Harare - A Zimbabwean sculptor defended himself on Monday after his official statue of President Robert Mugabe was widely criticised as a caricature.
Dominic Benhura was pictured in the state-run Herald newspaper standing next to the president and first lady Grace Mugabe at the unveiling of the giant stone statue outside the State House in Harare.
The carving, about twice the height of Mugabe himself, shows the 92-year-old leader with his trademark glasses and thin strip of moustache, holding up a clenched hand in salute.
"I took up the challenge and did my best. Normally, I do not do portraits. Obviously, it did not come out the way some people expected it," Benhura told AFP.
The statue was rapidly shared on social media, with many people questioning whether it bore a close resemblance to the president, who has ruled over Zimbabwe with an iron fist since 1980.
"Robert Mugabe has just been sculpturally insulted and he (has) not figured it out," newspaper proprietor and activist Trevor Ncube said on Twitter.
"If I was Robert Mugabe the dictator, I would have arrested (Benhura) and killed the statue."
Two statues of Mugabe were unveiled at State House, the president's official residence and office, on Friday.
Mugabe praised both artworks.
"This is wonderful art and the artists naturally are gifted people, absolutely gifted," he was quoted as saying by the Herald.
"To see oneself reproduced this way and that way, replicated, it's something that should be more appreciated than just by saying thank you."
Stone sculpture is a celebrated art form in Zimbabwe, and Benhura has won national prizes for his abstract work, as well as tackling subjects such as plants, trees and reptiles.
A series of his sculptures depicting children in a leapfrog game is on permanent display in front of the Harare mayoral offices.
He said it took him six months to produce the Mugabe statue but declined to say how much he was paid.
"This is our president," he told local press at the unveiling. "He is our number one so I wanted to give it a strong impression."
Mugabe has recently vowed to crack down on a wave of protests against his authoritarian rule, as public anger grows over massive unemployment, delayed government salaries and banks running short of cash.