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Monday, 11 November 2019

Copperbelt Museum (Part 2): The Future

By Andrew Mulenga

As mentioned in the last edition of “Mulling over Art”, the Copperbelt Museum, which was officially opened on Buteko Avenue in the Central Business District of Ndola in in 1978, has been earmarked for expansion for years.

Copperbelt Museum of Science and Technology
At the proposed new site on plot/stand number 2865 near the Mufulira Roundabout in Ndola, will be called the Copperbelt Museum of Science and Technology. It will comprise a large complex of several structures including a five star hotel with a 300-bed space capacity.

The facility will feature a Science gallery, Technology Gallery, Walk through Mine Experience Gallery, Outdoor exhibits, community interaction spaces, a food parlour that exclusively serves traditional foods and refreshments from the 10 provinces as well as a crafts market with handicraft personnel working on site.

According to the Copperbelt Museum Director, Victoria Chitungu the new museum is expected to host Zambia’s technical and cultural heritage and serve as a nature conservation site. The museum is set to give visitors hands on experience in both traditional and modern technology heritage as well as provide educational tours.   

Copperbelt Museum Science Centre building
designed by Ministry of Works and Supply
Speaking in an interview from her office in Ndola, Chitungu outlined the challenges of operating from the current constrained space, and gave thoughts around the importance of museums, highlighting the plans for the new museum.  

“When we moved here in the 1970s it was meant to be a temporal space, but to date we are still here, so it is almost impossible to expand. Everything that we want to do hinges on expansion. We have so many programmes on hold,” she explained.

Chitungu promptly went on to explain the importance of museums, even in a fast changing world, with emphasis that museums have more value now than ever before.

“The value of museums in today’s society is twofold. First, Museums give you a sense of pride in that they remind us about the positive side of our past. Second, Museums can give a country direction, they are reference points. If you have no reference of the past it is hard for you to make decisions for the future,” she contended.

Copperbelt Museum Traditional Food Parlour
designed by Ministry of Works and Supply
In reference to the current museum, Chitungu bemoaned the dwindling number of walk-in visitors and researchers and appealed to the public to take an interest in learning more about their heritage especially when the opportunity was at their doorstep. She complained that although Zambian museums charge very little, they still do not get enough visitors because perhaps the culture of visiting museums has not been inculcated into Zambian society.

“We also need to see more schools visiting museums. Why not use the (current) space as a classroom outside the classroom. In fact, if the education structure of learning was attached to museums, I think we would be doing much better,” she said “In most countries, museums are directly attached to universities and other learning institutions, but in Zambia this is not the case. I think this needs to change”.

Indigenous Knowledge Centre
She reasoned that it seems that museums are places where people go to pass time, but what they do not know is that museums can also be seen as a sanctuary as they are not political or religious spaces.
“We want members of the public to use the space for their own exhibitions, like bankers, they can come here and display a history of banking in Zambia and so on,” she said.

Although it happened 13 years before Chitungu’s tenure, a notable example of such an intervention is the Lechwe Trust Collection exhibition in 2006. With much fanfare at the grand opening, Lechwe Trust pitched a huge marquee (tent) blocking the traffic along Buteko Avenue in what ended up to be a remarkably successful exhibition of  modern and contemporary Zambian art.

The Museum Hotel
The said event was officiated by the Bank of Zambia Regional Deputy Governor. Such high profile individuals and spectacle, Chitungu stressed, are important for bringing awareness and to attract the public to museums.

“Let us say if people who are high up in society like the Bank of Zambia Governor or even His Excellency the President, if they visit the museums, it raises the profile of the institutions, it puts value on them,” she suggested.

And sifting through a 10-page document that was presented at a stakeholder and investors meeting organised by the Copperbelt Investment Expo on June 12, Chitungu seemed confident that on her teams part they had already set the ball rolling.

