By Andrew Mulenga
|Bana Chimbusa, by Poto Kabwe|
Outsiders may be unaware that the realms of the Zambian visual arts scene are notoriously factionalized and antagonistic, a truth that many insiders would want to ignore.
A truth that some allude has seen the detriment of the sectors development and characterized hot-blooded Visual Arts Council (VAC) annual general meetings over the years. Needless to mention the one held just recently and ushered in the Mulenga Chafilwa led executive is considered by some Livingstone and Copperbelt province members to be none-representative of the country’s 10 provinces.
Nevertheless, this seemingly argumentative atmosphere seems to be cast aside in The First Annual Fundraising exhibition now showing at the Henry Tayali Gallery in Lusaka. Clearly one of the most exciting shows the gallery has seen in a long time, it is an absolute pantheon of the biggest names in contemporary Zambian visual arts.
Imagine Victor Makashi, Poto Kabwe, Patrick Mumba, William Miko, Style Kunda, Lutanda Mwamba, Lawrence Yombwe and the late Shadreck Simukanga in the same place to name more than a few.
|Sausage Tree, by Dabson Njobvu|
With this exhibition, the sole curatorial objective is to display the art, so it does not have any specific theme and is therefore not conversational. Every piece is unrelated. Works contain everyday life, politics and nature but the display does provide an intelligent and lucid group show and credit must be given to the curators.
As you enter the gallery on your immediate right, you find Sausage Tree, a large painting by self-taught Dabson Njobvu renowned for winning first prize in each of the 3 (and now defunct) Mobil Art Competitions. The painting depicts an idyllic, undisturbed domestic rural scene with a meticulously painted sausage tree laden with fruit by a river and bridge, baobab and village in the background. In fact, the imagery of the landscape is so powerful it obscures the young woman in the fore who drops her pot filled with water after encountering a huge snake.
Up ahead is a very interesting social commentary by Poto Kabwe entitled Bana Chimbusa after the older women that educate and guide young brides before their traditional wedding nights according to the Bemba and customs. This scene however, depicts a modern day ‘Kitchen party’, a pre-wedding episode that is held to help the bride stock up on brand new kitchen utensils. Of late, these all-women parties have become fodder for popular bar talk among the men folk because of the heavy drinking, strong language and sexually uninhibited dance moves displayed by the not-so-young matrons of the events. Kabwe’s painting depicts a seated young woman receiving boxes of gifts while elderly women beat drums and dance. Almost every woman in the room has a beer bottle and in the left corner of the painting is an untouched crate ready for consumption.
Anyhow, somewhere in the gallery is a mixed media painting entitled Plot 1, by Mapopa Manda an upcoming artist who was under apprenticeship with popular painter Stary Mwaba for four years.
|Plot 1, by Mapopa Manda|
Plot 1 is literally a portrait of President Michael Sata standing with his finger on his lips in his trademark presidential campaign “Donchi kubeba” (Copperbelt Bemba street slang that loosely translates ‘don’t tell them’ or ‘don’t ask don’t tell’) fashion. Sata stands with state house in the background, and on top of the painting is the Times of Zambia newspaper masthead. To the left is a cutting of a Post Newspaper editorial comment from March 2012 that partially reads:
“MICHAEL Sata and the PF promised the Zambian people a lot in their election campaigns. They promised to change or improve a lot of things in a very short time, in 90 days. As such, more is expected of them. Those with more to give, more is always expected of them. It was in the belief that PF can deliver on their promises that the Zambian people voted for them.”
Here, whether knowingly or not, the young artists can be commended for grappling with an issue that is a hot topic in the townships. Many grass root citizens were so expectant of an improved standard of living within 90 days but feel let down, wondering whether their vote was worthwhile. The youths are still unemployed and can no longer find solace in Utujilijili the now banned, reasonably priced, pocket-sized liquor sachets. Worse still, they can only access Chibuku or opaque beer that they can barely afford in the late afternoon, as drinking places are no longer opening in the mornings for fear of the now vigilant authorities. One would speculate that it is just the recent unifying force of the national football team’s good performance that is keeping turbulence at bay.
|Masquarade II, by Milumbe Haimbe|
Of course, Manda may have his own interpretation. He says as a political commentator his work is part of a dialogue that is executed in format series. His subject matter looks deeper into the conflict of interest related to societal development as far as politics are concerned and involved.
“My art is inspired by political current affairs, is the reason why I use newspapers in my paintings. I feel Times of Zambia represents political history, The Post controversy and the Dail Mail, everyday issues,” says Manda.Bought by a foreign dignitary, Manda’s Plot 1 is one of the handful of paintings that has sold in this fundraising exhibition. Again, it is unfortunate that a fundraiser turns out a flop and fails to serve its purpose. But we cannot entirely blame the gallery or organisers. External factors such as general lack of public and private support, individual tastes, reviews, publicity and the health of the economy come into play. Speaking of which, there is much speculation by some economists that the rebasing of the Zambian Kwacha has fuelled inflation and therefore people are not spending much on anything let alone art.