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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Future of Zambian art glaringly bright

By Andrew Mulenga

Scramble for land by Alex Makasa
18-year-old pupil at Kasama Boys
The future of Zambia’s visual arts is glaringly bright and imaginatively energetic judging from the few samples that were displayed at the first ever National Schools Fine Arts Annual Exhibition held at the Lusaka National Museum from the 18th to the 23rd of August. 

Organised by the School Arts Association of Zambia (SAAZ) and sponsored by the Education Ministry, the exhibition drew participation from only eight of the ten provinces obviously owing to a few teething problems.

When announced in schools, the call for participation required that the children depict “any aspect of Zambian life” and it demanded for schools to “Ensure that all art works done by pupils are original and supervised by the art teacher in charge”.

As for the aspects of Zambian life, some pupils, or learners as they are called nowadays did not adhere to the rules and submitted paintings and drawings of their favourite Hollywood cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry or comic book characters like Batman.

It is either the children who submitted entries that did not conform were not supervised by their teachers, or they were just allowed the flippancy of childhood to throw in anything, much to the resentment of the adjudicators; “The advice is that next time schools participating in these fine arts exhibition should make sure that learners are guided on what is expected of them so that the standards of the works produced are at expected levels, ” Stated chief adjudicator Aubrey Moono in a report.

That aside, all the learners submitted remarkable drawings, paintings, sculptures and crafts. In the crafts category, some of the beadworks, embroidery and basketry were so meticulous they were in fact market-ready.

Similarly for the drawings and paintings, some of them could easily fit into any gallery space alongside practicing visual artists.

Earning a living, by Simon Chela,
Kasama Boys, Northern Province
As much as it might be unfair to single out individuals, a typical example of such work would be a pencil drawing by 18-year-old Kasama Boys pupil Alex Makasa entitled “Scramble For Land”. As an aspect of Zambian life, his title and subject matter are spot on because there is an apparent scramble for land in the country no wonder government recently announced an audit. Then there is the execution itself, he depicts a flooded shanty compound with two boys standing in a large puddle, their reflections showing in the water’s ripples. Almost life-like, save for the proportions that rob it of photographic precision.

A similar work is by his colleague, 17-year-old Simon Chela from the same school. Although it was listed as a painting, apparently it is done in coloured pencil. Entitled “Earning a living” it shows a tailor at his sewing machine, working away on a piece of torn cloth. Ironically, his shoes, shirt and roof of the house in the background are riddled with holes that need mending too, so it is hard to see what living is being earned here. This work too displays a free hand that executes work that again is none photographic in appearance suggesting these two learners (Makasa and Chela) were not working from photographs but rather from images in their mind, epic.

According to the organisers, the exhibition was not meant to be a competition, however, individuals were singled out in various categories from different provinces at both primary and secondary level; Edward Mufwampa (sculpture) from Chunga High, Dalson Simfukwe (drawing) from Chitanda Basic, Vasty Mwandu (Collage) Katete Secondary, Alex Makasa (drawing) Kasama Boys, Taila Fwambo (drawing) Stella Maris Convent, Joe Hachilili (sculpture) Maamba Mine, Trevor Membe (sculpture) Kyawama High, Raphael Kakinga (crafts) Kalombo Basic, Hikaaba Hikaaba (drawing) Mpika Boys and Doreen Kabwela (crafts) Roan Antelope.

As earlier highlighted, the exhibition did have teething problems, but this cannot take away from the good effort and determination of the organisers and all parties involved. At least it is a start, and a big one at that.

But again, there were some awkward revelations during the official opening on Tuesday. The National Visual Arts (VAC) Chairman Mulenga Chafilwa who was among the invited guests and speakers at the event used it as a platform to lobby for an audience with the new Deputy Minister of Tourism and Arts, David Phiri the guest of honour.

“… to the honourable minister, I hope that one of these fine days we as practicing visual artists can be accorded an audience with you so that you can get first-hand information on how much it has been a challenge administering the visual arts and what we have achieved and what we attend to achieve in the near future,” said Chafilwa towards the end of his speech.

When it was the minister’s turn to talk, just before his written speech, he responded in the affirmative saying the ministry would be happy to discuss how best the visual arts can be encompassed.

Alex Makasa of Kasama Boys won
first position in the Northern Province
drawing category
“I can’t agree with you more except to say you are most welcome to come and see us, to see my minister or to see myself, any time that you may wish to see us,  I’m sure the director of the National Arts Council (NAC) will be more than willing to facilitate,” he said.

What is bizarre about this public reconciliation between the minister and the VAC chairman first of all is that, it exposes the fact that over a month since VAC had a ministry it can call its own, it has never been given an audience similar to the one the Zambia Association of Musicians were given courtesy of their own efforts of course, as ZAM invited the minister to an artistes' celebration of the new ministry.

In addition, the NAC director the deputy minister is referring to is Victor Makashi, a prominent visual artist in his own right who should know and understand VAC’s problems and should have at least tried to facilitate an audience by now.  He has direct access to the minister. In fact, on Tuesday, he was the intermediary between the organisers and the guest of honour, even opening the door the minister’s SUV as he arrived several hours late.
Nevertheless, in his speech, the deputy minister commended the organisers and said the exhibition should be seen as both timely and appropriate since the arts have a ministry now and Zambia will be co-hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisations general assembly next year.
“The conference (UNWTO) will attract people from all over the world This should be an opportunity for us to showcase our creativity and talent, an opportunity to display your masterpieces in fine art, craft and design. It’s at conferences such as these that those who come to Zambia for the first time would want to show souvenirs depicting Zambian art to remind them of the beauty and diversity of Zambian culture,” said Phiri “I call upon you to cease this opportunity to bring out your best art pieces. The government is aware that artists need support to ensure the industry grows, government will step up its effort to scout for young talent especially in schools.”

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