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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Pulling down the clouds


By Andrew Mulenga

It is easy to be swept into the merriment and festival atmosphere of the Chakwela Makumbi ceremony of the Soli people in Lusaka province as you mingle with the crowds outside the palace’s main arena almost forgetting the whole essence of the event.


Nkomesha on her way to the arena
It is only when one tries to follow the traditional procession of the and gets to listen to the host, her royal highness Chieftainess Nkomeshya Mukamambo II that one can learn and try to understand of the whole purpose of the occasion.

“The essential principle and purpose of this ceremony is to ask our ancestral spirits and the almighty God through prayers, for good rainfall and other favourable weather conditions, so that people can grow more food for themselves to eat,” read part of her written speech to the guest of honour, the Vice President Dr Guy Scott, other dignitaries and guests including the Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo, members of the diplomatic, business and farming communities.

Chakwela Makumbi, a Soli phrase loosely means ‘to pull down the clouds’, it is a spiritual undertaking, that involves  her royal highness praying for  a good rain season in preparation for the planting of good seed of which she symbolically  has to be the very first person to plant a seed.

Escorts clear the way
for the chieftainess
In her speech, she also seized the opportunity to thank the Patriotic Front government for a number of developmental projects in her chiefdom in the areas of education, agriculture, health and road networks.

In education she thanked government for the construction of four classroom blocks and a staff house at Mikango Basic School, a dormitory at Mukamambo II Girls’ School, six classrooms at Twatasha Basic School (ZNS) Airport, 3 classrooms and a staff house at Twikatane Basic School and students' hostels at Chalimbana Local Government Training Institute.

“I would like to greatly thank the PF government for having transformed the National in Service Teachers College (NISTCOL) into a full-fledged university. I sincerely thank his Excellency the president of the republic of Zambia Mr Michael Chilufya Sata for recognising this historic
A rifleman finishes
cocking his muzzleloader
institution by turning it into a university. I am reliably informed that they will commence degree programmes in January, 2013,” she stated.

She also thanked the president for having transformed Palabana Daily Training Institute into a University as well. And although she was thankful for the completion of 10 staff houses at Chongwe district hospital as well as the construction of four health centres, namely; Bimbe, Mulalika, Katoba and Chute, she appealed for the construction of more staff houses, more professional staff members and the provision of necessary equipment. She emphasised that there was also need for X-ray, theatre and maternity facilities and the construction of a shelter for those caring for patients.

On agriculture, she was very pleased with this year’s season citing a bumper harvest. And while she appreciated the
The chieftainess in prayer
fertilizer support programme, she appealed to government through the guest of honour to double the inputs from four to eight packets as it was in the past, but also hoped for earlier delivery and distribution. She was also unhappy with the payment system for the farmers and hoped a better one could be devised so that the farmers are able to plan for the next farming season.

She thanked government for the road works on the crossing points at Chibombe, Kasenga and Kampasa streams, but again raised some concerns.

“Tarring Leopards Hill Road to Chiyaba should not end at Katoba junction, and turn to Chiyaba; instead another contractor should be hired to continue with the road construction and tarring up to Great East Road via Chalimbana University. This is a ‘U” road and it cannot be
She is helped to her feet
after she breaks down in tears
during prayer as per tradition
good to do the road half way only to come and complete it after a considerable period of time, approximately over 5 years. Please consider this seriously”.

She concluded by talking about HIV/AIDS, its impact in her chiefdom and the measures she is trying to implement in terms of awareness.

“This scourge has not spared the districts under my jurisdiction; namely Lusaka, Chongwe, Kafue, Chilanga and Shibuyunji districts. Our people in these districts are equally vulnerable to this disease. However, we as traditional leaders have also been actively involved in the National Effort in the fight against HIV/AIDS, by sensitizing our people in the observance of high morals, the avoidance of loose sexual habits, the avoidance or banning of traditional sexual cleansing and the discouraging of polygamy.”

