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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Lechwe Trust: A collection of Zambia’s 52 year journey

By Andrew Mulenga

Rummaging through the relatively small collections of contemporary art in Zambian museums it is difficult to pinpoint or rather, establish a bird’s eye view of how thematic content and creative expression has evolved in paintings over the past 50 years.

Henry Tayali, Destiny1964-65 oil on canvas, 58cm x 89cm, 
donated by the Zukas family - 
© Lechwe Trust
Largely, because the museums are intentionally ethnographic by blueprint, as leftovers of the countries colonial masters, the British, their primary role remains that of providing a curious glimpse into local cultures as a phenomenon, through the eyes of explorers, missionaries, settlers – and in a nutshell colonizers.

Most if not all the museums from the Moto Moto Museum in Mbala to the Livingstone Museum in Southern Province are a display of collected and often misunderstood and misrepresented data in the form of objects from local ethnic groupings this is not to say the collections do not have important specimens of scientific significance. Nevertheless, this remains the focus of museums, the best place to at least view any meaningful trajectory in the development of an artistic idiom in Zambia is within the older private collections – long-standing collections in Lusaka -- such as the Namwandwe Collection, Rossi Collection at Villa Lucia and the Garden Group of Hotels, The Chaminuka Collection at the Chaminuka Luxury Lodge and Game Reserve and the Lechwe Trust Collection.

Akwila Simpasa, Mother and Child, 1973,
mixed media on paper, 110cm x 60cm 
© Lechwe Trust
Even though they are private, all save for the Lechwe Trust Collection are on permanent display and open to the general public and they all possess wide ranging varieties of work from the 1960s through to the present.
As much as the Lechwe Trust Collection is the only “homeless” collection mentioned here, it has some of the most unique examples of contemporary Zambian art that date back to the 1960s in a traceable path. It has more than 300 paintings, prints, ceramics and sculptures and these are works by not only the Zambian greats but by a younger generation of artists that have shown exceptional talent that is worthy of display in a notable collection, so you will find works from the likes of the legendary Akwila Simpasa to the young and gifted Ignatius Sampa. Again what is significant about the collection is that it’s underlying strength is that it demonstrates how Zambian artists have sought to find their own visual voice over the years, they have been attempting to break the yoke of an aesthetic that has appealed to a Euro-American collector base and is characterized by paintings of wildlife and rural scenes that evoke an idyllic, unadulterated Africa such as giraffe drinking water or children drawing water from a stream. Images that had been popular since the days of the defunct Lusaka Art Society and its successor the Art Centre Foundation which through a collaboration between Anglo American and the Department of Cultural Services occupied gallery space on the first floor of the Anglo American building opposite the High Court.

Henry Mulenga, Lusaka Rail Station, 1990-5,
mixed media, 103cm x 82cm, donated by Diane Bouchard 
© Lechwe Trust
Some works in the collection that can be said to have broken the aesthetic yoke are Henry Tayali’s The Irony of Destiny or simply Destiny done between 1960 – 1965, Akwila Simpasa’s Mother and Child, 1973, Henry Mulenga’s, Lusaka Rail Station, 1990-5 or Stephen Kappata’s, UNIP and MMD Governments, 1998 to name a few. Tayali and Mulenga’s work are comments on urban life from an African perspective, Simpasa’s is a stylized rendition of the popular mother and child theme in his own idiosyncratic style that has Afro-futuristic nuances and Kappata’s is a caricature of the hardships the electorate still faces whether they vote in a new government hoping for a change for the better.

Unfortunately, this remarkable collection remains sealed in two forty-foot freight containers, just as it has been for just over twenty years, only to be displayed occasionally in hired spaces such as the Lusaka National Museum.  As luck would have it, after years of lobbying and fundraising the collection will soon be on permanent display. A piece of land has already been allocated and the gallery blue prints are all set. Scheduled for early 2017, construction of the building which will have a gallery as the centre piece surrounded by offices and shop spaces to let is dubbed “The Gallery Office Park”, it will be situated on Lagos Road in between the Law Association of Zambia Offices and the Alymer May Cemetery in Rhodes Park, Lusaka.

