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Sunday, 10 March 2013

From the streets to the gallery

By Andrew Mulenga

They say there is nothing new under the sun, and obviously, by the same token, some of Zambia’s most influential artists have been experimenting with scrap metal as a medium for decades. Henry Tayali’s Bull at Galaunia Farms along the Airport road in Lusaka, William Miko’s Future Car at the Lusaka National Museum and Martin Phiri’s many works in several collections in Zambia and abroad is testimony this.
This 'spider lamp' can be used made from a discarded gas
tank can be mounted on the wall or placed on the lawn
So, it should not be a big deal if 33-year-old sculptor Joseph Shakulipa has made working in this medium his main stay. However, there is something about Shakulipa that separates him from all his forerunners. Unlike them, he has barely seen the inside of a classroom whereas they remain among the most educated Zambian visual artists to date. The late Tayali obtained a BA in Fine Arts at Makerere University as early as 1967 and followed it up with an MA degree from Staatliche Kunstakademic in Germany. Miko has both a BA and MA from Middlesex University in London, while the late Phiri obtained a BA Fine Art degree from China in 1985 and later mobilized his colleagues to form the Zambia National Visual Arts Council (VAC).
“I started art in 2006, after I was encouraged by my master Charles Chambata. Before I started art I used to do any other job to make money. I used to be an ‘eagle-eagle’ (Zambian slang for hawker), I was about 19 and I used to sell oranges and then later became a garden boy in Olympia Park, but then I returned and the street because you know I didn’t get an education because I was moving from step father to step mother, just being kept by people” narrates the former street vendor whom through Chambata managed to sneak a sculpture into the prestigious National Exhibition at the Henry Tayali Gallery from where Ngoma Award Finalists are selected. The same year he launched his career, 2006, Shakulipa was nominated as a finalist for the awards.
A life-size sculpture of a walking
man made from an old lawn
mower and car parts
“Charles is not a jealous or selfish person he started putting my works in exhibitions because it was not easy if you are a non-VAC member, I am very thankful for him to have confidence in me and give me a chance to prove myself”, says the dreadlocked artist commending his ‘brother man’ and fellow Rastafarian.
He explains that during his time as a street hawker outside the Manda Hill Mall he would sneak into the nearby Lusaka show grounds to see Chambata at work. When Chambata, also from Garden Compound noticed the enthusiasm in his friend he invited him to become an apprentice, allowing him to sand and grind some of his works, which are mostly in wood.  
“When I became Charles’s assistant he returned to Garden (compound) but I knew I had some creativity inside me, in fact I sold my first works to Fr. Olinto at the Pope’s Square, I earned about K500, 000 (five hundred thousand kwacha) which was a lot of money for me at the time, I was used to small money as an eagle-eagle,” says the artist who now enjoys commissions from the Farmers Union as well as collectors such  as former bank governor Caleb Fundanga .
After he discovered his creative streak, he started earning some money and later found a space at the Arts Academy Without Walls (AAW) in the Lusaka Showgrounds. By now he was in the habit of collecting discarded metal objects and hoarding them at his work space until he thought of creative ways of turning them into art.
An electrical  lamp shaped into a plant
“Right now I do not miss my street vending days because I am making a bit of money to feed my family and I was able to buy my own power tools like a grinder. Although I still intend to but a welding machine of my own because right now, the welding machine at the Visual Arts Council is broken so I have to hire,” explains Shakulipa.
Much of the artist’s work is left in its rust-coated unrefined form, much like that of the late Martin Phiri. He is not in the habit of giving his work a coat of glossy shimmer as can be seen in the works of other artists who use this medium such as Eddie Mumba or Jerry Kapungwe Miko with whom he exhibited in a show that was entitled Recycled. In fact Recycled which focused on the environmental threat and artistic diversity is one of Shakulipa’s career highlights. In 2008 the exhibition opened in Norway and featured six other artists from across the African continent including the internationally acclaimed Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui who has been teaching sculpture among other things at the the the University of Nigeria, Nsukka since 1975.
Joseph Shakulipa with a shelf that
he carved out of a fallen tree
Nevertheless, in 2012 Shakulipa’s work was featured on the Grant Thornton desk calendar. He has also had an individual show at the Alliance Francaise in Lusaka and has exhibited in several group exhibitions at the Henry Tayali Gallery. Last year he exhibited with children at the International School of Lusaka, Portico Restaurant and Mary Immaculate School.
These remain exciting times for the artist; his art was recently commissioned by a Dutch NGO, through the help of his friend a medical doctor and fellow artist Dr Jack Menke, 3 of his works were shipped to Amsterdam for permanent display in February.
Shakulipa’s story is nothing but inspirational, regardless of his beginnings he is a real artist, he lives the life and the struggle. Instead of sitting down and crying for help like many youths, he took it upon himself; through scrap metal, discarded wood and hard work he feeds his wife and four children.

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