The previous night, before the palace grounds were prepared for the ceremony, a cow was slaughtered and the chieftainess was offered its roasted liver with no salt as part of a ritual while the head and hooves were also roasted and eaten without salt by the four royal headmen of the chiefdom.
She lights a fire to launch the
clearing of fields for planting.
She is accompanied by
 Republican Vice President Guy Scott
and other government officials
The same night the four headmen or Indunas; bena Nkumbula, bena Chitentabunga, bena Kabeleka, and bena Mwampatisha met at the Kantungu, a special meeting place inside the palace compound to pay homage to the departed rulers of the Soli as well as to perform rituals to evoke the spirit of the first mukamambo who is buried nearby.

The actual day of the ceremony involves a lot of traditional song and dance that starts in the morning until a time when the cheiftainess comes out of her palace and is escorted to the main arena’s grand stand in the royal grounds where a throne is placed for her to officiate at the festivities.

As she emerges from the house, she is accompanied by her daughters, Indunas, some subjects and some musketeers that continuously fire muzzleloaders whose sound is said to symbolize the thunder of the much anticipated rains; it is after all a rain making ceremony.

She plants the first seed to pave
way for her subjects to commence
the planting season
The path on which she walks barefoot to the arena is specially painted with different shades of clay symbolizing purity, the people, the land and the Soli’s exodus from Kola in modern day Congo during the great Luba-Lunda migrations, and no one must dare step on it before she does, as they do so at the risk of being manhandled by the vigilant security personnel.

As the cheftainess sits down she is entertained by more dances and song, some are performed by the different groups that form the seven zones that make up the Soli chiefdom from Lunsemfwa in the north extending to the Kafue in the south, the Luangwa in the East and chief Shakumbile in Mwembeshi West of Lusaka. But some dances are performed by visiting cultural groups such as their traditional cousins the Luvale and this year there was even a Rwandese group that performed dances from their country in the main arena.

Subjects roll over on the floor
After a few performances, the chieftainess took centre stage where the community brought out an assortment of planting seeds and she put them together in bowls, sprinkling them with the rain water collected from the previous rainy season from a clay pot. This is done to bless the seed. Surrounded by some Indunas and women, she knelt down to pray, facing the heavens. She prayed in Soli and in English with her hands in the air, alternately raising the bowls with seed. “I will not be afraid LORD because you are there for me, you are there for me LORD you always
Visiting tribe - A member of the
Luvale Chota Cultural Group
protect me for the sake of your people LORD, be there for me…”, she said, her voice faltering and eventually weeping she faced the ground only to be lifted back to her feet by the Indunas and a kapaso who serves as both a bodyguard and a messenger and had been holding on to her slippers all along.

The royal entourage later proceeded on foot to the field along with the guest of honour, other officials and onlookers to light a fire in the royal field that signified the clearing of the fields for the new farming season. She then tilled a very small portion of land and planted some seeds to signify the beginning of the farming season. Afterwards she returned to the main arena for speeches, more performances and receiving of gifts and she finally retired to the palace leaving the festivities going on late into the night with much revelry.


Some could not be bothered by the ceremony and they
were just there to have a good time behind the scenes
The Chakwela Makumbi, like many other traditional ceremonies has become a battleground for corporate advertising which mainly involves a clash of the titans among the telecommunications companies that take advantage of visibility by plastering their banners all over the ceremony grounds as well as parking their outdoor concert vehicles in the area.

There was also much to drink and eat in the makeshift grass thatch stalls that serve as restaurants and taverns among other things.

It is also a time when villagers can purchase much coveted western consumables from the city such as cell phones, suitcase, cheap sunglasses and other clothing items that are displayed on the floor outside the arena.
In true festival atmosphere, there were even gambling stalls where people can try their luck at winning anything from alcohol to cash prizes.

