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Monday, 14 October 2013

Njase murals get facelift

By Andrew Mulenga

Current and former Njase Girls Secondary School pupils as well as invited guests were treated to a glimpse of the eight, life-sized murals by the late Emmanuel Nsama that are currently undergoing restoration by William Miko.

Before - This painting of a doubting Thomas
 was exposed to corrosion and severe sunlight
In a theatrical unveiling ceremony in the chapel that coincided with the schools golden jubilee celebrations, Tourism and Arts Minister, Sylvia Masebo – herself a former pupil at the school – undraped the 43 year old paintings that were ceremoniously covered in white cloth for the occasion.

Masebo was scheduled to unveil and view only one of the paintings, however,
After - Miko, the artist that restored the works shows
the restored Doubting Thomas mural  to Masebo
noticeably moved by a feeling of nostalgia, the minister broke protocol and inspected each and every painting, one at time, causing a stir – as pews had to be moved aside – in the chapel in which she would attend service every morning for five years as a girl before she graduated in 1988.  

The murals had been severely damaged due to human contact over four decades. Most of them were severely chipped. Having noticed this during a visit, a German couple Elisabeth and Reinhart Kraft were moved at the sight of the destruction and launched what would be termed the Mural Restoration Project that also gathered the support of former missionaries and teachers at the school who are currently based in the United Kingdom as well as the Gossner Mission.

“I would like to thank Mrs Kraft, whom I met in Germany and that’s where she told me about the wonderful work she is doing in Zambia. I told her that what you are doing is a good thing because the murals have a long history. When I was here (at the school) they were very bright, and I would also thank the artist Mr Miko. I’m glad that you used oil (paint) which will last another 100 years. Pupils should also know that those murals are extremely valuable works of art,” said Masebo.

.Arts minister Sylvia Masebo shares a light moment with
Elisabeth Kraft of Germany while artist William Miko
 listens in during the unveiling of the restored murals
And school head teacher Moses Musonda the murals are what are referred to in art as priceless objects because one cannot simply put a price on them.

The murals have been away from the school for close to one year as the restoration process was delayed because the artist had to wait for thousands of kwacha worth of professional art materials such as paints and turpentine to be shipped in from Germany.

“We did not pay much attention to the murals at first. We thought they were useless, but immediately after they were taken away everyone noticed that the chapel was so empty. So we have been talking for weeks. It is also a sign that we have to introduce art in the school so that art can be appreciated, we want to thank Mr Miko for making us understand the importance of art,” said Namweemba Hamoonga the school head girl.

“First of all I love viewing art even though I cannot do it myself. But for the murals, when they were taken away we felt so empty, there was actually a spiritual connection, maybe not for all the girls but surely there was an emptiness that is hard to explain,” added vice head girl Milambo Twambo.

Headgirls Namweemba Hamoonga and Milambo Twambo
who watch over 900 girls say all the pupils are excited
at the restoration of the artworks
And in a speech she prepared for the unveiling but could not deliver it due to what appeared to be a tight programme, Kraft, the restoration sponsor shares what inspired her to embark on the whole mural restoration project and reveals a great deal of personal sacrifice that went into the process.

“It was in 2008 when – together with my husband – I saw those pictures for the first time. We both were impressed by the strong expression as well as the beauty of the paintings. Then again in 2011 we came here together with a group from Gossner Mission. That day I could also see how severely damaged some of the paintings were,” reads the speech.

Kraft states that from that day she was somehow obsessed by the idea that this treasure should be saved from further damage. She explains it was like a soft, silent voice within her that told her “Elisabeth you can do it”.

”There were other voices also. One voice said: ‘it is not your businesses. Another voice said ‘it may be extremely expensive. You should keep your savings for your grandchildren”

But once she trusted her inner voice, she believed that God somehow paved the way through all the challenges.

“As for the money – well there was something that I had inherited from my beloved aunt and uncle. And I did not feel the slightest regret to put it in for this cause. Believe me, it was a pleasure to know that this money would work for these pictures coming to new life. And I was sure that my beloved aunt and uncle looking from heaven would fully agree.”

Kraft explains that she had found a lot of friends and partners along the way and thanked her husband for putting up with her constantly talking about the murals morning, noon and night.

Njase Girls Art & Design Club show some of their work
to William Miko just after their schools Golden Jubilee
And in a letter to Njase Girls Secondary School Dr. Ulrich Schontube the Gossner Mission director in Germany, as part sponsor of the project emphasised how important the murals were in terms of Christian ministry and cultural heritage.