Stephen Kappata, UNIP and MMD Governments, 1998,
oil on canvas, 75cm x 97cm 
© Lechwe Trust
According to the Lechwe Trust, the space will not only house and display the art collection for continuous public view but it will provide a community outreach facility for art education and cultural exchange programmes, preserve contemporary artistic heritage and contribute to sustainable tourism, assist visual artists to access a more professionally-managed space for display of their art, offer school children and groups guided tours and video projections of Zambian art and ultimately provide Zambia with a public visual art national gallery.

Established by Cynthia Zukas MBE The Lechwe Trust is a charitable trust for the Visual Arts in Zambia, started in 1986 with the primary aim of collecting Zambian art that would potentially find itself abroad at the hands of foreign collectors and members of the diplomatic core who constitute the main collector base.

Zukas an accomplished artist herself teamed up with her two friends the late ceramist Bente Lorenz and Henry Tayali. Lechwe Trust later broadened its scope and began providing scholarships to promising artists; commissioning works of art for public display, supporting organizations working for the promotion of the visual arts in Zambia such as Mpapa Gallery, Zintu Arts and Crafts, Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, Zambia National Visual Arts Council, Choma Museum, Lusaka National Museum, Copperbelt Museum, Mbile and Insaka International workshops.

Zukas settled in Zambia in 1964 when her husband Simon – a liberation hero who was exiled by the British colonial government -- was invited to be part of the independence day celebrations. Her contribution in promoting art in Zambia from the day she arrived, has not gone unrecognized, as such in 2012 Queen Elizabeth II of England has awarded an MBE to Zukas, in recognition of her services to visual art and to charitable work in Zambia”.

Due to the lack of it's own gallery space, the collection is stored in cargo
containers and only exhibited occasionally

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Livingstone art gallery, two years down the line…

By Andrew Mulenga

Two years down the line the Livingstone Gallery, the first purpose built contemporary art space in Zambia, nestled in the country’s tourist capital appears to be subsisting albeit in a happy-go-lucky way.

Much has been said about the quality of the building itself and the hurried manner in which it was constructed, but the gallery’s manager Chansa Chishimba a locally respected multidisciplinary artist hints that all is well as he gives insights on how the space has been getting by since its opening.

Livingstone gallery manager Chansa Chishimba
“Always when you have a new born baby the family members are apprehensive and ask, will the child grow or not? but anyway slowly things have started improving. Of late we have been receiving calls for bookings from as far as the Copper belt and Europe where people will write you an e-mail in advance requesting a tour booking for a specific day,” says the 60-year-old artist well-known for a technique in which he processes traditional tree bark fiber cloths for his art work.

“On average daily visits to the gallery are quite sporadic, there are times when we have no visitor at all. Then all of a sudden we have a bus of over 60 people. So we tally, I can say we receive a minimum of 8 people a day, we record, the statistics, they are important because the National Arts Council (NAC) and the ministry of tourism want to know these things,” he explains.

The gallery's dirt track off Sichango Road lends
a Safari feel to the art space
He indicates that during this data collection the gallery identifies what type of visitors are coming through whether male, female, adult, children or foreign. Chansa says the money too is not coming as fast as he wished, but at least the gallery is able to sell one piece every two months.

“Sales are very unpredictable, you can’t tell whether you are going to sell this month or not, but since the opening in 2014 I remember the first exhibition we sold K41,070 (approx. US$ 3,700) that exhibition, we mounted a second show and sold 51,150 (approx. US$ 4,700) – on average a show lasts 3 months he says.

Since the gallery opened it has only had three themed shows with what he called fillers in between, exhibitions such as the one currently showing which is basically a mixture of work in various media by artists at different career level from all corners of the country are hung and placed randomly.

The display is usually a mixture of work in various
media by artists at different career level from all
corners of the country
“When we mounted a filler in April this year we did not sell anything, but in May we sold K11,700 this was for about five pieces (five works of art) so we hope June being a peak period for the tourists who come here for their summer holidays, we might be able to realize some sales,” he explains.