Foreign visitors cool off
The chieftainess with her daughters in the grand stand
Young Rwandese dancers perform for chieftainess
Members of the Luvale Chota
Dance Group prepare
Members of the Mukamambo II Girls School choir sing the national anthem in Soli
The rifles are fired to mimic thunder
Riflemen and escorts clear the
royal path for the chieftainess
Some take time to try their luck at winning prizes
by throwing hoops on various commodities
The ceremony attracts all walks of life.
Two beauties pose for the camera in the palace
compound after the royal planting of the seeds
Evans, an annual trader at the even inspects his stocks
A Soli princess enjoying the procession
Miss Tourism at the event
The chieftainess presents a lamb to Vice President Guy Scott as a gift
A vigilant member of the
royal security team

As the tribal cousins of the Soli, members of the Luvale Chota Cultural Group
prepare to dance Chiyanda and Mokolo
























 

 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Are Zambian authors underrated?


By Andrew Mulenga

Last week, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services through the Zambia Copyright Office held a two day seminar inviting about forty literary authors, publishers and interested parties.

Held at Mika Lodge in Lusaka, the roundtable was overseen by Sonia Cruickshank, Senior Program Officer, Copyright Development Division, WIPO in Geneva and among other key visiting speakers were Dora Makwinja head of the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) and Greenfield Chilongo Executive Director, Zimbabwe Reproduction Rights Organisation (ZIMPCOPY).

Over a two day period, the seminar participants discussed local and foreign copyright laws, effective management of copyright and benefits for developing countries as well as managing use of content in the digital environment.

During her presentation, the Zambia Copyright Office deputy registrar Grace Kasungami explained that government had realised that most writers and publishers were not aware they were required to either have their books registered at her office, with the Zambia Reprographic Rights Society (ZARRSO) or deposited at the National Archives. ZARRSO was set up a couple of years ago aimed at “Rewarding authors and publishers for the reproduction of their works”.


A wide-ranging selection of titles
from cookbooks to biographies
by various Zambian authors
(Courtesy Book Planet, Arcades)
Nevertheless, as smooth sailing as the deliberations might have been, a number of unprecedented issues seeped through the dialogues to take centre stage. Key among these were a general feeling that they (Zambian authors) are not appreciated locally, uncertainty with regards the opportunity for them to market their work to the world during the UNWTO, as well as a mood that they too need to benefit from the security holograms that are soon to be introduced to audio and video compact discs.

“Most writers do not know that they are supposed to deposit a book with anyone except take them directly onto the market I don’t know how the ministry can help to spread that information and tell the writers the benefits of doing it,” explained Zambia Women Writers Association’s (ZAWWA) Malia Mzyce Sililo following  Kasungami’s address.

 “I know for sure some people like the American library visit publishers and writers associations in Zambia and I have had the opportunity of recommending a few. Some make an effort to contact Zambian writers and in the end you find more Zambian books in America than in Zambian libraries”

“If you visit any Zambian library you will find no book written by a Zambian. Even the so-called custodians of Zambian books you speak of have no Zambian books. Maybe our writing is not good enough, it is as if they are ashamed of us Zambian writers, they look down on our writing but an American library will remember that there is a Malia Mzyce Sililo somewhere, so I don’t know how we are going to grow this industry”

Sililo light-heartedly said if Zambian writers were that bad, it is better to give the badly written books to the younger generation whom by being exposed to the bad work may feel ashamed, yet inspired and try to improve on them out of patriotic pride.
The author of Picking up the Pieces as well as several English school text books also revealed that ZAWWA has in its possession over 50 manuscripts, but she wonders where they are going to take them, the cost of printing and publishing being uncontrollably exorbitant here in Zambia. She publishes with MK Publishers of Uganda who do not demand an upfront payment.

But Theresa Phiri, a planner in the Ministry of Education, assured the gathering that things are not as bad as Sililo had put them and that there was still hope for Zambian authors.

“The other day I walked into a bookstore to buy books for my grandson who is in Grade four and my daughter who is in Grade 11, all the books that are being used in schools are written by Zambians,” narrated Phiri “I bought all the subjects and every single one of them was written by a Zambian except for the ones in English literature. I bought Animal Farm, The Concubine and Things Fall Apart, but I just want to commend the Zambian writers also”.

