By Andrew Mulenga
Emmanuel Nsama (r) with Canadian artist Marjorie Murray
in the early 70s at the art studio in which he lectured
at the Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe
Zambian visual arts suffered a great loss as one of its iconic art lecturers and religious painters Emmanuel Nsama died aged 70 after a sudden bout of high blood pressure after a normal day of work (at home) and tending to his backyard garden early last week. He was put to rest at Kitwe's Chingola Road cemetery last Thursday after an artistic career spanning well over 50 years.
From 1964 to 65, he was trained at the now defunct Africa Literature Centre (ALC) in Mindolo, Kitwe alongside the fabled Akwila Simpasa of the 'ntoba mabwe' fame in the traditional way of how artists used to aid the church's literature to communicate the scriptures graphically and convincingly. ALC was the art school where he would later spend an illustrious career in the faculty. He became assistant lecturer under Canadian artist and director of the Art Studio Marjorie Murray, before leaving for further studies to attend a two year advanced art programme at Sheridan College in Canada from 1966 to 1968 and returning as lecturer in 1970. Through the 70s he worked as a senior lecturer and from 1979 to 1987 he was head of the art department.
In the 60s Nsama was among the first Zambian’s to depict biblical
characters with African features such as the scene in the Last Supper
Among some key figures that have passed through the tutelage of Nsama are the likes of graphic designer and logo maestro Tom Mbumba, the artist behind the last two Zamtel logos before the LAP Green Network takeover, Lawrence Yombwe the influential Livingstone-based artist, and Roy Kausa, seasoned critic and contemporary Zambian art historian.
Yombwe described Nsama as one of the best tutors Zambia has ever produced.
“The first time I came across a pallette knife or even used one in place of a paint brush was under his guidance. In fact much of the movement in my work is owed to him”, said Yombwe.
Kausa regrets the demise of Nsama citing it as a great loss as well as a lesson to Zambian academic institutions to take stock of seasoned human resource while they are still alive.
“I personally feel that its a pity UNZA, Open University, Evelyn Hone College or any institutions that are already playing a role in the arts or who plans to open art institutions never go out and research or search for people who are well trained as lecturers to help them upgrade themselves as well as the institutions” said Kausa in an interview at Twaya Art gallery at Lusaka's Intercontinental Hotel early this week. “I must say its a pity that he's gone, a pity that when people go like that we start realising 'hey we would have liked him to do this or that project.”
A typical multi-coloured batik
print by Emmanuel Nsama
“He was a lecturer who would mix with his students as if they were his peers. In class we had friends from Sudan, West Africa, South Africa but he treated each one of us with equal attention.” he said “When the abstract craze came in, and you wouldn't know whether artists are cheating he stuck to his figurative style. But this is not to say that when we were his students he would never allow us to experiment. When he knew that we were now fully fledged artists he would tell us to play around with paints in any manner just to see our creativity”
“Even in the darkroom as our photography lecturer he encouraged us to be a bit more creative out of the ordinary in terms of our technique”
Kausa also added that in Zambia Nsama was among the first to depict biblical scenes in an African light, for instance painting the 12 disciples with African faces. But that not only did he have the passion to depict Christ and the life of Christians, he personally practiced Christianity and would preach the word of God through art. A visit to a number of parishes in Kitwe today will reveal his large murals on the walls.
“What is also sad is that ALC is no more. When the centre was still running it played a great role. Unlike Evelyn Hone (College),it was unique because it was looking at the entire continent as far as art and journalism is concerned.” he said “Along with the director Mkandawire, they started the idea of 'rural press', where artists and journalists would be sent to rural areas. While our journalist friends would be documenting rural life, we would be translating it into graphic visuals.”
Probably to echo Kausa's cry at the loss of Nsama as an artistic fountain of knowledge, it would be fitting to highlight the demise of ALC as a Pan-African institute that provided quality art and journalism training for over 30 years drawing students from as far as Myanmar, Pakistan and North America. ALC was the first higher learning institution in Zambia to provide computer assisted art and design vis a vis newspaper design, introducing desktop publishing on Apple computers in the early 90s. But the school's meteoric rise within the realms of innovative tertiary education left a crater of deficiency in art and journalism training in Zambia when the institution, co-funded by the World Council of Churches finally collapsed owing to mismanagement in the mid 90s.
As a lecturer at the institution, Nsama was an all rounder teaching painting, photography, graphic design and textile design. He is survived by wife Ireen whom he married in 1963 with whom he has 7 children and 16 grandchildren.
Among his earliest collectors are hotelier, art patron and formerly voracious art collector Gaudensio Rossi.