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Monday, 3 June 2013

37d Gallery hosts emerging artists

By Andrew Mulenga

Once again, 37d Gallery, a private venue in Lusaka’s leafy Kabulonga residencial area did not disappoint when it recently hosted six emerging artists, Mulenga Mulenga, David Makala, Natasha Evans, Tom Phiri, Rabson Phiri and Emmanuel Chibaye   in a thoroughly absorbing show of works entitled Movement-Momentum.

Balance (scrap metal) by Rabson Phiri
A relatively new space, on the Zambian art scene, 37d is a highly exclusive venue and visitors to the gallery only get to see it by invitation. The gallery space is on private property, and the organizers, The stART Foundation, a private trust founded to promote the visual arts in 2011 strictly emphasize on ‘high quality’ artwork and they are quite picky on artists they invite to exhibit in the space.

The stART Foundation’s board members comprises entreprenuers Claire Chan and Cilla Frost-d’Elbee among others. Last year Chan was quoted as saying “However, do not expect so many exhibitions at 37d, We can only do it so many times a year; it will have to remain exclusive. We can only have at least three exhibitions a year.”

To outsiders, Chan can appear inscrutable and aloof but those who know her, however, say that she is good company and retains a youthful sense of mischief and passion for art. She is extremely focused on what she does and is also known to drive a hard deal.

It appears The stART Foundation intends to make 37d a viable western-style commercial gallery carefully selecting artists, hosting them at a fee of course and keeping a percentage of the earnings on every work sold. They have an exclusive list of buyers whom they invite to view the work and bid for purchases at champagne-flowing exhibition openings, and from the look of things, it seems to be working. They have successfully hosted such artists as Flinto Chandia, Stary Mwaba, Lawrence Yombwe and Pam Guhrs-Carr.  

Mwanapwebo (bronze and other media)
by Tom Phiri
The emerging artists’ exhibition Movement-Momentum, can safely be declared a success particularly as far as sales for individual artists are concerned. Little known Natasha Evans, the top-selling artist in the show must have walked away about KR36, 000 (thirty six thousand kwacha rebased) richer judging from the little red stickers that are placed beside artworks in an exhibition to show that a work has been sold. Evans provided the space with a wide range of thematic subject matter in a variety of paint-related media and collage techniques. The equally unfamiliar David Makala probably walked away with KR24, 700 (twenty-four thousand and seven hundred kwacha rebased) if all the bidders honoured their payments to the talented painter whose work appears to have very strong Stary Mwaba influences.

Mulenga Mulenga sold the only painting she had in the show, which, if you asked anyone who knows her work, was not even one of her stronger specimens. The mystery however is why she only had a single work on display as opposed to artists such as Evans who had about ten paintings on display, quite a disparity for a group exhibition, disparity that would have made sense if the show was a Natasha Evans solo exhibition that features ‘other’ artists, but obviously the well capable curators at The stART Foundation know exactly what they were doing.

Emmanuel Chibaye was able to make at least one sale of his enigmatic Dali-esque pen and ink drawings as did Rabson Phiri, a product of late Friday Tembo’s Ulendo Studios in Lusaka’s Linda Compound. Phiri sold a magnificent scrap metal sculpture entitled Balance that mymics someone riding a unicycle and has trailing flanges that give the impression of wind and speed.

The Vagrant (mixed media)
by Natasha Evans
Tom Phiri, one of the few, promising young Zambian artists trying to work in the challenging and costly material of bronze had a good number of Luvale inspired Mwanapwebo masks but could not sell a single one on opening night.

Nevertheless, while 37d Gallery is one of the best things to happen to the Zambian art scene in the past couple of years, and as much as it is playing a part in helping a select group of artists to get their works sold, its emphasis on exclusivity is somewhat worrying.

Let us suppose artists are convinced to sign with the gallery under some sort of binding contractual circumstances. This will mean that a body of work by a particular artist that was exclusively meant for an exhibition at 37d cannot be enjoyed by the general public. It will be shown at a private gallery opening, purchased and whisked away to an equally private residence, personal office or boardroom, never to be seen or enjoyed by anyone else other than the collector again.

Threshing (Acrylic on canvas) by David Makala

However, 37d is not entirely all about sales and the commercial aspects of running a gallery. The gallery, alongside The stART Foundation runs Just Imagine an outreach programme that carries out workshops where some basic art skills are imparted and talented children mingle with established art professionals.

Giga Psych III (pen on paper) by Emmanuel Chibaye
Earlier, in the South Luangwa National Park led by renowned artist and stART founder member Pam Guhrs-Carr (the first artist to exhibit at 37d) in partnership with local artists Godwin Bishedi and Aaron Banda, held an impressive eight workshops with an oversubscription of fifty children in a rural setting.

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