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Monday, 16 December 2013

Patrick Mumba’s colour engulfs Inters in ongoing solo

By Andrew Mulenga

For those familiar with the painter Patrick Mumba’s work, a visit to his on-going solo-exhibition at the Intercontinental Lusaka will surely be a recognisable explosion of colour as his palette has not changed much since we last saw it.

Street Voters (oil on canvas) 132cm x 92cm
By Patrick Mumba
You should expect the same painterly expression which leaves viewers the freedom to respond to the work purely on the basis of the way the colours and in certain instances the shapes interact. But something that is totally new is where you would expect acrylic from Mumba; he has worked entirely in oils.

During the show’s opening last week, the artist unofficially shared the idea behind the body of work. Mumba explained that the exhibition recounted the trajectory of his journey as an artist, breaking it down into three phases from his early career until the present and in the course of this career, like many artists he has worked in several styles, both figurative and abstract although he does appear to have finally settled for an abstract style.

The 52-year-old often employs a child-like naivety which he applies in varying degrees, but one must not be fooled by this assumed simplicity. Reading between the lines, one can tell that his work is buoyed by years of lecturing and academic training and traces of his BA honours degree from the Slade School of Fine Art in London seep through revealing a mastery of techniques as well as an artistic consciousness that is reflected in his subject matter and titles.

The Letter From My Son (Journey By Bus)-
199cm x 76 cm oil on canvas by Patrick Mumba
Outwardly, a work such as Street Voters I looks like an average semi-abstract market scene. But taking the title into consideration, what comes to mind is the street vendors in Lusaka that appear to be operating from illegal, make shift stalls while city authorities look the other way because the illegal hawkers provided “the popular vote” during the last presidential elections subsequently providing them with the informal “license” to sell where they may.

In Global Warming, the artist obviously addresses the rampant deforestation being perpetrated by the excessive burning of trees for charcoal. Like Street Voters I it depicts colourfully dressed women going about their trade, they too are faceless as the artist deliberately omits any facial features; none of the women have eyes, a nose or ears.

The passionately-charged The Letter from My Son (Journey by Bus) sounds like a sonnet from a father to a child or vice versa but can also be interpreted as a celebration of childhood, an ode to simplicity and innocence. The painting itself mimics a child’s “stick-people” drawing and depicts a bus with five passengers, all of whom are smiling; this coupled with its bright colours makes it a very happy picture indeed.

The Month-end (oil on canvas)
132cm x 95 by Patrick Mumba
The Month-end is an obvious reference to alcoholism and the monthly binge drinking sessions common among many working class people as a once-a-month reward to their hard work. Mumba depicts what appears to be three guzzlers having a drink and they are clearly enjoying three different types of beer, although one of them seems to have blacked out after a few too many.  

The artist provides some playful mischief with MDGs (4 women to one man) in which he portrays a male figure hugging four women as the title might hint. This one appears to be referencing men being outnumbered by women in 2015 and is either suggesting polygamy or promiscuity. To some extent it draws parallels against King with Two Wives, a 2006 painting he exhibited about 7 years ago at former first secretary to Zambia from the Netherland’s embassy Benno Grever’s home in Kabulonga. Not only do these two paintings discuss a similar theme, but they are both executed in a multi-coloured pointillism.

MDGs (4 women to one man) oil on canvas
125cm x 90cm by Patrick Mumba
But MDGs (4 women to one man) is not the only painting that is an apparent sequel to a past painting. Gathering, an abstract of a multitude echoes his 1994 painting Pilgrims which is currently in the Lechwe Art Trust collection. The paintings are so alike except the more recent one has less subtle brush strokes; they appear cruder almost like large smudges, but Mumba’s hand again is unmistakable.

The exhibition at intercontinental hotel is hosted by Twaya Art Gallery and is somewhat of a send-off exhibition as the artist leaves to pursue postgraduate studies early in 2014, which will see him spending over a year at the Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, the same institution his fellow Zambian painter Godfrey Setti attended for his MA Fine Art and subsequently a PhD in Fine Art which he was still pursuing at the time of his death.

Nevertheless, Mumba has not always been pursuing a purely academic route towards his art development, even though he obtained an art teachers Diploma from the Evelyn Hone College and subsequently taught at Kamwala Secondary School in Lusaka before going for further studies and returning as a lecturer and later head of the education Department at his former college. He also chaired and was involved in a number of the five Mbile International Artists’ Workshops, whose legacy culminated in the Insaka International Artists Workshops that have played a significant role in devising a much needed continuum in the development of contemporary art in Zambia, which has no art libraries or National Art Gallery as well as schools of art.

Gathering (oil on canvas) - 188cm x 121cm
by Patrick Mumba
The Mbile workshops were championed by Setti after he attended the Pachipamwe workshop in Zimbabwe.  Setti along with a Namibian colleague would later approach an Anna Kindersley whom through Robert Loder in London would make things possible. It had a dedicated initial working group of Ruth Bush, Style Kunda, Patrick Mweemba and Flinto Chandia.
Anyhow, Mumba’s involvement in workshops, coupled with his vast experience in the lecture studio may have inspired him to build his own purpose built studio called New Residence Gallery which has been active for a number of years now providing space for himself as well as visiting artists.
Global Warming (oil on canvas)
132cm x 95cm By Patrick Mumba

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