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Monday, 30 September 2013

Straight A student shuns sciences, eyes art as career

By Andrew Mulenga

Most straight-A school leavers that manage to attain the much sought after “six points” for six subjects in their grade twelve statement of results look to the future with high flying intentions of studying the sciences and making a career in either medicine or engineering.

Aged 17, Lina was the youngest artist in the
high-ranking 20th UNWTO general assembly
main art exhibition that was held at the
Livingstone Museum in August
Alina Mateke on the other hand has no such plans even when she got similar results early this year. The 17-year-old Livingstone resident has made up her mind that she wants to study art because that is where her heart is and she is happiest when she is creating art, and the best thing according to her is that her parents are supportive all the way.

“I sat for English, maths, biology and science which is combined physics/chemistry I also did commerce and literature and never did art at school but I want to go and study graphic design and fine art. I wasn’t very sure of what career I wanted but my mother told me to study very hard so that I’m not forced in to a career that i don’t want after grade 12,” says Mateke.

She never took art as a subject but only joined the art club at her school, St. Mary’s in Livingstone when she was in Grade 11. But she was too busy to continue in Grade 12 and stopped going there, instead always vising the art teacher in charge of the club for advice and he told her just to get ready and prepare for the exam.

Looking at a few of her works, which are mostly portraits, without a doubt she does have an outstanding command of graphite pencil, charcoal and acrylic as media. If she does go to art school she will be able to throw in the other elements such as various composition techniques and broaden her scope of presentation as well as develop her own deeper artistic introspection.

Already works such as In the Comfort of Young Love and My Inner Child – both graphite drawings -- by creativity of the titles and composition bring in two reaches of understanding, the analytic and the intuitive.

Motherly Love, an acrylic on canvas painting – a close-up of a mother and infant giraffe -- even made it into the high-ranking 20th UNWTO general assembly main art exhibition that was held at the Livingstone Museum in August, making her the youngest in the show and one of only four female artists that included her mother a Claire Mateke mamologist by profession, Agnes Buya Yombwe and Mulenga Mulenga.

“At first they (exhibition organisers) said they just want experienced artists so I didn’t bother to submit any work. But I was just passing through while going to have some of my work framed and then someone saw it and asked me to bring some for the exhibition,” she says.

She enthusiastically explains how this was in fact the second exhibition she featured in, the first one being   another group show she was informed about by her mother that was held at Safari Lodge in Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe. It was called Women in Art; and included all-women participants from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and other surrounding countries.

She did not sell anything during the exhibition in Zimbabwe but was inspired, meeting with other female artists who were more experienced than she is.

“But I did sell one piece, before we took our work to Zimbabwe, because we did a mock exhibition for family friends, just in the living room and we put prices on the paintings and drawings. So one family friend bought a piece, I didn’t sell anything in Zimbabwe but I got a lot of responses and a lot of commissions, where people wanted me to draw portraits of their children,” she says.

Sadly, of late she has not been producing as much as she used to because upon completing school last year she quickly went into teaching, inspired this time by her father Vimbi Mateke a teacher who was once the head of Linda High School in Livingstone but is now the District Education Standards Officer in the sweltering rural town of Gwembe.

In the comfort of young love
(graphite on paper)
“I started teaching at Lubasi Hope Orphanage, I helped children in reading and maths, and it was just satisfying to see them improve. The work at the orphanage is what got me an assistant teachers place at Acacia International School where I have been since March,” she says.

She says teaching Grade one and two classes can be very tiring, sapping one of all the energy to do anything creative when they get home, so she makes use of the school breaks to catch up on her art making.

Mateke frets that the Zambian art scene is not that easy to follow and that there are not enough youths in art.

“I have about five or six friends who are very good, even better than me maybe, but none of them have ever exhibited, mostly because they are very shy to show their work, so I think us young artists need some confidence building from the seniors,” she says.

“It is easy for me because I’m used to people watching me while I work. I was the only one who could draw in a class of 35 and everyone would gather around me. But there is another close friend of mine who can’t work with people or even show it to them but her art is absolutely beautiful.”

My Inner Child (pencil on paper)
Because of this, Mateke is thinking of creating a Facebook page where young artists can upload images of their work so that they can gain confidence when their works receive the most “likes”, and after this maybe she can organize people to help with a real life exhibition.

Mateke has two young brothers, a fifteen year old who is scientifically minded, but can also play the piano and his only attempt at art was making a drawing of an elephant’s intestines which she says he drew very well and a thirteen year old who has taught himself computer animation and web design from a book he borrowed at his school library.

When she is not teaching, making art, surfing the internet, or listening to alternative rock and contemporary pop music – as most Disney generation teenagers do – she has discovered a new passion, writing. Her first article which is on conservation was published in Gill Staden’s weekly newspaper, The Livingstonian.

Zambia is at a critical stage with regards the development of the arts partially because the creative economy is yet to be fully recognised and understood as a sector regardless of the extremely welcome realignment of the arts into a ministry it only shares with tourism.

Kenneth Kaunda (pencil on paper)
As such there is much hope and speculation that the impending National Arts Culture and Heritage Commission is the way forward in mapping out policy that will help enshrine the public and private support of the arts constitutionally, which will in turn see a better environment in terms of education, training and international exposure – by means of government-sponsored participation in international art fairs – for the artists.

When one looks at individuals such as Mateke filled with youthful enthusiasm opting for a career in art instead of the sciences one just hopes the creative sector will be sorted out sooner for their sake.
They are Zambia's future, the country will need artists that can compete on the international stage it will need art administrators, art lecturers, art historians and art critics, soon this very author will have to make way for young Mateke and her generation because obviously, she is just one of many. And with her grades she definitely has to enrol for a degree programme, but in Zambia, the only option is the Zambia Open University and for a degree in graphic design, her parents will have to look abroad.

Motherly Love (acrylic on canvas) featured in the UNWTO exhibition


  1. woooow this girl has talents

    1. Paula if you are in the Lusaka area head to the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka Showgrounds and see some of her recent work in the Independence Art Exhibition now showing