“We are convinced that those pictures are very important as a witness of Christian life, culture and teaching not only in your area but also in the African context. It is a witness of the inculturation of the gospel. God’s word is shown in your language and in pictures making identification possible. So Christ, his disciples, Mary and Martha can be seen not as foreign white but as coloured people. That is a witness of the incarnation of God’s word into a different culture than the European one; it is the incarnation of God’s word into your culture,” reads part of the letter.

But in his work not only does Nsama attempt to enculture Christianity by depicting an African Jesus, he also made an attempt to bring the bible scenes to the modern-day, or the Zambia of the moment. A good example would be the scene from Mathews 21:1-11 of Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the enthusiasm of the crowds. While Nsama’s entire cast is African, Jesus is clad in a scarlet robe with a white cloth covering his head, typical of European iconography; a boy in the multitudes throwing palm leaves before Christ is dressed in modern European-style clothing and the woman next to him is dressed in chitenge fabric.

And Miko who took the murals back to his studio in Lusaka said the paintings are 97 per cent complete but this can only be noticed by the trained eye.

“One of the most important things in this process is switching from the original acrylic to oil paint and also bear in mind that every single painting had to be re-done from the smallest brushstroke to the largest backgrounds” he explained.

He explained that the acrylic now acts as a primer. The restoration of old paintings was part of Miko’s curriculum while studying art at the Middlesex University in the United Kingdom from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and later an MA in Fine Art.

Miko says he will be done with the final touches in about three week’s time and he will then be able to return the works to Choma.

A day before the works were unveiled in Choma, he gave some of the pupils a demonstration of the restoration process much to the delight of the girls. Clad in a crude sleeveless apron made of canvas with the writing “prisoner of art” inscribed on the back, Miko mixed his paints and explained the process right in front of a crowd in the chapel.

Among the viewers were members of the school’s art and design club to whom the artist donated materials worth K4,000 (four thousand kwacha) as well as K500 (five hundred kwacha) cash for the purchase of a copy of the Saturday Post every week so that the girls can get acquainted to art through reading Andrew Mulenga’s Hole In The Wall.

Emmanuel Nsama died aged 70 in 2011 after a sudden bout of high blood pressure following a normal day of work at his Kitwe home after an artistic career spanning well over 50 years.

From 1964 to 65, he was trained at the now defunct Africa Literature Centre (ALC) in Mindolo, Kitwe alongside the fabled Akwila Simpasa of the 'ntoba mabwe' fame in the traditional way of how artists used to aid the church's literature to communicate the scriptures graphically and convincingly. ALC was the art school where he would later spend an illustrious career in the faculty. He became assistant lecturer under Canadian artist and director of the Art Studio Marjorie Murray, before leaving for further studies to attend a two year advanced art programme at Sheridan College in Canada from 1966 to 1968 and returning as lecturer in 1970. Through the 70s he worked as a senior lecturer and from 1979 to 1987 he was head of the art department.

Nsama spent much of his later years dedicated to painting Bible scenes by commission in churches as well as teaching screen printing and batik techniques to willing apprentices. Still prolific until death, the artist has left over 100 Christian-themed paintings of which Miko intends to help organise an exhibition with the assistance of former Njase Girls pupils, many of whom are well established in society.

Nsama’s work will be the core element of a paper by this author (Andrew Mulenga) entitled Indigenized Christian art of Zambian, painter Emmanuel Nsama, that will be presented at the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA)16th Triennial Symposium of African Art in New York early next year.
The paper is part of a panel called African Christian Arts: New Fields Opening that will be co-chaired by Dr Nicholas Bridger Ohlone College, Fremont, California, USA and Dr. John Picton Emeritus, University of London, London, UK. It  will study he Christian art of African peoples, especially of the process by which art is adapted to local cultures indigenization or inculturation.


  1. Yes, I thought they had been restored - lovely paintings

  2. Hi Andrew - my name is Anne Gow. I live near Oxford in the UK.

    My aunt - Miss Wyn Cornish - was the missionary headteacher of Njase Girls School in the 1960s. Now 94 she still loves all things Zambian and is in contact with a few of her former pupils and staff.

    I have recently been going through some of her papers and found the original plans for the hall/church/stage and the murals at Njase School. Wonderful history.

    I am flying out to Zambia on my first ever visit to the country in October. I am hoping to visit the school and it would be great to perhaps meet with you too. I will be flying to Lusaka, to visit the Hope & Faith Christian Community School in N'gombe, which was established by a former pupil of Wyn's at Chimpembi - Rosemary Mumbai.

    My trip will hopefully include visits to all 3 schools - Hope & Faith (Ngombe, Lusaka), Chipembi and Njase.