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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

’49 years’ show still on display

By Andrew Mulenga

If you are in the Lusaka area and have not seen the “49 Years and Above” exhibition currently showing at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka, you still have a few more days to catch a glimpse before it is pulled down on Friday next week.

Moye (oil on canvas) by
Raphael Mutulikwa
Organised by the Twaya Art Gallery who are now based on the second floor, it is a significant, but not very large display, the exhibition itself being spread across the hotel’s shopping mall area on the ground floor.

In the curator, Roy Kausa’s vision the exhibition celebrates Zambia’s 49 years of independence although his deliberate play on ambiguity in the title also remains true to the fact that all the artists he features in this particular show are above the age of 49, the oldest being 84 year old Shantilal Bhagat.

Kausa presents a little known but apparently prolific Bhagat on to the scene re-introducing an old-timer that has apparently been at it for years. Although some may find the artist’s thematic subject matter hard to ingest such as the hallowed portrait of David Livingstone whose face is aglow with a pious aura presenting him in saintly glory. With all due respect – even by means of a town named after him – one cannot presume the British adventurer was a saint, but again art being what it is grants the artist the right to push imaginative boundaries. Nevertheless, Bhagat’s soft Indianesque pallet does not betray his Asian heritage and is quite a delight to look at.

Pots (pen on paper) by Adam Mwansa
Cynthia Zukas MBE also features, but do not expect anything overly new from the 82 year old as from Patrick Mweemba of Choma who is soon to turn 70. They both showcase prints of daily life, although the latter does tend to delve into the abstract. Recently these two artists also featured in the long running Graphic Art of Zambia exhibition at the Choma Museum and Craft Centre (CMCC) that was curated by Choma based Bert Witkamp who also features a few colour prints in “49 Years and Above”.

Also featured is Carol Aslin with her signature explosion of intense colours. Her painting The Wedding is particularly fascinating as she manages to portray a couple exchanging vows rendered in just a few smudges of paint.  William Bwalya Miko’s work is on show too with his mixed media, crowd-themed chalk drawings whose repetitive multitudes can symbolize anything from the Biblical “second coming” to Zambia’s constitution making process.

Eddie Mumba and Patrick Mumba – no relation – both have a painting and sculptures in the exhibition. The former has a colourful piece, chequered in small multi-coloured motifs that can represent a host of things, love, fertility or marital harmony whereas the latter has two large scrap metal African masks, that are yelling to be decorative lamps even though this may not have been the artists original intention.

After Supper (oil on canvas)
by Sheena Poval
Livingstone based painter Lawrence Yombwe’s work makes an appearance too with his signature; Mbusa (traditional Bemba initiation symbols) coded hessian canvases. And Adam Mwansa of Luanshya has some captivating pen on paper drawings whose style appears so delicate and ethereal; viewers are often tempted to touch them. But above all Mwansa’s work depicts rural life in its idyllically unadulterated and to a certain extent most impoverished form. Mwansa’s work, was able to catch the eye of Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba who was present at the shows’ opening and booked one of the works for purchase saying “It is just incredible, this guy has good work which I like”, according to Kausa.

Raphael Mutulikwa’s Moye is one of the most captivating paintings in the exhibition if not for the reason of the artist’s unique, blurred brush style, it is for the eye-piercing nubile breasts of the subject who appears to be a Moye –coming of age – young woman initiate of the Nsenga or Chewa peoples of eastern Zambia, who celebrate the transition by customary ritual and pageantry. Nevertheless, Mutulikwa has taken the art of the blurred brush stroke Sfumato (smoke) as the Old Italian Masters would call it and made it his own. Sfumato is the term; “used to describe the subtle blending of colours and tones to such an extent that they seem subtly to melt into one another, in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci ‘without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke…”, as reads Michael Clarke’s Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms.

The Wedding (oil on canvas) by Carol Aslin
Anyway, “49 Years and above” is not an all Zambian affair, it also features Sheena Povall a very proficient Zimbabwean wildlife painter. She has some very realistic portraits of big cats, one that is in fact so realistic you expect it to leap out of the painting, but luckily as the title reads After Supper; the lion has already eaten its fill, and anyway it is just a painting.

In conclusion it appears Kausa’s concept behind the curation of the exhibition was to celebrate, not necessarily document 49 years of Zambia’s independence. But the title itself as well as the featured artists and there diverse indigenous backgrounds acknowledges both a collective and an individual past without which there would be no 49 years.

Of course Kausa’s pick does not include every Zambian artist above the age of 49 and there are certainly some artists who would have been nice to have in the show such as Vincent Maonde, Andrew Makromalis, David Chibwe or the charming Laura Chimowitz seeing it is in principle a celebration of veterans, but anyway, the curators choice is often his own and you cannot include everyone. Besides, there is always next time and if anything next year the nation turns 50, who knows.

The Power of Love (oil on canvas)
Shantilal Bhagat
It may not have been his intention, but by hypothesis Kausa has helped us celebrate not 49 years of Zambia’s independence, but 49 years of the independent Zambian artist. The artist that has been continuously inspired despite his or her economically, academically and publically unsupportive creative environment.

Kausa was enthusiastic at the backing given to Twaya Art Gallery by the supporting partners for the exhibition namely Lawrence Sikutwa Associates (LSA), the Garden Group of Hotels, Intercontinental Lusaka and Kash One and events management agency and he highlighted this as the success of the event.  He emphasised that unlike in the past Zambian business houses are very willing to sponsor art exhibitions and that artists should take advantage of this.
Short biographies of all the mentioned artists are available at Twaya Art Gallery .