 “This year I asked the Ministry of Tourism to help us with the construction of toilets because the artists (craftsmen) have no problem working in the open. We just need two toilets for women and two for men, just in case the project takes longer to kick off, these are not expensive,” she said. “When it comes to the new museum, we want to look at technology in broader terms, for instance, what technology goes into the weaving of baskets or the making of clay pots”.

The new site is near Levy Mwanawasa Stadium
along the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriage way
“We also want something that will reflect all the provinces and we will be doing workshops to preserve these indigenous skills. We want crafts that are unique and specific to the various provinces. This will also curb the influx of crafts and curios from neighbouring countries even from far-flung places like Kenya”

A visit to the proposed site with Chitungu revealed that truly, there was adequate space for craftsmen to take up activities even before the first brick of the museum buildings are laid. It is under the enjoyable shade of a large Mukuyu tree near the location of the suggested ecological park that is also the source of the Kansenshi stream.

The site for the proposed ecological
garden is also the Kansenshi Stream
Speaking of the ecological park, Chitungu asserted that when the Museum is operational, an ecologist will be employed permanently and visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity and conservation. The park will comprise herbal plants, reptiles, fish species, antelope and traditional resting spaces called “Insaka” in Bemba.

“It is now the Ministry of Tourism’s baby, since the ministry is now talking about diversification, diversification does not get better than this,” said Chitungu.

Chitungu announced that the project was also available for Private Public Partnership (PPP) and that that it was a bankable project on which investors, other than the line ministries should come on board. She emphasised that the site is along a touristic route, that incorporates the Levy Mwanawasa stadium and the new Ndola Airport along the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriageway and that it was the fastest growing side of the city.

Acting director Victoria Chitungu (seated)
with Assistant Admin Officer Martha Ikabongo-Kaira
According to a document made available by Chitungu and signed by former Director, Charity Salasini, the designs for the new museum were produced by the Buildings Department of the Ministry of Works and Supply, between April and October 2015.

They are based on a Conceptual Frame dated March 2015, derived from a Feasibility Study Report of October 2006, which was conducted by a team of Museum Experts.

In April 2015, a team of experts from the Ministry of Works and Supply, Buildings Department Headquarters also conducted a Feasibility Study and the new site was officially granted by the Ndola City Council.

It was later appealed that the National Museums Board consider and approve the project in order to set the pace for the commencement of the development of the Museum.

The new museum project sounds and looks brilliant; it is surely the way to go. One has to agree with Chitungu that it is on a site with great potential, surrounded by shopping malls, neighbourhoods, learning institutions, suburbs, hotels and an international stadium.
However, at this stage we can only trust and obey that the project will be undertaken in our lifetimes.  
Nevertheless, apart from the indigenous technology or knowledge systems often described as witchcraft, Zambia has a very rich heritage in terms of science and technology; hopefully it will be adequately documented in the new museum.

Take for instance the seemingly unendorsed Zambian Space Project, considered comedic by a British ITN News crew (1964) and some unenlightened Zambians; it is something that should not be forgotten. If not for the boldness of its pioneer Mukuka Nkoloso, it is a statement of fact; a Zambian did have the ambition of flying to the moon and Mars competing with the USSR and the USA in the 1960s.

In fact Nkoloso may also be read as a champion of women empowerment in that his intention was to send not a man but a young woman Martha Mwamba into space—well along with a cat.

Whether he will be recognized as an oddball or eccentric, one thing for sure is that he was a nonconformist. At present, he has inspired a generation of Zambian creative practitioners whom in recent times have continuously referenced him in their work.

Among them is the award winning writer and academic Namwali Serpell who wrote of the Zambian Space Programme for the New Yorker in 2017 as well as this year in her book entitled “'The Old Drift”. Mwenya Kabwe, an academic and playwright, while teaching at the Wits University in South Africa created a theatrical piece titled Astronautus Afrikanus, inspred by Nkoloso. Artist, Stary Mwaba’s 2014/15 exhibition’s ‘Going To Mars’ at the Lusaka National Museum and “Life on Mars” with KfW Stiftung at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany were both inspired by Nkoloso.

While still on Nkoloso, it is worth noting that his visions put him in the spotlight even years after his attempted moon mission. One such example of his recognition is a newspaper article published as far away as Blytheville, Arkansas, (USA) in 1970. The “Courier News” a local newspaper, ran a story titled “Support Your Witch Doctor, Zambian Says” by a Kenneth L. Whiting. Whiting wrote: “Nkoloso recently submitted a report suggesting witchcraft as an antidote to Christianity, which has debased Africa’s medical skills. He also blamed British colonial rule for using missionaries and the Bible to outflank witchcraft.”

Other aspects of Zambia’s technological advancement was the electric vehicle manufactured by ZESCO, a show car at first, it could later be seen doing service rounds in the late 1980s. It is only now that the in the so-called developed countries electric vehicles are catching on, when apparently Zambians had been doing it in the 1980s. If it did not end up on a pile of scrap metal, the ZESCO Electric car or at least its blueprints should be displayed at the new museum.

Zambia’s rich automotive engineering heritage, which also includes the assembly of Land Rovers, Peugeots and Fiats, should also be featured. What’s more, the Fiat plant once produced a car with two steering wheels that could drive both ways. Zambian engineers at Phillips Electrical experimented with solar energy,—which is only now becoming popular—in the early 1980s.

As farfetched as it may sound, last year, Sela Kasepa a 21-year-old Zambian Harvard undergraduate in the field of “Computer-Aided Machine Design” organised and entered some Zambian high-school learners into an international robotics competition, the first Global annual student robotics Olympiad in the USA. She certainly deserves a spot in the new museum, she is a pioneer and she is also from the Copperbelt in ChaChaCha, Kitwe.

All the above mentioned and many more deserve their own corner to be remembered and studied in the museum in any which way they can, whether through photographs, videos and sound as modern museums do.

Then there is the issue of modern and contemporary Zambian art, which seems to be overlooked in the new museum project. Yes, the craftsmen have been considered and the designs show what looks like a huge mural, but the Conceptual Frame of the museum does not appear to incorporate a section specific to modern and contemporary Zambian art. Not even the ecological park that would look great with a few stone sculptures by talented artists appears to be on the cards. It is as if museum authorities cannot distinguish between handicrafts and contemporary art.

The Copperbelt has produced innumerable Zambian artists. Work by all these artists can be rotated in a particular gallery with the latest works by upcoming artists. Especially that the province does not have a decent gallery space. A section of this new museum would be ideal as a space for a Copperbelt Museum of Contemporary art that tackles technological themes.

Copperbelt Museum (Part 1): the past and present

By Andrew Mulenga

Every now and then, this column drifts from mulling over art to address or highlight broader concerns with regards culture and heritage and this two-part article that highlights the Copperbelt Museum does just that.

Minister of Information Unia Mwila officially
opens the museum in 1978.-
Photo courtesy of Copperbelt Museum
Situated in Ndola’s central business district, at plot No. 911 Buteko Avenue. The Copperbelt Museum is quite easy to access but it is similarly easy to miss. The inconspicuous museum can be described as very small and almost insignificant but it is when you walk through the space that you appreciate how rich its heritage is and to get you started is the rich information on the left side of the entrance that provides a detailed history of the place. On display, the museum displays an intimate but noteworthy collection of geological, historical as well as ethnographic artefacts.

As you proceed past the introductory texts on the wall that highlight the history of the museum and of the copperbelt, ignoring the corridor that leads to a public restaurant and restrooms, you will find a flight of stairs, climbing them you land at another wall with introductory maps of Zambia and its mineral deposits.

However, straight ahead it gets more interesting. Here you find a wall that has text with a title that reads “Derivation of towns of the Copperbelt” and below it, you find the origins of every name of the province’s towns from Chambishi to Chililabombwe, from Luanshya to Mufulira, the latter of which interestingly meant “the place of forging” by the Lamba people long before the arrival of the Europeans. Mufulira “came from the word ‘fula’ or ‘fulila’ meaning to forge iron goods or blacksmithing”. That is just one of the many names that have been explained.

The Copperbelt Museum on Buteko Avenue
in Ndola - Photo by Andrew Mulenga
The next display does not comprise of text alone but also has actual artefacts ranging from traditional basketry to pottery as well as an elaborate assortment of musical instruments and smoking pipes along with a variety of tobaccos and snuff holders. Next to this is an impressive collection of defused witchcraft some of which were actually used to kill people or make some victims go insane as the provided texts explain. This space also has an assortment of traditional herbs including one little plastic bag with a frightful powder that “allows ‘everlasting’ erection in men”; imagine having to explain that to a group of curious pupils on a school trip.

The next section on the same floor has a collection of butterflies and birds, among them a vulture and a fish eagle. Although smaller than the vulture, the fish eagle is surprisingly large and as a national emblem, the tiny depictions on the coat of arms or Zambian flag do not give this noble bird justice. It is huge, and something any Zambian should see at least once in their lifetime—not just sing about it in national anthems—and the only place that can be done, is in a museum, well unless you live in a game reserve. As much as it is a national symbol, it is a very rare bird, people live entire lifetimes without seeing one.

The crafts and souvenir shop is visible from
the busy street - Photo by Andrew Mulenga
After the bird exhibit is a rather uncharacteristic display of posters that commemorate the holocaust, important perhaps, but it does seem a tad bit out of context amidst the other items on display. But then again the museum, although a public exhibition space is open to ideas and displays of all sorts as long as the idea is sold to the museum compellingly. Nevertheless, beyond the holocaust display is a display of homemade toys, mostly made of wire, wood and other found objects.    

At this point, you find another flight of steps having gone round the top floor almost full circle. Descending the stairs leads to a rather remarkable geological exhibition that has on display some fossilized items, some sequences of rock formation and uses of different types of gemstones and minerals, the kind of information that learners would find particularly interesting.  

A collection of traditional instruments -
Photo by Andrew Mulenga
According to the information made available by the museum and borrowed generously here, the museum was founded in May 1962 when a steering committee of civic and mine leaders from various districts on the Copperbelt met in Ndola to form the Copperbelt Museum Association with the aim of establishing a museum of Natural Resources with emphasis on ecology, geology, conservation, mining and local history of the area.  

By 1963, the Association had acquired a substantial collection from the Livingstone Museum and South Africa’s Natal Museum for temporal exhibitions at Caravelle House, along Buteko Avenue, which would be its first home.

Ndola was however in competition with other towns such as Luanshya and Kitwe as the collection continued to grow, two years later, Ndola Municipal Council won as a suitable site for the museum because of its centrality, with easy access by road, air and rail. Since its inception in 1962 until 1968 the museum was owned and administered by the Copperbelt Museum Association under the chairmanship of a Mr. Willem Van Der Elst. From 1968 to 1973, it was under a Mr. Messiter-Tozze and later on a Mr. James Moore.

A display of traditional smoking pipes
In 1968, the museum was incorporated as part of the National Museums Board of Zambia (NMB). From 1973, the Copperbelt Museum Association ceased to function and was replaced by Museum committees that provided administration for the institution up to 1993. The Secretaries of the committees served as remunerated administrators under Chairmen and Committee members who worked as volunteers. In 1975, the National Museums Board employed a Zambian, Pythias A. Mbewe as curator to work full time at the museum.

As the museum’s collections increased, it shifted its collections and activities from Caravelle House to Bwafwano House until 1978 when the collections were again moved to their present location. Speaking of the current location, for those who are a bit more adventurous, the museum is right next door to a bar and restaurant called “Mixed Doubles” which has a splendid display of well-aged reed handicrafts on its walls.—these are definitely worth a look. You cannot miss the place as it is slightly opposite ZESCO’s main offices which is also stone throw away from the Savoy Hotel, a building once popularized by the singer John Mwansa in his early 1980s hit song “Mukamfwilwa” alongside Falcon Bar (or Fakoni) which is also just around the corner and not too far away.

Nsansakuwa exorcises J.S. Chichabo
and Nelson Kale who were accused of 
bewitching babies in mine townships -
Photo courtesy of Copperbelt Museum 

The museum has an impressive collection of 
diffused witchraft - Photo by Andrew Mulenga

A fish eagle is one of the many birds on display

Part of the geological exhibition currently 
on display - Photo by Andrew Mulenga

Nevertheless, before we end up rambling on about time-honoured bars, restaurants, hotels and bands, at present, the major programmes of the Copperbelt museum still include acquisitions. This is the collection of information, artefacts and specimens, which mainly come through research, donations, purchases and exchanges. As small as it might appear, the museum has over 3000 artefacts in its custody. 

However, it is only able to display a fraction of its collection and the present small size of the museum has been a hindrance to almost all public programs, this is why it has for some years now been earmarked for expansion. Next week, read about the plans to expand the Copperbelt Museum into the Copperbelt Museum of Science and Technology. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Maonde’s Utopia now showing at Zambia Ultra Art Gallery

By Andrew Mulenga

“Utopia” is the title of Livingstone-based artist Alumedi Maonde’s ongoing solo exhibition opened at the Zambia Ultra Art Gallery at Garden City Mall near airport roundabout in Lusaka on Saturday the 13th of July and will run until the 19th.

According to several dictionary explanations, the narrowest definition of “Utopia” is an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. However, if one were tempted to broaden the definition by bringing it closer to home, beloved Zambia is a “Utopia”, if the lyrics of our cherished National Anthem are anything to go by that is.

Transformation of women into masks
- acrylic on canvas by Alumedi Maonde
As citizens of this dreamland do we not stand and sing that Zambia is a “Land of work and joy in unity”, are we not “like a noble eagle in its flight” and are we not “All one strong and free”? Surely that sounds like something people who live in a blissful utopia may sing. But then again, perhaps the Zambian Utopia is a figment of the imagination that only dwells in the lyrics of a national anthem?
But then maybe Zambia actually is a physical Utopia, albeit to a select few. It is a utopia if you are a prominent politician who is flown abroad for medical treatment at the expense of the underprivileged taxpayer who herself cannot access quality healthcare.

Zambia is a utopia when you are an underperforming member of parliament who is no longer appreciated by her constituency but you enjoy the Utopian benefits of a member of parliament.

Correspondingly, Zambia is not a utopia if you are among the innocent students at a leading public Zambian university and a trigger-happy Minister of Higher Education has made the indefinite shutting down of universities her favourite pastime at the slightest student’s movement activity.

It is not a utopia if you are a trader whose stall was gutted at City Market two years ago and you are still struggling to make ends meet as you wait for “Boma Ilanganepo” (government to intervene). Neither is it a utopia if your small business relies on electricity but you are constantly hit by what is now being called “load management” and still the revenue authority still wants its share of your money.

Zambia is not a utopia if it is rife with a souring debt situation, that is seemingly becoming uncontrollable, if freedom of speech and the press is perhaps on its lowest ebb since independence or if political indifference is the order of the day.

Shadows of childhood - acrylic on
canvas by Alumedi Maonde
Dear reader, please ignore the last seven paragraphs. This article is about Maonde’s ongoing exhibition. It is not supposed to be about the author’s twisted ideas on Zambia being a utopia based on the national anthem, or how he alleges that some Zambians might be living a better life at the expense of others.

Nevertheless, maybe Zambia is not a utopia after all, seeing utopia is synonymous with ideal place, paradise, heaven, Eden, Shangri-La, Nirvana, Elysium, Bliss, Ichalo Chipya and a host of other places that tend to exist only in fantasy, fables, poems, hymns, Holy books and of course the National Anthems.

Maonde’s “utopia” however, is a body of work that investigates different aspects of life as experienced on the African continent and Zambia in particular. According to the artist, it permeates a poetic interpretation of cultural and social experiences that are not neutral to the influence of foreign, predominantly western ideas and traditions. Most importantly, Maonde’s Utopia represents a journey into his own subconscious and dreams, both of which heavily inspire his work.