He points out that the gallery is able to remain operational because of the direct support from NAC and the Ministry of tourism through the District Cultural Office who cater for the monthly volunteer staff wages, and utilities.

“Every month we have something to pay for electricity, water that one is budgeted for, government has put it as a priority. We are not complaining I’m paid under NAC. Whoever comes to sit here NAC will find something to ‘wash their hands’ (pay wages) according to the individual if the can agree to the terms. Already Kate Naluyele and Gill Zulu as my assistants they have come with new ideas and I think things will start moving,” he says.

Abraham Banda, Chiato, Acrylic on canvas  
Naluyele is the current Visual Arts Council (VAC) national vice chairperson, who has relocated from Lusaka and Zulu runs Highlands Creative Academy while she is also the Visual Arts Development manager for Elijah International Zambia, both are working primarily as volunteers although they receive a stipend from NAC.

Meanwhile, Zulu who comes to the gallery once a week also echoed that the space is gaining ground with regards group tours.

Isaac Kalambata, Burning Desire, Acrylic on canvas
“What we really have to do is intensify our marketing strategy. We need to make the gallery an active, not passive experience. We hope to have frequent entertainment activities where creatives come for social events on a regular basis and we are trying to get the venue promoted to the broader community, for the Chinese exhibition project a shelter was built for artists to work in so we can also continue using that,” says Zulu.

The gallery is on Sichango Road, behind Livingstone Showgrounds, you cannot miss the elaborate roadside sign post which features two giraffe sculptures holding up a wooden plaque that reads “art gallery”.

Nevertheless, although there is still a lot of room for improvement with the Livingstone Gallery, one can safely say Zambia finally has the semblance of a national art gallery, but as to whether the space will take up the responsibility of challenging the aesthetic, historical, cultural and socio-political implications of art in Zambia or play the role of an elevated curio shop this is yet to be seen.

Chishimba Chansa is a sculptor, ceramist, textile designer and painter who holds diplomas from the Nkwame Nkrumah Teachers College in Kabwe and Evelyn Hone College of applied Arts and Commerce in Lusaka and the HDK School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Zambian artists gain ground in Barclays L’Atelier competition

By Andrew Mulenga

Participating in the prestigious Barclays L’Atelier art competition for only the second time since the South African founded awards were opened up to other African countries namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Mauritius and the Seychelles; Zambian artists appear to be gaining ground and getting the much needed international exposure that is important to upcoming creatives.

A happy scary in the cornfield, 2016 charcoal 81 x 108 cm
by Nelson Musa Mwengwe, ABSA Gallery, Johannesburg
Although none of the seven Zambians made it into the final 10 to walk away with the top 5 awards that included a R260,000 cash prize and international artists residencies in Paris and New York, they did make it into the correspondingly competitive top 100 and have their work on display at the ABSA gallery in Johannesburg.

Comprising a gender balanced list, Nukwase Tembo, Kelvin Zangata, Mulenga Mulenga, Caleb Chisha, Sarah Chule, Mwamba Chikwemba and Aaron Mulenga are the artists that made it through.

All the artists exhibited exceptionally strong pieces, and it was interesting to see viewers gather around the works of the Zambians with enthusiasm as they were on display to be viewed by more than 800 onlookers during the awards gala event held on 13 July. The work by the Zambians included paintings, drawings and mixed media installations addressed universal stories that did not just reflect an image of Zambian society. Their themes addressed issues surrounding cultural identity, hope, death, childhood, employment, poverty, fashion and faith.

It must be noted that for the Zambians to even get this far was no mean achievement because they were pitted against competitors who have all had a university education in art from respected institutions across the continent who may be more adept in accompanying their displayed work with elaborately written artiststs statements, something which is often a challenge among Zambian artists due to a less developed academic art scene. The Barclays L’Atelier art competition is ran annually in conjunction with our partner, the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA).