By Andrew Mulenga
Marrigje de Maar, a seasoned Dutch artist who is in her late 60s is currently in Zambia to share her experience in a 10-day spin session to see how she can help the Visual Arts Councils' Henry Tayali Gallery come up with strategies on how to market itself, in the process of transcending into a more professional viewing space as well as commercial entity that is self sustaining as per gallery protocol in line with current global trends.
Marrigje de Maar at the Henry Tayali Gallery
in the Lusaka showgrounds on Wednesday
"I'm here to work with the Henry Tayali Gallery to see how we can make it into a viable business entity, looking at it as a cultural enterprise. We really have to heighten the business aspect by devising a number of schemes on how to make money" alluded Marrigje, who was accompanied by painter and former VAC chairman Mulenga Chafilwa along with painter, emerging curator and arts administrator Zenzele Chulu.
She explained that as much as plans for the gallery should be those of self sustenance, there is need to re-introduce the gallery to a more general public, to make it universally known, not just to the consuming elite but also to the average man on the streets.
And Chulu revealed that times have changed and funds from abroad in terms of grants are no longer provided to sustain the running of the gallery.
Being a non-profit organisation the gallery depends on the VAC whose support from entities such as NORAD, HIVOS and the National Arts Council (NAC) is all but long brevet. Other support and cooperation used to come from various embassies, Ndeke Hotel and the Lusaka Show Society.
“As a gallery funding ceased in 2008. So without that luxury we have to see how we can polish the tools we have to maximise our visibility in order to tap into the financial indicators which according to economists is improving” he said “Its really a time to look within, even Marrigje has come with no funding, but ideas. In fact what we will be having over the next 10 days is idea exchange".
Chafilwa also commented on the aspect of visibility saying it is sad that the biggest visual artists are only household names within artists and collectors circles, whereas for Zambian singers; names are easily attached to their works. He also expressed concern on the stagnation of artists, observing how they often fall into a comfort zone as long as they sell a work or two and that this often affected the pricing of works at the gallery.
Nevertheless one would want to side with Chafilwa with regards visual artists visibility. Even at The Post, the art collection is just hung on the walls without titles, and as Marrigje rightfully observed small tags bearing the artists name and the title of the work can work wonders not only for researchers but for the people occupying the office space in which they are hung as someone might read a work's title and unlock view that was visually cryptic. This might be something Twaya-Art Gallery who have been coordinating the supply of art work to The Post through their "art in the workplace" project may want to take into consideration.
Before she leaves, Marrigje hopes to see a running internet connection, a Facebook page, a working website, newsletter and some organisational guidelines in terms of gallery programming at the Henry Tayali.
As arts observers, we can only wish this enthusiastic team all the best in their endeavours to ´re-launch´ the gallery and ultimately re-publicise the art scene.
If they are truly to achieve positive results they should focus on an outright advocacy campaign and literally poke the greater community in the eye. As much as the forthcoming agricultural and commercial show will be fertile ground to launch such an onslaught owing to the fact that it is the one time in the year when all walks of life converge in the showgrounds, where the gallery is based, there will be need to continue focusing on satellite or alternative venues. Taking art to the people as it were.
Restaurants and coffee shops for instance have proven successful spots for exhibitions both for sales and publicity. In 2005 the "Art a la carte" exhibition by various artists at Rhapsody's managed to offload a remarkable amount of sculptures, which was a surprise because it is common knowledge in Zambia that sculpture shows rarely sell. Similarly in 2006, Baba Jakeh Chande and Ngamanya Banda held a reasonably successful show at the Chit Chat Cafe, and in more recent times, the increasingly popular Ababa House's Zebra Crossings Cafe (which by the way is currently showing Lutanda Mwamba and Radu Kirby) is proving a successful alternative viewing space.
Possible venues can include furniture showrooms, shops, lobbies of buildings, trendy boutiques and hair salons, churches, hospitals, airports, anywhere else the public converges.
If not sales, this will provide the much needed feedback in terms of how the public react to art, and maximise the number of people who will have opportunities to see it. And the more Zambians who see art, the greater the appreciation.
Sadly, without intending to attack these hardworking individuals - artists particularly the ones who seem to stagnate over the years think all they have to do is hunker down to the Henry Tayali Gallery and that opportunities for exposure will mysteriously appear out of nowhere.
The Tayali team should also make sure they list shows on as many notice boards, websites, bus stations market places, coffee tables and events calendars as possible.
Exposing contemporary Zambian art to as many first-timers as possible is fundamental for the prosperity of the genre.
The Henry Tayali gallery is situated in the Lusaka Showgrounds. It is the Headquarters of VAC - the national organisation for visual artists. It was launched in 1991 but was officially opened in 1995.
Named after one of the most illustrious artists who was steeped into African nationalism, the gallery is arguably the largest if not the only full time gallery in Lusaka and in a busy year hosts an average of 2 exhibitions a month with a crowd capacity of about 250 plus patrons. The Gallery is open Monday to Friday and entry is free.
Now showing at the gallery is Tilitonse an exhibition that features Lutanda Mwamba, Style Kunda, Mulenga Chafilwa, Linda Chandia, Mathew Mudenda, a return on the scene for Kate Naluyele and also Copperbelt representation by Danny Chiyesu.