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Thursday, 5 July 2012

My Choice introduces work by top Zambian artists at Manda Hill Mall

By Andrew Mulenga
Imported decorations that pass for art but lack in
taste due to their repetitive mass production and cheap
pricing such as these are popular in Zambian stores
Imported decor that passes for art but lacks in taste due to its repetitive, mass production and cheap pricing is increasingly popular in Zambian furniture stores. This goes for the entirely locally owned shops as well as the South African franchise chain stores.
However, My Choice, formerly known as a fashion boutique but now specialised in crystal ware, a small shop at Manda Hill Mall in Lusaka is making a difference by selling authentic paintings by some of the country’s top artists.
The store’s general manager Marjory Mumba’s passion for local art is what lead to the introduction of paintings a few weeks ago and the shop is already recording sales which she speculates will continue.
“I’m an art lover, but the first time I had this idea (of displaying local works) is after I bought some paintings from an exhibition organised by Danny Chiyesu an artist from Ndola and late Fr. Miha. I bought some works by Angela Kalunga for my house in Ndola,” says Mumba, who is also employed by the Bank of Zambia in Ndola.
Whats For Me, by Caleb Chisha
She says organising some works for display in the shop was made possible when she met the Visual Arts Council chairman Mulenga Chafilwa who has been trying to organise an exhibition at Manda Hill for some time now. Chafilwa later managed to select the works.
“Initially, I wanted to buy them and sell them off at a small profit, but for starters we are just selling them for a commission. I think by buying them off outright we will be helping support the artists’ livelihood directly, without having to make them wait a while”
She intends to dedicate a larger space, and entire wall that will display up to thirty works to serve as a provisional art gallery which she projects to be a potential crowd-puller, not only for tourists and collectors but, art lovers in general who cannot go to galleries but can come to the mall and view some art while they shop for other things.
“I’m sure you have noticed that we do not have much information on the individual artists. But very soon we will I intend to have mini biographies of each artist and maybe have their contacts available for customers who may want to connect with and commission individual artists,” she adds.
Despite her ‘day job’ with the bank, Mumba is a fully fledged entrepreneur and a partner in a stocks company, an information technology company and she also coordinates a group called ‘Chitemwiko Women’ whom she is mentoring in business.
Untitled, by Lutanda Mwamba
As such, Mumba is an experienced business woman and knows a good investment when she sees one. She says the contemporary art market in Zambia has huge potential for growth and that this is a fact that has been taken for granted for a long time now, prompting her to tap in to the niche.
“Currently I only have Lusaka-based artists in the shop but I intend to expose some Copperbelt artists too. There is a lot of good work on the Copoperbelt that is not getting the attention that it deserves” says Mumba.
Untitled, by Mulenga Mulenga
Nevertheless, it would be short sighted to assume that Mumba’s introduction of art into her shop is entirely market-driven rendering the works as mere merchandise. What she is doing, knowingly or not, is bringing art to a public that never visits gallery spaces. Far from becoming an outlet for tourist art, this space can prove to be an alternative platform for artists who are propelled by, and constrained by, the patronage they are given due to the human condition. It can provide a refreshing escape from the western or indeed global style gallery system of distribution which has literally failed to find footing under local conditions.
Furthermore, if Mumba manages to bring Copperbelt artists to her shop it will give them the much needed exposure in the capital that they hardly ever get from Lusaka venues such as the Henry Tayali Gallery, Alliance Francaise, Zebra Crossing Café, 37d Gallery or the Lusaka National Museum.
Nevertheless, the low-priced, mass-produced wall hangings that pass for art but lack in taste remain popular and continue to litter the walls of office buildings, guest houses and motels  including high-end hotels whose names it will be kind to save mention. 
My Choice managing director Marjory Mumba (left), 
has introduced genuine, one-off artworks by 
Zambian artists to her Manda Hill Mall store and is 
selling them alongside her imported glass ware

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