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Friday, 15 February 2013

Ulendo fundraiser kicks off to sluggish start

By Andrew Mulenga

Showing at the Alliance Francaise until Tuesday next week is a small exhibition of paintings and sculptures by various Zambian artists organised by a non-profit organisation called Africa Development International (ADI).

Entitled Ulendo (Journey), the exhibition is a fundraising initiative for a community school livelihood support project in Kalikiliki compound to “exert positive change and enhance literacy amongst orphans and vulnerable children”.

Bad Business Day (oil) by Raphael Chilufya
However, it is not certain whether the exhibition is attracting  as much fundraising as intended, judging from the predominantly non-buying audience that was present at the opening on last Tuesday evening. It was obvious too that the organisers did not really get the invitations out as much as possible and to the right people, which of course is nothing new. It is a good thing to have visitors to an exhibition, but it is an even better thing to have buyers at a show that is intended to raise funds for such a noble cause as literacy for orphans and vulnerable children.

Anyhow, the show does have some enjoyable works to look at by several well-known artists of some repute spanning a broad age range and the exhibition content presents a mixed bag. On display are paintings by Caroline Miyoba, Raphael Mutulikwa, Raphael Chilufya, Gordon Shamulenge, Jeff Lungu and the ‘Makishi man’ Ignatius Sampa to name a few.

In one corner of the exhibition Miyoba provides aptly themed realistic renditions that echo the voices of underprivileged children in about three paintings. In the same corner 48-year-old Mutulikwa, who has enjoyed a steady stream of some local and international collectors the include the Lechwe Art Trust and The Post Newspapers Ltd among others, offers his signature, hazy and deliberately out-of-focus visual technique that he appears to have mastered over the years.

Fish on a journey by late Friday Tembo (1962-2004)
Chilufya, who is Mutulikwa’s contemporary, namesake and age-mate delivers a couple of pleasant, everyday scenes best enjoyed standing a few metres back such as Bad Business Day that show a mastery of very subtle brush strokes and earthy pallet. Viewers that have been following him for some years will notice that he has sharpened his precision, perhaps by the use of smaller brushes.

Shamulenge, Lungu and Sampa’s paintings look too familiar to regular exhibition goers and they are clearly leftovers from previous shows. This is where the show becomes mildly annoying seeing that this is Alliance Francaise first exhibition of the year, some new and fresh works would have been enjoyable. But it is forgivable, nonetheless when artists bring works that have been lying around at home to a charitable show, it is more humane to donate something of value than to let it gather dust at home or in the studio, so yes, in some cases shortcuts can be allowed.

Speaking of shortcuts, one almost unforgivable fault in this exhibition is the fact that there is a work by late Friday Tembo, one of Zambia’s influential sculptors, that makes an unannounced appearance.

According to one of the organisers and exhibiting artists George Mwanza, an upcoming sculptor himself, the wall sculpture was literally half buried and was dug up from the late Tembo’s former residence in Lusaka’s Linda compound where it had been subjected to the elements for years.

Luckily, the piece that the exhibition organisers entitled Fish On A Journey which depicts a school of seven fish swimming in the same direction survived its subterranean stint. Made from reclaimed metal sheets and pipes, it is still partially covered in soil, perhaps a deliberate move so the dirt authenticates the story of the excavation. The undated work confirms the versatility of Tembo as a wood, stone and metal sculpture as well as his meticulous craftsmanship. For Fish On A Journey the artist sliced what looks like domestic water pipes into hundreds of thin pieces to create the scales and eyes. For the body and fins he hammered out the metal into thin sheets. 

The asking price for Fish On A Journey is KR 8,000, which is fair enough considering the good cause of the exhibition as well as the stature and status of the artist, but of course it can do with a bit of dusting off and polishing before it can look presentable in the foyer of a hotel, bank or fancy restaurant.

Welcome (acrylic) by Jeff Lungu
But who knows Friday Tembo? If you are not a keen follower of contemporary Zambian art, or a long time collector like Andrew Sardanis, John Kapotwe, Enzio Rossi or Gwenda and Roger Chongwe among others he is obviously unfamiliar to you.

This is why, the organisers of Ulendo, as much as they did a good job within their modest means could have at least highlighted that Tembo was a self-taught sculptor and a visionary, whom at the time of his death effectively established an informal art school for underprivileged young artists called Ulendo Studios that produced a good number of apprentices who continued working there after his demise in 2004. These brief facts, written in a paragraph or two could just be enough to re-introduce Tembo and entice a patron to purchase a work and support the community school in Kalikiliki which intends to “exert positive change and enhance literacy amongst orphans and vulnerable children” as mentioned earlier.

But apart from Tembo, the many upcoming artists who have their work on display at Alliance Francaise are unknown, and some of them are being introduced to the public for the first time, again a short paragraph introducing each artist with a photo of their work is of the essence, in other words, even a makeshift exhibition catalogue printed on A4 bond paper will do. These come in handy to exhibition initiates and the frequent stream of foreign guests that visit exhibitions of this nature.

Nevertheless, Ulendo should not be missed, it is still an important exhibition to see, not only does it provide the opportunity for introducing new talent, it’s overall cause is just.

But once again, the muddy brown colour of the walls of the viewing space does not help the ambience of the exhibition, making viewing during the evening less enjoyable. However, this is something that may be difficult to change because the space is Alliance Francaise main hall and is used for many other activities such as theatrical performances, musical concerts and film screenings which might work well with such subdued walls. As the centre remains a key exhibition space we may just have to live with it.
During the opening of Ulendo, Alliance Francaise chairman Chanda Mwiko, introduced the new Director Pascal Tomasini, whom at a glance has a visibly jovial personality and passion for the arts.

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