For this reason, the work is intimate, in that it taps into the inner recesses of the artist’s instinct by whatever means. Consequently, the work might be described as emotive and intuitive, connected to its creators psyche. As such, the artworks are therefore cathartic on the part of the artist, a tourniquet of creativity that allows for an outpouring of his inner being, his dreams or nightmares.  

Even so, the subject matter in many of the works is not exclusive to the artist’s personal reflections and dreams. They can easily be related to society’s everyday happenings. Take for instance the painting “Transformation of women into masks”.

Utopia - acrylic on canvas
by Alumedi Maonde
The painting outwardly has a double meaning. It may refer to the masks of heavy makeup that women wear on a daily basis in order to beautify themselves, boost their confidence, support the billion dollar cosmetic industry, or for whatever reason it is that make-up is applied. Alternatively, it might be the transforming of recognisable facial features into African masks. African masks being one of Maonde’s favorite motifs. According to Maonde, for his abstraction, he borrows this style from the Zambian modern master, Akwila Simpasa who used it frequently in his work as can be seen in several of his works on display at the Lusaka National Museum and some private collections.
One good example of Maonde’s reference to Simpasa is entitled “Utopia”, a work that shares its title with the exhibition. The manner in which the panting is rendered is not unlike Simpasa’s 1972 work entitled “Christiana Happy Face” that is on permanent display at the Lechwe Trust Gallery in Lusaka.  
Again, another subject concerning everyday matters is the piece entitled “Shadows of childhood”. It is a conversation around the slow-ticking time bomb of homeless children who sleep under bridges by night and are found at traffic lights by day. The current situation is that children are giving birth to children and raising families on the streets right before our eyes. They are always intoxicated with the makeshift glue and sewer (excrement) foam called jenkem that they sniff all day.

These children make one ponder over societies shifting moral codes, a testament to the disintegration of the extended family. A social problem that nobody—especially politicians and ministries in charge of social welfare—seems to care about but hopes that one day we will all wake up and find they have disappeared. For Maonde to place a work such as this in the exhibition provides for an interesting rhetorical device to reveal the paradox of homeless children, “Shadows of childhood” is an oxymoron in an exhibition entitled “Utopia”.

Nevertheless, although Maonde remains experimental in his art production and this is his first solo exhibition, he has been practicing on the professional art circuit for over a decade, possibly his entire adult life. Professionally, he sees himself as a product of the defunct Art Academy without Walls where he used to participate in the drawing and performance workshops programme from 2003.

Patching up a marriage - acrylic
on hessian by Alumedi Maonde
If anything, he is making something of a comeback. One of his most productive years was 2007, not only was he a finalist for the once prestigious Ngoma Awards in the best upcoming artist category, he was part of the  4th Insaka International Artists workshop and took part in Zambezi Creations group show, featuring artists from Livingstone, Choma and Monze at the Henry Tayali Gallery. Other group exhibitions that he has featured in are Art In The Sun at the then Sun Hotel and Zambia-China Afroriental, Beijing.

Currently he is enrolled as a third-year BA Fine art student at the Zambian Open University (ZAOU) where predictably he is one of the best in his intake. He is one of the few artists of his generation that have decide to enrol in the university after already wetting their beaks on the professional art scene. According to Maonde, enrolling in ZAOU has helped sharpen his intellectual skills in the areas of critical theory vis-à-vis art; he argues that artists who are known to disparage the institution in comparison to universities abroad do not know what they are missing.

Maonde’s show is definitely a must see, either from an art lovers perspective or that of a collector. Collectors should expect a moderate price bracket for an artist of Maonde’s calibre, in fact now would be the best time to add him in your collection. Visitors to the Zambia Ultra Art Gallery at Garden City Mall should expect to see at least 30 of the 40 artworks that he has brought in from Livingston. (This article was first published in The Mast newspaper's (Zambia) print edition).
Although he has been active for
over 10 years, this is Maonde's first solo