By Andrew Mulenga
Family Cords, an on-going solo exhibition of abstract sculptures and paintings by upcoming Livingstone artist Suse Kasokota showing at the Alliance Francaise in Lusaka makes curious viewing.
|Nyaminyami (Spirit of The Victoria Falls)|
Almost all the paintings appear to be multi-coloured doodles of intertwined lines and orbs that seem to draw influences from Chansa Chishimba, Lawrence and Agnes Buya Yombwe, with hints of Zenzele Chulu thrown in.
“I’ve come to believe that we co-exist, everything is connected so I’m talking about the co-existence of humanity, animals and plants, the different kingdoms. For me the cords (lines) are a connection,” says Kasokota pointing at Umuto Wa Lupwa Tawitika, the largest painting in the exhibition. Its title is derived from an age-old Bemba adage that loosely translates: “The family gravy is never spilled; when difficulties are tackled among family members they never last.” The painting’s title does not sound befitting of a work laden with innuendo as heavy as the real life toilet bowl that is attached to it hanging from the canvas; like a wall sculpture.
A broken toilet bowl hanging from a canvas in a traditionally western style exhibition suggests an ‘anti-establishment’ or an ‘anti-art’ exclamation from the artist, clearly exercising his freedom of creative expression. It somehow proposes an act of insolence, as if the artist is saying “give me your gallery space, and I’ll hang a toilet on the wall” or as if he is having a go at contemporary art and gallery culture itself. Exciting indeed, this is precisely what contemporary art is about, ambiguity. Nevertheless, those are the thoughts of this writer and not the humble artist.
But it is the artist’s sculptures that probably showcase his clever mind's eye. One of them entitled Wembwa wee! (You dog you) a long wooden bench tilted steeply on one side, stands several metres tall and actually looks like a dog chained to a large rock. Certainly clever, the title is from a common derogatory term again from the Bemba language.
|Umuto Wa Lupwa Tawitika|
Then there is his Nyaminyami (Spirit of The Victoria Falls) named after the serpent river god of the Zambezi sacred in the traditional beliefs of the Tonga people who occupy the banks of the mighty river from where Zambia gets her name.
“In this work I’m celebrating Nyaminyami because it (the spirit) brings tourists to Livingstone and also to Lake Kariba in Siavonga. Even next year it will bring them to the United Nations World Tourism General Assembly” boldly says Kasokota, despite the fact that he himself is not Tonga and this noble people were converted to Christianity by early European adventurers, or missionaries as they often called themselves, long ago.
Kasokota’s rendition is made out of what looks like a huge, blackened old root that takes the winding shape of a serpent. The only additions he may have made to this found piece of wood is to drive thick, highly polished metal rods and rusty barbed wire into it, finishing the serpents head off with a smooth varnish but leaving it in its rugged original form.
According to tradition, the Nyaminyami has the head and upper body of a fish with long fangs and the torso of a snake. This icon is often carved into coiled amulets of wood or horn to be worn around the neck for safe passage across the waters of the Zambezi or Lake Kariba. The amulets have themselves become something of a fashion accessory and can be bought inexpensively at most crafts shops, including in the capital, Lusaka.
It is said that the Nyaminyami, who occupies the Mosi oa Tunya (Victoria Falls) area as his bed space, was separated from his goddess during the construction of the Kariba Dam in Siavonga and many lives of construction workers faced the wrath of the god by death in the late 1950s. Until this day the tremors that can be felt in the area once in a while are attributed to the eternal quest for the god and goddess to re-unite.
At any rate, Kasokota may just mean well to allude that Nyaminyami will provide us with a successful co-hosting of the UNWTO general assembly with Zimbabwe next year, as he along with a myriad of his comrades and the creative community doubt their inclusion in the international gathering that will only be coming to Africa for the second time.
“We are still trying to find out how we are going to fit in the UNWTO as artists, but we cannot be left out. We still don’t know, even the minister (of Tourism and Arts) came to Livingstone and was trying to talk about the same thing,” he says “But at the moment I just think it’s politics, there is nothing for us to celebrate so far. Its better we start working with Zimbabwean artists who are more organised, I’m sure they will have displays that side, and maybe we can work with them.”
He says Zambians are very good at talking than implementing, which does bear an element of truth. But then it is good that the 32-year-old’s generation is identifying this falloff and is determined to correct it and find a way forward.
His fear of Zimbabwe having an upper hand in presenting their creative side during the UNWTO general assembly is justified too, because truly, the Zimbabweans are a step ahead.
Over the years Zimbabwe has produced a long list of world-famous sculptors who drawn apprentices from across the globe such as Bernard Takawira, late Henry Munyaradzi, Nicholas Mukomberenwa and Tapfuma Gutsa to name a few.
Of Tapfuma Gutsa, our very own Lawrence Chikwa who exhibited at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) last year was quoted as saying: "The conflicts of the generation gaps that we have in Zambia, I didn't see in Zimbabwe. In Harare, the conflict between senior and upcoming artists does not exist, everyone works together. I even met Tapfuma Gutsa, we spoke at length. He asked so much about Zambia and told me he studied with Flinto Chandia (a Zambian sculptor) in London during the 80s”.
Zimbabwe also boasts a National Art Gallery, which of course Zambia does not have, and from the look of things may never have, due to the lack of political will. Also, we remain snug as an aesthetically blind nation whose majority cannot tell the difference between a contemporary work of art and the simplistic mimicry of handy craft.
Nevertheless, we may not have the Family Cords to make the best of the UNWTO general assembly next year. But as Kasokota rightfully puts it, we have the Nyaminyami on our side, and hopefully, the world will see our creative edge next year.
Suse Kasokota was born in Nchelenge, Zambia in 1979 but grew up in Livingstone where he completed his secondary education. Like many young Zambian artists he is self-taught but owes much of his apprenticeship experience to art workshops in this case the Insakartists workshops in 2007 and 2008.
Family Cords is showing until August 22, if you are going as a viewer, there is much to enjoy, if you are going as a collector, carry your largest cheque book, some of the works are ferociously expensive.