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Monday, 29 October 2012

Children’s art exposes social decay at AMAKA festival

By Andrew Mulenga

Rape, defilement, wife battering, drug and alcohol abuse; the eye-opening, grim picture portrayed in paintings from all corners of the country in a children’s exhibition held at the Lusaka National Museum during  the inaugural AMAKA arts festival recently.
(Detail) The Dark Side of Destiny,
by Joseph Lukolongo, 17 years old,
Kabulonga Boys High School.
Facilitator – Caroline Miyoba
An innocent, yet disturbing collection of images that draw you in with the emotional intensity of their subject matter, make you stop and look intently at each and every one of them as they remind you how as an adult in 2012, you were probably exposed to little or none of what the average eight-year old of today is.
If children are able to portray what they see around them in the manner of these images, it surely is a chaotic world we are living in and the child of today knows a lot more than you can imagine.
The children’s artwork has its own voice and its accent echoes everything from morality to the uncertainties of being a generation on the brink, beckoning to be rescued or at least heard before it is too late.
In a painting entitled The Dark Side of Destiny Kabulonga Boys High School’s Joseph Lukolongo depicts a skimpily dressed woman dragging a small boy with his pants down into the house for an act of sexual abuse. Lukolongo, only 17 years old himself, brings to our attention one of the most undisclosed forms of sexual abuse, that of women abusing young boys. He reminds us that such acts do occur in our society, although of course for reasons that may be best understood by experts from the Victim Support Unit, we never get to hear much about them.
From Chingola, William Deyala, a 16 year old at Chikola High School shows a provoking portrayal of domestic violence. A man with a clenched fist, and a broken bottle lunges towards a woman, the painting is aptly titled Violence In The House. Hanging from the man’s pocket is a popular brand of the lethally potent and now banned plastic sachets of spirit alcohol, tujilijili, suggesting that alcohol is the conduit for acts violent. The woman on the other hand is not backing away, she stands her ground and boldly points at the man with her finger.
More Money In A Skirt, by Marvin Bitawa,
16 years old, Kyawama High School.
Facilitator – Felix Wakyembe (ZAOU)
The title of a painting by Marvin Bitawa of Kyawama High School in Solwezi, More Money In A Skirt, appears to mimic the “More Money In Your Pockets” campaign slogan of the ruling Patriotic Front party. But judging from the painting, its title insinuates the short skirt worn by the girl in the picture is a source of income, probably earning her money by attracting clients for acts of prostitution. The subject is also hugging books against her chest in the manner of schoolgirls or female college students; actually, the painting and its title controversially conveys the embodiment of a sex worker and a student in one.  
Perhaps the most elaborate painting in the exhibition with regards depicting the unstable and impulsive aspects of urban youth culture in Zambia is New Culture by Happyson Kamwandi, an 18 year old from Chikola High School, the same Chingola School that Deyala of the Violence In The House painting attends. In this painting, the young artist has articulately commented on Zambian youths’ desire to acquire and consume everything western; clothes, technology, alcohol and the social behaviour of R&B-hip-hop stars.
New Culture, by Happyson Kamwandi,
18 years old. Chikola High School.
Facilitator - Japhet Phiri (ZAOU)
New Culture features an urban youth who in appearance looks like a cross between US rapper Lil’ Wayne and Zambian rapper Macky 2. The subject is a typical incarnation of a hip-hop obsessed young male or a “yo” as they are mockingly called. His baggy jeans hang below his waist line revealing his underwear for all to see, a fashion detail that is said to have been conceived by inmates with homoerotic implications in US prisons but is now a global, hip-hop fashion phenomenon. Those that adopt the trend - which unfortunately can be seen in school uniforms nowadays ­- believe it gives them ‘swag’, which is short for the term swagger, a conceited, yet highly fashionable form of showing-off among trendy urban youth.
Violence in the house, by William Deyala,
16 years old, Chikola High School. Facilitator Japhet Phiri
The youth in the painting has a fairly large piece of ‘bling’, jewellery hanging from his jeans as well as one with a huge dollar sign hanging around his neck, typical of rappers. He is leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette and talking on his cell phone. “What’s up baby?” he says in full ‘swag’ mode, also holding a bottle of beer and an open laptop computer that is resting on his bended knee. He has a shiny watch, earring and large-framed sunglasses to complement his ‘bling’ factor. His fashion statement is summed up with braided hair, shiny blue basketball sneakers and a baseball cap with a wide visor while his tight fitting vest reveals a shoulder tattoo.