By the same token, Mabvuto Zulu a representative of Longman Zambia, the educational book publishers claimed that there are a lot of books in the works.
“Many (writers) are saying that Zambian writers are not supported.  We pay Billions, now Millions in royalties to Zambian writers year in year out, there are some writers who approach us and we tell them certain criteria that they should meet, and when we tell them they do not come back.”
Perhaps unintentionally, Zulu indicated that Longman demand what may be very prohibitive standards, this may probably be linked to Sililo’s earlier concerns where she claimed the neglect of Zambian writers.

Zulu almost certainly amplified Sililo’s worries, which brings to thought; are Zambian authors really any good? None of them have been introduced into the Schools literature in English syllabus, even as we approach the nation’s fiftieth independence anniversary the accepted standard is that mostly written by West African writers and the now transcendent George Orwell and William Shakespeare. It solicits the long-lasting question; Are Zambian authors worth reading?
Nevertheless, whether or not Zambian authors ­­ ­– particularly the fiction writers – are managing to infiltrate classrooms and libraries, one thing that is for sure is that they do have a very strong presence in book stores.

Taking a visit to Planet Books, a bookstore at the Arcades Shopping Centre in Lusaka one discovers an array of titles by Zambian authors, based home and away which reveals that they have been quite busy, writing on various topics from cookery to economics, politics to poetry and so on.

Unlike the empty library shelves described by Sililo, on these you find Dambisa Moyo’s critically acclaimed Dead Aid, Ellen Banda-Aaku’s Patchwork which won the 2010 Penguin Prize for African writers an accolade she holds among many that also includes a Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa.  There is also Zambian Cookbook by Sylvia C. Banda and Hector Banda, Born and Bred in the Zambezi Valley by Jane Vlahakis Nash and Shatis Vlahakis, Unequal to the task by Elias Chipimo Junior, Across the brics, positioning the nation by Obine Bwalya, Let us pray for Zambia and let his Kingdom come by Chishala Kateka as well as Information and Broadcasting Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga’s Levy Patrick Mwanawasa: an incentive for prosperity.
Anyhow, during last week’s gathering Alick F. C. Musonda the author of 15 books including Tourist Guide to Street Lingua-Franca, the hilarious Maliongo's Adventures series and some local language titles raised a concern on how Zambian authors can get their books to Livingston during the UNWTO.

“Foreigners (visiting delegates) will want to know what is happening in the mind of a Zambian, and the only way they can really do this is through our literature” he said.

Representing government, the Zambia Copyright Office staff present referred Musonda to the National Arts Council (NAC) who will be coordinating the display of books, photographs,  music CD’s and DVD’s, fabrics, prints, paintings, sculptures, basketry, jewelry and semi-precious stones at various venues during the general assembly.

Responding to this, one attendee questioned how much coordination there is between the ministry of information and broadcasting services and what he described as the “newly created, possibly active but obviously lopsided towards tourism, Ministry of Tourism and Arts” because  if they want to work in isolation they will not get anything done particularly with regards the holograms.

“Although that one is outside this meeting, there is a lot of coordination, you may wish to know that most of our creative arts from the creative industry are coming from tourism and we have a task force specifically for the holograms which is in fact chaired by the NAC chairperson Mulenga Kapwepwe herself” interjected Kasungami on behalf of government.

During the seminar it was also learned that the much talked about holograms to be introduced in September on audio visual products will not mean an immediate curb of piracy.

“For Malawi, how far we are in terms of fighting piracy, we faced the same challenges you same ones you have. We already have the hologram, but it’s limited to sound recording, we learned from Ghana, but are now ahead of them because their pirates were clever, they were able to copy the holograms,” explained Malawi’s Makwinja an anti-piracy devotee who is also the only African board member of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).

“In 1999 we changed so the one we are using now has more advanced features, but we have only applied it to local work and not imported work. We have moved to audio-visual work and we are now in the process of negotiating with book publishers who have also been demanding for the hologram as you are doing here in this meeting”.

The issue of the hologram was heated throughout the seminar with attendees showing scepticism as to whether it will be a success even on the audio visual publications. Others saw it as a losing battle citing the widespread digital file sharing and the fact that every market place in the country has small shops with posters that read “CD burning done here”. In some of these shops the latest MP3 music files can go for as little as 50ngwee whereas the latest Hollywood movies go for K3 even before they premier in local cinemas. It was also mentioned that the younger generation were the largest culprits because it was not uncommon to find a 15-year-old with over 1,000 songs compressed on their mobile phones yet they do not even know the shelf price of a CD in a music store.

But closing the deliberations, Kasungami assured all the participants that there is still room to address all the issues that were raised.

“We will be having plenary sessions and round tables and this is just the first of its kind, just the beginning so you can at least give government credit, besides that you can knock on our door twenty four hours” she said “We are using a very old copyright act only a small portion was amended for the hologram. There are plans to have the whole act amended. Where you see we are not working you can push us and make us work. Let’s start identifying what issues we want amended in the act, this is just the beginning “.

And as a closing word of advice to the authors and publishers from Cruickshank, who is a lawyer by profession, she advised them all to take their work very seriously and ensure that it is well preserved for their own personal copyright records and for future generations to enjoy.

“It really is important for your culture to be maintained through books. If the books are deposited in the national archives it is the only historical way of knowing who has done what,” advised Cruickshank.
Meanwhile, in closing the seminar, Kenneth Musamvu, the registrar of copyrights thanked all for attendance deeming the meeting a great success and assuring them all that government will look into all the issues that had been raised.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Craftsmen double stocks for UNWTO


By Andrew Mulenga

It is still a month away, but the vendors and craftsmen who occupy the 60 stalls at Mukuni Park Curio Market in Livingstone have increased their stocks and sharpened their chisels to create yet more handicrafts to cater for the estimated thousands of delegates and tourists that are expected to throng the city.  


Mukuni Park Curio Market Vice-Chairman John Walubita
working on animal carvings outside his stall in
 Livingstone - Picture By Edwin Mbulo
“We plan to have on display certain crafts that we normally export to Countries such as South Africa like elephants and other crafts made out of iron wood. Iron wood fetches a good price when exported and if sold locally the price is low,” says Mukuni Park curio market vice-chairperson John Walubita.

Meanwhile, Mukuni Park the lush green space just behind the stalls will be a venue for performing arts during the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly according to the official exhibition programme from the National Arts Council. The park was in 2008 rehabilitated by the World Bank funded Support for Economical Enhancement and Diversification (SEED). It was an important site for the local population of Livingstone which historically served as a recruitment centre for local African labour and activities such as parade of the Native Police and the Barotse Native Police Band which later became the Northern Rhodesia Police Band that played at the park every Thursday evening.

Nevertheless, if you have no fear of the challenge of extra luggage the best news of all is that you can take it all home with you after all, the theme for all the exhibitions is “Take Zambia Home with You”, encouraging all the delegates to visit the exhibition stands and buy “something Zambian” to take home with them.

According to NAC, all seven official UNWTO hotels will have space reserved for one form of exhibition or another and besides Mukuni Curio Market, handicrafts have several existing and new places.

The Livingstone National Museum will be the official venue for a National Arts Exhibition which will showcase paintings and sculptures; and it is also expected to have fifteen exhibits from Zimbabwe.

For fans of heavier, more solid sculptures, National Airports Corporation has availed space set up a sculpture park in a paved area in between the car park and the airport building.

Falls Park Mosi-O-Tunya Road is will also be among the main exhibiting areas and featuring  two  large marquees which will be mounted at Falls way Park area, one on either side of Mosi-O-Tunya Road, they will accommodate 30 exhibitors each (15 on either side).

EXHIBITION VENUES

Victoria Falls Curio Market

The oldest curio centre in Livingstone has been rehabilitated by National Heritage Conservation commission (NHCC) so as to make the environment of doing business at the world heritage site conducive. While the new curio market is under construction the traders have been temporary relocated to trade at the up-stream viewing point of the Victoria Falls where a makeshift shop has been set up.

Livingstone Museum

While the art gallery at the already popular museum has been made available for the display of artworks the Spanish-style, open-air patio will be used for the launch. Here visitors might just get a delightful surprize because according to insiders, some of the well preserved paintings by Europeans from the 1700s that pre-date Livingstone and have been locked away for safe keeping may just find themselves in the main exhibition space.

Protea Hotel (Falls Way Car Park) and Fallsway Lodge

A total of 60 tables will be allocated to exhibitors to showcase and sell high quality handicrafts and other products. This space will also include exhibitors from the Zambia Development Agency and will include; Zambia Gemstone Miners, Traders and Jewellers Marketing Association, Handicrafts Association of Zambia, Chawama Crafts and Curios Association, Lilanda Crafts and Curios Association, Pakati Kwacha Association, Chikumbuso (Recycled plastics), Evie Nix Fashion, Joel Kapungu, Products from the crafts producers that are being trained by UNDP and NACZ as well as other established crafts producers who will receive personalised invitations.

Maramba Cultural Village

Crafts producers from all across Zambia who participated in the provincial auditions will be here, but there will also be more sheltered exhibition spaces (marquees) created to cater for crafts traders from the streets. This is bound to be the “must visit” area for anyone buying trinkets on a budget. Ornamental mortars and pestles, drums and masks from all over the country will be found here at reasonable prices ideal for souvenirs and gifts for friends and loved ones back home.

Falls Way Lodge, Chrismar Hotel and Sun Hotel, will accommodate arts and crafts whereas the Courtyard Hotel will only house fine art only.

Wayiwayi Art Gallery and Studio

The art gallery and studio space set up in Dambwa North Extension off the Airport Road by the accomplished Zambian art couple Agnes Buya Yombwe and Laurence Yombwe upon their return to Zambia after living and teaching in Botswana for over a decade is also slated to be one of the exciting spaces during the UNWTO.

The space will house a contemporary art exhibition by various Zambian visual artists as well as a crafts exhibition. Visitors will get the chance to purchase jewellery designed by Agnes and her teenage daughter Yande that are fashioned from found and reclaimed objects but are crafted to very high standards that have also been exhibited and well received in exhibitions abroad. Wayiwayi will also be offering a crash course in their speciality, art classes for children and adults, so delegates and tourists will have a chance to get their hands dirty.

This studio space also serves as the Yombwe’s home, so visitors here might also be lucky and sample the hospitality of a truly Zambian couple, the Yombwe’s being as friendly and as welcoming as they are a simply a microcosm of the average, urban Zambian family. As an artist couple their work borrows from the Mbusa initiation rites of the Bemba people in Northern Zambia, either individually or as a duo, Laurence and Agnes remain among the influential contemporary Zambian artists of their generation.

Livingstone Art Gallery Site        

This space off Sichango Road in the Livingstone showgrounds will house the Insaka International Artists Workshop and will host an exhibition exclusive to contemporary art. A total of 14 foreign artists from ten different countries will be in attendance from Austria, China, Ethiopia, Finland, Kenya, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Tanzania and the co-host Zimbabwe. It will also feature four Zambians artists who live and work abroad from Norway, Switzerland and the USA as well as a total number of 13 locally based artists from Lusaka, Luapula, Copperbelt and Central Provinces. Organised by the Visual Arts Council of Zambia, this one is bound to be entertaining.

