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Monday, 3 October 2011

Geoffrey Phiri show set for Iseni House

A Good Briton In Your Backyard (mixed media)

By Andrew Mulenga

Iseni House at the Dutch Reformed Church in Kabulonga, Lusaka will next week host a much anticipated solo exhibition by Cape Town-based artist Geoffrey Phiri.
The show is scheduled to open at 11:00 hours on Saturday the 8th of October and is expected to run for a week.
At 38, Phiri is one of the most emulated contemporary Zambian artists of his generation as such the show is expected to be entertaining.
He is known for his fascination with experimental textures, and looking at his recent works, he still does not disappoint. Along with paint and charcoal, he uses anything from burnt brick dust to tarmac. A typical example would be A Briton In Your Back Yard a painting of a wrecked and rusty Land Rover, who's title probably has more layered meaning than the layers of material used to execute it. In this work he uses the crushed ochre dust of the bricks to bring out a lifelike texture of rusting metal and the tarmac he uses for the shades equally brings out a course natural feel.
Wachitatu Ni Waboza
In Wachitatu Ni Waboza, Phiri uses charcoal excessively for his line, leaving it raw to give it more of a drawing than  painting effect. The work is part of a series and it depicts three vagabonds, with one facing the viewer suspiciously in direct eye contact. Wachitatu Ni Waboza is an anecdote of suspicion. In full, the commonly used nyanja phrase is in fact Zababili ni zababili. Wachitatu Ni Waboza an amateur attempt at a  loose translation would be "Something kept among two people, should be kept among two, involving a third would be involving a liar".
Nevertheless, Phiri's subject matter goes beyond vagabonds and rusty old Land Rovers, he also has a political streak and is once quoted as saying: "If we have a corrupt country we are citizens pushing a bus without wheels" this was in 2003 when he collaborated with other Zambian artists in an initiative called 'Images of Integrity' .
In  a painting entitled Election lessons (mark X on the chap you don't like) he toys with the rural vote and how politicians are said to often dupe the illiterate rural electorate into voting for them. For this abstract work he used his personal collection of miniature African statues as models.
And in Hair Therapy a picture of a woman lying lazily on her stomach, pulling on her hair with her feet in the air, the artist brings out a playful character.
Phiri arrived in the country late last week to add some final touches in the preparations for the exhibition. He also shed light on his choice of venue for this show.
"I thought I should break the monotony, you don't have to think about the Visual Arts Council every time you think of exhibitions. I also thought why not support someone like Lwao Chilambwe the proprietor of Iseni House who is trying very hard to support the arts and crafts industry. Let’s introduce more art houses, let’s grow from where VAC started," says "Besides, I met Mr Chilambwe through Lawrence Yombwe in Cape Town, and he showed interest in me having a show back home."
In Cape Town, Phiri is affiliated to three galleries;  the Gill Alderman Gallery, the Association For Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery and the iArt Gallery on Loop Street although he works from a converted gallery space at home.
"I park my car outside and I have converted the garage into my studio space. In the five years that I've been in Cape Town I can say I’ve been well received. I think its really about how loud you speak, you can be heard anywhere," he adds.
He says Zambian artists have as much to give as anyone else in the world but the only problem is they often end up influenced by their host institutions and therefore  lose their authenticity.
As a personal inspiration,  he says he has always admired Lawrence Yombwe and was at one time taunted by his peers for his early works bearing too much of a resemblance in style to the senior artist.
Phiri was born in, Livingstone, after completing school he qualified to study architecture at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe but instead opted to study art. In 1997 he graduated with an Art Teachers' Diploma from the Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce.
Between 1998 and 2003, he helped as a coordinator and researcher for the publication and production of one of the first books on visual arts in Zambia, Art in Zambia. He has also attended a number of study tours in Norway, Sweden and Holland.

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