Bringing all these elements, into his painting, Kamwandi has gone flat out to warn his fellow youths against the dangers of adopting western social behaviour. The bright yellow background of the poster-like image is crowned with bold text that reads “Slavery!” on one hand and “What a culture with no future!” on the other.
But it is not all the works that portrayed a picture of social gloom and doom in the eyes of today’s children. There were some delightfully colourful and playful works such as At The Round-About, by Justice Wilima an 8 years-old from Kasenengwa Basic School in the Eastern Province depicting cars, buses and motorcycles circling a round-about or A pilot flying a plane, by Genesis Lungu of Mukobeko Basic School in Kabwe.
And Zambia Open University (ZAOU) lecturer William Miko, who was overseeing the exhibition, explained that it culminated from an exercise from his second and third year Fine Arts Student’s most of who are school teachers.
At The Round-About, (water colour) by Justice Wilima,
8 years-old, Kasenengwa Basic.
Facilitator - Pakuya Mwale (ZAOU)
The exhibition was also made possible by sponsorship from Bayport financial services limited and Huwei through the International Women’s club and the Diplomatic Spouses club.
“The background is that every year I donate a painting to the International Women’s Club and the Diplomatic Spouses Club who hold dinners to raise funds. So this year just before they started distributing their funds, they approached me and asked whether there are any projects that I need to be funding, “he said in an interview at the museum last week before the exhibition came to an end.
A pilot flying a plane, by Genesis Lungu,
Mukobeko Basic School. Facilitator- Steward Chileshe
“So I told them if they buy me paints I will give them to my university students who are going to do workshops with children on community perspectives, to give them an opportunity to bring out the issues that are going on in their community.”
He said it was an opportunity for his students to learn how to create projects that use art to dissect the happenings in the community.
“So I gave it to them as a class exercise under the module of Studio Practice so they went out and worked in schools and communities with children aged between 8 and 18 years old. I insisted they also involve children who are circumstantially out of school”.
Miko explained that the project was also part of the ZAOU students' examinations and that they first presented sketches that the children had done, as part of the oral component of their examinations and these presentations were critiqued by colleagues.
Drug Abuse, by Henry Chibale,
13 years-old, Kanyama.
Facilitator - Wallace Mukoso Meki (ZAOU)
“My students went back to their various stations and continued developing the drawings with the children to finally develop the paintings you can see here, and they all had to choose at least the best 15. The final works were tied into the AMAKA programme,” Said Miko.
Yvonne Mulala, Assistant Education Officer at the museum said the exhibition was well received because it was simple but carried very important messages on issues that are happening in neighbourhoods.
“We invited about 10 visiting schools from Lusaka alone and they all turned up to see the exhibition. When I asked the children what they were seeing in the paintings they could bring out more than is portrayed in the images,” said Mulala. 
“But it’s interesting when you see the children watching the paintings, some of them would say ‘we can do better’, and some of them were just critics. You could also tell that some understood the issues more than others”.
The exhibition was one of two shows that made the visual arts component of the multi-disciplinary AMAKA arts festival, an ambitious, private initiative that aims at celebrating dance, theatre, film, arts and craft annually. Justifiably, AMAKA suffered a few teething problems, which do not need amplifying here, such must be expected in an arts scene that is bereft of any form of creative arts festivals. Next year’s event will definitely run smoother; we can all look forward to it. - Courtesy: The Post Newspper (Zambia).
Lusaka National Museum Assistant Education officer
Yvonne Mulala with pupil's from Lusaka's Chawama High School


  1. "Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up"- Pablo Picasso.
    There is talent in young Zambians out there.Somehow somewhere along the way due to poor attitudes to art by their teachers in their primary school years this talent slides into oblivion and what is left are memories of how one was able to draw "utubantu kubwaiche". Surely something can be done by putting up the right curriculum in our schools. What is there right now is a situation where Art at primary school is combined with Home Economics at primary level and so the dreaded drawing can only come when this female teacher who is obviously inclined to Home Economics has nothing to do or is guilty of being one sided for too long. True to Picasso's words it is an uphill battle for such children to remain artists despite their God-given talent.
    I love the naivity found in pupils' art. As we grow up naivity becomes a sort after quality. To paint like the late Mr Kappata becomes a dicey affair because viewers would consider as childish.

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