By and large, the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly  is expected to be  an arts and crafts blitz with several spaces for exhibiting items ranging from basketry, jewellery, semi-precious stones, books, photographs,  music CD’s and DVD’s, fabrics, traditional foods and drinks, prints, paintings and sculptures.
But as much as there is considerable excitement among the local curio vendors such as Mukuni Park Curio Market’s Walubita, there are also fears and rumours of ferocious competition from rival curio vendors from the capital and beyond with an estimated 500 visiting merchants among them shrewd and highly skilled Congolese and Tanzanian craftsmen.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Hyperrealism: realer than the real thing


By Andrew Mulenga

Just when you think that contemporary art, well in any case European art has been taken over by the legacy of French artist Marcel Duchamp who displayed a urinal as a work of art in an exhibition, it is refreshing to learn that it still has some pockets of rationality within its ranks, and there are still artists who make art that looks like art.

Drawn Face VI, (2009), pencil on paper,
42 x 54 inches, Private Collection,
Mountain View CA, USA,
by Dirk Dzimirsky (courtesy-artist)
In fact some make art, which imitates life so much it looks realer than the real thing. They do not seek to conceal their poor drawing, painting and sculpting skills by over-conceptualizing their work to a point of unintelligible abstraction like a pile of bricks in American minimalist artist Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII or a tin of faeces in Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit (Saturday Post, 29 June 2013) where it seizes to be anything that we would safely call a work of art.

These artists are the Hyperrealists; their work is so much like real life that a pencil drawing looks like a black and white photograph. The results can be so eerily realistic that every feature is drawn or painted in photographic precision at mind-blowing resolutions that could have been produced by any high-end professional camera.

With his enthusiastic students busy scratching away with their pencils against white sheets of paper during a drawing class, this writer’s art lecturer, the late Daliso Mwale once said: “if you can draw as good as a camera (photograph) you might as well stop”.

In shorter terms, Mwale was probably saying, “what’s the point”? But Dirk Dzimirsky, a German Hyperrealist does not agree at all.

“That goes into the same direction as the popular saying: ‘If you know how to do it, it is not art anymore’.  For me it is always the other way around. If I did not know how to do it or if I could not draw decently I would stop,” Dzimirsky told the Hole In the Wall in an interview from his base in Bocholt, a small town in North Rhine Westfalia, Germany “But on the other hand, if I had the feeling I am doing only mere copies of a photo that is just technical skill I would also stop. For me every work of art to be good must have poetry and feelings and the art I have chosen for myself is where I find my poetry, which I understand, can be overlooked too easily.”

Dzimirsky a 44-year-old who has been drawing all his life but had not really considered becoming an artist. He was initially interested in music but discovered his real talent lies in art. It was not until 2005 however, that he took up a career in art, at age 35. Completely self-taught, he decided to become a hyperrealist and has never looked back since.

“I grew up in the 1980s and the art in Germany back then was absolutely nothing that would inspire me to become an artist myself. I got a real bad opinion about art at that time. By doing realistic art I always felt outside but today I do not care and just do what I like. Luckily I am not limited to Europe with my art,” he says.


Melting Ice Crown, (2012) Oil on canvas,
31.5 x 47.2 inches , by Dirk Dzimirsky (courtesy-artist)
Although he believes his type of art is also quite technical, he declares an artist’s work must have feeling and personality. Like in music, he says, when you play a music piece on an instrument and it sounds like a technical exercise because it is too stiff and all notes are played with the same loudness, it becomes boring. He says it is only when you add imperfections like varying the loudness of notes and changes to the tempo then you add feeling and you actually start making music and that this is true with art. For him it still has to be recognisable, realistic art but with small imperfections in the right places he adds ‘music’ to his work.

Other than likening his technique to that of a musician, he also compares himself to a detailed writer, to him; every tonal shade of a pencil or paint is set right where it is supposed to be, similar to a paragraph, coma or full stop in the work of an essayist or biographer.

“The sum of all my pencil lines or brush strokes describes a person. By adding a stroke there or a pencil mark here I feel like describing aspects of a person and even about the character. But at times I also  feel like I am actually not very patient but just very talkative with pencils and brushes,” he explains.

