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Sunday, 11 November 2012

2001 AU sculpture continues to serve as notice board

By Andrew Mulenga

Residential Plots for sale, Maids Available, Airtel Clec Promotions presents Zaiko Langa-Langa live in concert, JK Pistol Independence Album Launch, this list of posters reads like one you expect to find on a bus station notice board or in a market place.

The statue by Zambian sculptor Flinto Chandia
was commissioned by government commemorate
the African Union 2001 Lusaka Summit
This is in fact a list of posters placed on a historical monument that was erected to commemorate the African Union Summit in Lusaka in 2001 which stands along Chikwa Road, right at the Addis Ababa round-about, somewhere in between the MTN Head Office and Lusaka Girls Primary School.

Since it’s unveiling before the summit, just over a decade ago, this sculpture by Flinto Chandia, one of the country’s most celebrated artists has lured every manner of poster from political campaign posters to gospel outreach posters, which is quite unfortunate seeing that the work is a public commission. Some of the glue from older posters has hardened so dry that it will take some kind of industrial thinners to remove these stains.

Speaking from his Avondale home early this week, Chandia, gave an insight into the efforts that went into the production of the work which basically depicts two stylized hands holding a map of Africa that is set on a white tablet.

“The work came through cabinet office as part of the AU summit. When they (Government) need artists they come to us through the National Arts Council or the Visual Arts Council. Anyway, I was commissioned to do the work just six weeks before the launch,” he said “But shortly after the work was commissioned what followed was very sad as you can see it just shows you that we have no respect for public works of art. All these art organisations just drive past and don’t do anything about it, I’m glad you are here and we are talking about it maybe we can bring some public awareness to it.”

Admitting that it was not the best thing to do, he suggested that a 6 foot metal fence with spiked railings on the top should be erected around the sculpture rather than targeting the people who are placing posters on it.

“If you move around Lusaka, you find works like Henry Tayali’s The Graduate at the University of Zambia or the elephant I did at COMESA. These are well protected because they are fenced off, in guarded premises but if they were in the open I’m sure they would have faced the same fate as the AU sculpture”

He revealed that even before the sculpture was unveild he encountered a number of difficulties within the procurement system for the commissioning of the work.

“When working with large stones, you need ready cash at your disposal because there are a lot of payments to be made right from the start. You have to hire a crane to start with. To hire a crane is about K550, 000 per hour in Lusaka, and they will always charge a minimum of 3 hours, demanding the money upfront”, he explained. He also explained that he first had to locate a huge stone, but as much as he was able to find it in the Chalala area in Chilenje South, he then had to hire manual workers to cut the huge rock from the ground in order for it to be transported to his studio.

“This is why you need an upfront payment of about K6 million. I had problems with getting the money at cabinet office where someone had already been given the money but he was sitting on the cheque (expecting a bribe from the artist). Cash has to work every day until the job is complete. You see, every time you have to turn the stone you need the crane, and this was in July and it was very cold, you can imagine working with stone when it’s cold.”

Close-up of the plinth
He explained that while some individuals were eager to help get the project started, others were more eager in unveiling the work without fully understanding that six weeks was very short notice for a stone sculpture and the tight-fisted behaviour from some bureaucrats was not helping.

“I told them, you guys are more interested in the president unveiling the sculpture than anything else. And then, I don’t know some crazy guy went on and organised the unveiling meanwhile I was still working on the piece in the studio, total confusion,” he said “So then one of my assistants who happened to pass by the site found everything in progress including a brass band playing in readiness for president Frederick Chiluba’s arrival. So when a convoy came to my place to check on the statue I told them that cabinet office should just tell the president the truth, that the work is not yet ready. So he had to unveil it the following day.”

Chandia observed that there are very few works of public art in Zambia and indeed one can count the ones in Lusaka on one hand.

“Look at the national team that brought the Africa champions trophy. For the first time Zambians are champions why not put something up at football house? It might not happen again in a very long time. Also the same statue can commemorate the fallen heroes,” he said “We have all these roundabouts that we can beautify, the airport turn off, Arcades. We have a number of Zambian artists that can do it; I’m not the only one. When we are abroad we are busy taking photos in front of sculptures but what about here, back home?”

Nevertheless, as Chandia rightfully observes, there are very little public art works in Lusaka, let alone Zambia, so it would only be fitting that the works should be protected some how. We should not be surprised if we find posters on Lady Justice at the court buildings or on the Freedom Statue. The two angular arches that commemorate independence for instance, the one in Matero near the police station and the one on the junction as you enter the Kabwata- Madras area just next to the Mosque have been plastered with posters over the years to the point where they are not even visible anymore. These are issues that the much rumoured arts commission (whoever it is going to consist of) that is to be formed can look in to, to come up with a Public Art Protection Policy of some sort, and also to look into the general commissioning of new works.

But although the public commissioning of sculptures has been sluggish for decades, Chandia revealed that there has been a rise in indivduals he described as “dynamic Zambian businessmen” with new money who have adopted an affinity for adorning their homes and business spaces with works of art. He said these businessmen, from various backgrounds are collecting and commissioning art without trying to haggle too much with the artists, he is happy that they are buying the work for what he believes it is worth.

Before the recent developments of a local market, Chandia used to export his works through Chaminuka Nature Reserve and Safari lodge, under the patronage of businessman and one time voracious art collector Andrew Sardanis. Chandia’s work also features in the Tress collection, California, USA, the Sir Robert Loder collection, UK, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UK, the Thabo Mbeki Collection, RSA, the Kenneth Kaunda collection and others, one of his works; a curvaceous female torso can be seen at the Lusaka National Museum. He was one of the first Copperbelt artists to make a breakthrough onto the Lusaka art scene at the now defunct Mpapa Gallery in 1978, and later studied fine art at the City & Guilds in London from 1980 to 1983.

He is known for his organic style in hard wood, dolomite and marble.  Chandia grew up in a mining township in Kitwe on the same street as the legendary and much revered Akwila Simpasa, late Henry Tayali’s arch nemesis, an artist he has looked up to for inspiration throughout his career.
While in the UK, he was also a bass player in the chart-topping British pop band Jimmy The Hoover. In June 1983, their hit single "Tantalise (Wo Wo Ee Yeh Yeh)" reached the top 20 in the UK Singles Chart.


  1. Pasting posters on a historic public sculpture is either sheer vandalism or pure ignorance. To the Zambian man on the street,works of such magnitude have little or no meaning at all.We are not brought up to appreciate art but that's no license to vandalism.We are awake to the fact that most of us are preoccupied with trying to put nshima on the table but that should not be at the expense of our own heritage.

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