists (SASA) of which he is a member.
His wood is imported from Zimbabwe and Namibia and is cleaned and fumigated before he starts sculpting.
In 2014, he went into partnership with Hermanus-based artist Malcolm Bowling who displays Boniface’s pieces in his gallery.
But despite his business success, Boniface prefers to spend his time sculpting in his workshop at his home in Strand. Two months ago he started visiting Rietvlei Nature Reserve to draw inspiration for future pieces.
He says customers request sculptures of different animals all the time but his favourite animal to recreate is the bird.
“I’ve always had a fascination with them from a very young age. I like their movement and each has its own core and character.”
He especially enjoys waterbirds with the African Darter and King Fisher being two of his favourites.
Some of his top honours include a trophy for best sculpture from the SASA for 2016/17 and an award for best art stand at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn.
“The political situation and environment did not allow me to flourish as an artist in my country. Being here has allowed me to follow my passion,” said Boniface.