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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Shoppers pick favourites at Manda Hill

By Andrew Mulenga

It is common knowledge that the ever mushrooming Zambian shopping malls and arcades receive more visitors than any museum, art gallery or exhibition.

Viewers enjoying the Lusaka centenary
exhibition at Manda Hill
So where better to hold an art exhibition than take it where the crowds are, as did the Lusaka 100 Committee, who organised an art show at the Manda Hill Shopping Mall which has a daily average of 4,000 (four thousand), visitors according to official estimates.

The week-long exhibition was just one of the many activities around the city that the committee organised as a commemoration of Lusaka turning a hundred years old.

“The Visual Arts Council (VAC) have been wonderful, I’ve been going there every week to check on the artists that had been producing work specifically for this exhibition and as you can see they have produced fantastic work”, said Quentin Allen, one of the organisers and participating artists who explained that he made a call for participation through VAC.

“You can tell they’ve enjoyed painting their city. Manda Hill Centre also put their posters up and we got some responses from them as well, plus the space is very generously provided and Manda Hill is not even charging any commission on sales of the work”.

Blind Man's View by Zigzag
But in any case, even if the Manda Hill Centre were to charge a commission, as of Tuesday this week, sales were dreadfully poor despite the enthusiastic audience of mall-goers from all walks of life who were requested to leave comments in a book as part of the judging process because the exhibition was in essence an art competition, with the general public serving as a jury.

“Everyone has been commenting, I mean everyone, from the people cleaning the floors, the security guards, the shoppers, I haven’t seen a single negative comment yet” explained a perceptibly cheerful Allen.

Allen’s optimistic attitude was echoed by sculptor Nezias ‘Neziland’ Nyirenda who was showing a few functional wood sculptures that included a Findeco House-shaped lamp shade and his Mr Environment.

“It is not about the sales. Just to have this exhibition in a public space like Manda Hill is a big achievement. The other day I just had to politely advise a lady that you are not supposed to touch the art work”, said Nyirenda.

Freedom Way by David K Chibwe
He said that a lot of viewers lacked gallery or museum etiquette and did not observe the “don’t touch” rule; as such this was also a learning experience for them.

However, as much as the display was a celebration of the city turning 100, it was not entirely a retrospective exhibition. A lot of the work celebrated a “new” Lusaka, there was very little or no trace of the city once being a village of the indigenous Soli people, or the exhibition site Manda Hill Mall itself, along with the area surrounding the parliament buildings, being the former burial location of Soli royalty as the name Manda (grave) suggests.

The show consisted of two main exhibition spaces each just outside the entrances of the shopping mall’s two anchor stores Shoprite and GAME Stores.

The works at the Shoprite entrance had very energetic imagery besides the fact that Findeco House, the 24 story building that is not only the country’s tallest but most famous building was a recurring icon in a lot of the paintings.

But, interestingly, the artists made artwork of everyday backdrops that we are blinded to and often take for granted as we are consumed by the hustle and bustle of going about our daily business in our beloved city.

Lusaka, a new dawn by
Quentin.S. Allen
A good example would be Blind Man’s View by a Livingstone-based artist who calls himself Zigzag. It depicts any of the two foot underpasses of the cities two flyover bridges which are popular beggar havens. It is the kind of painting that makes you stop and say “I have seen this before”, but then you cannot immediately say where.

But one of the more nostalgic pieces is a 1994 painting entitled Freedom Way by David Chibwe. It depicts a busy junction on one of the city centres main roads and is literally layered with incarnations of times gone by, the dressing, the cars, the stores and potholes.

It has a two point perspective; to the left you see Africa Bar, known as Stanley Bar at the time of its closure about five years ago. Still an iconic element of the city, the bar had its history rooted in colonial Lusaka where it was “the happening” place for locals (or blacks as it were) in Northern Rhodesia. But in its later years the bar was popular for the opaque beer Shake Shake and the washed-up ladies of the night known to sell their services in broad day light for nothing more than a single packet of the brew.

The perspective point on the right depicts a minibus and a taxi painted in green, a colour that was the official tint for public service motor vehicles under the UNIP led government, when the MMD was ushered in they had the buses painted blue through a “regulation 14A of statutory instrument number 115 of 2000” and now that the PF government are at the helm the Ministry of Communication and Transport requires that buses be painted orange or at least have an orange stripe.

Unknowingly, the artist has reminded us that essentially, a Zambian ruling party might as well be identified by a change of bus colours during its reign.

Anyway, the works at the entrance of GAME stores were just as energetic and entertaining as the ones at the Shoprite entrance, except they were more general in theme, and did not adhere solely to the portrayal of the city.

It had works by notables like Style Kunda, Poto Kabwe, Geoffrey Phiri and Charles Chambata alongside some promising young artists such as Mapopa Manda.

In fact, Manda was manning this side of the exhibition and monitoring the comment book. He was excited by how the event had turned out to be sort of an art outreach programme.

“It is going on very well, and people are interested in meeting specific artists whose work they like. Some have even got my number and are saying they will come to our studios in the show grounds”, explained Manda.

But before Manda could continue narrating how well the exhibition was going, the conversation was interrupted by a vigilant, uniformed guard from G4S security, one of the companies that provide protection at the mall.

“You are not allowed to take pictures here”, he said looking directly at the camera hanging from the authors shoulder.

Even after the author explained he was there as a journalist on duty with full permission from the exhibition organisers to take photographs and report on the display, the adamant guard stood his ground.

Cabinet Office by Mathews Mandandi
“You are not allowed, the centre management does not allow. If you want to take pictures you have to go to the offices and get permission from the (Manda Hill) centre management”, he said.

From the look of things, the security officer, with a mobile, two-way radio transceiver crackling in hand appeared to have just been instructed to approach the trio who were casually engaged in art chatter, among them Post Newspapers Technical Manager Andrew Chiwenda.

But in any case, this was an easy choice brought forth by the guard. Who has time to go to the mall administration offices to seek permission to take photographs? It would have been a nonsensical thing to do whatsoever.

We are living in times where some mobile phones have more powerful image capture gadgetry than an actual camera.

Every now and then you can see excited teenagers and adults taking pictures at the mall and upload them to Facebook at the click of a button, do they all go to management to seek permission?.  Also, you can see predominantly European tourists with cameras that make the author’s Canon look like a toy; they too take pictures at the mall without being questioned, do they have a racial advantage that permits them to do so.

Speaking of which shortly after the guard successfully accomplished his duty of prohibiting the author to use a camera, Quentin Allen arrived on the scene oblivious of what had happened, with camera in hand busy snapping away in full view of the guard, but he was not approached. But obviously Allen was allowed to do so because of one of many factors; because of his infectiously jovial character, because he was one of the organisers, because he had sought permission or, you guessed right, because he is a “muzungu” (white person).

Well if Manda Hill Centre Management does not allow cameras on their premises, or if they grant permission by race, they might as well place signs all over the mall.

As we commemorate 100 years of Lusaka, let us also celebrate small things such as the fact that today one is able to use a camera or have their photograph taken in formerly restricted areas; the Main Post Office, the railway station and the Kenneth Kaunda international airport.
Nevertheless, four artists emerged the peoples’ favourites of the exhibition. The most popular at the Shoprite display were Caleb Chisha for his painting Bufi and Spider Kangolo with his Findeco Chair. Nsofwa Bowa’s Hope and Owen Shikabeta’s Building In Tune carried the day at the GAME Stores display.

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