Speaking of lacking patience, he describes how sometimes as an artist it can become quite risky when one becomes irritable during the course of work as one may end up ruining, hours, weeks  or in his case months of work by a simple smudge of the pencil. Dzimirsky as well as any other serious artist or purist does not believe in using an eraser. In fact to the unenlightened, it would be interesting for you to learn that in accademic circles erasers are not allowed in art class.

Unused Truth, (2013) Oil on canvas,
59 x 59 inches, Dirk Dzimirsky (courtesy-artist)

“A drawing or a painting can be like a diva. You are trying so hard to do anything to please her but she is never satisfied. But I have not really ruined works before. Unlike most hyperrealists I do not work my way down from the top left corner to the bottom right and I do not consider every part of a work as equally important as every other part,” says the artist who uses photographs as references but is never after a perfect reproduction only using them very loosely once he establishes the proportions.

“I like to have loose and quickly drawn areas in my work that helps to keep the focus on the parts that I consider important, like a face or certain areas of a face. But it can be also a detail in the hair or a part of an ear, for example. The lack of patience helps to heighten the overall appearance in my work, in my opinion. Makes it less technically and adds more feelings to the image.”

He explains that the brain is trained to differentiate between important and less important information. We see so many photos every day that we are only briefly glancing at them. When you draw or paint in the hyperrealist style you still abstract and simplify very much as you never can make an exact copy of a photo. That is why, he believes, people often say “Wow” when viewing hyperrealist work, because it is kind of refreshing for the brain.

With regards technique and theme, he is predominantly a portrait artist, but water as a thematic subject is a recurring element in his works. Two good examples of such work are Drawn Face VI, (2009) and the more recent  Melting Ice Crown, (2012). Both depict the close-ups of faces with intense expressions, the first a lightly bearded man with water splashed across his face, the second a young girl with water cascading down her face. Both subjects have their eyes closed yet feel so alive by their expressions. While the two works are not in colour, the picture of the girl is actually a monochrome painting, which is painted in such a way that it resembles pencil, the medium used on the male subject.

“Water gave me the chance to show faces in a different way. The water distorts the face somewhat and adds a lot of colours and different lights, almost like a kaleidoscope. It helps to change the visual interests away from the usual parts in a face, which are the eyes, the mouth and the nose,” he explains

“Since I started this in 2008 (of course I was not the first one) I notice that it obviously inspired people to do something similar. I have the feeling that it gets overused, so it might be time for me doing something else.”

Dirk Dzimirsky at work in his studio
in Bocholt, Germany (courtesy-artist)
He says that creating work that is so realistic does have its downside, because every now and then people would say his work cannot be real and he probably uses some form of trickery, but the does not bother him. He acknowledges that there are a lot of artists cheating on the internet, so he understands why people get suspicious. But he publicly exhibits his works and people can confirm that they are not photographs.

When he took up art professionally,  focused almost only on drawing which he describes as his first love but since last year he has taken up painting and evidently, his paintings are just as hyper realistic as his drawings as can be seen in a recent work entitled Used Truth (oil on canvas, 2013), the spellbinding portrait of a young lady holding a watering can. She is dripping with beads of water and is executed in photographic precision down to the last eyelash and strand of hair. The black background and play on light and shadow enhance the image’s realistic appearance.

Professionally, Dzimirsky is not attached to any particular gallery and prefers to go about the comercial aspect of art by himself, although he does conduct drawing workshops for a limited period within the year. He has exhibted extensively in the USA, the UK and Germany at Principle Gallery, Alexandria, USA, Courtauld Institute of Art , London, UK, Stadt Hamminkeln, Germany , Williams & Co Gallery, New York, USA - Aqua Art Miami, USA  and the Blackheath Gallery, London.
Nevertheless,  as much as the works of Dzimirsky are a welcome and refreshing shift from the sometimes infuriating conceptual art that appears to be consuming the style of every artist in its path, Hyperrealism can also serve as a reminder of what the hand can do without the aid of the technology we are so inclined to nowadays, a reminder that without the aid of high-tech gadgetry the artist’s human cognizance still has delicate powers of observation, hyperrealism is a celebration of being human.