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Monday, 23 December 2013

Variety outlines Artmas exhibition

By Andrew Mulenga

On the face of it, Artmas – a combination of the words art and Christmas -- the Visual Arts Council of Zambia’s (VAC) end of year exhibition looks like any other routine show held at the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka Show grounds.

But a closer look will reveal that it does warrant our collective attention because it has a few surprise appearances by some artists who have been off the radar for a while, this, coupled with a refreshing  batch of newcomers makes it an enjoyable show worth visiting.

Crumbling at the seams (oil on canvas)
by Nukwase Tembo
Among the more experienced artists, Enoch Ilunga’s work makes an unexpected appearance after somewhat of a hiatus from the art circuit. Once known for his thickly applied paint in a typical impasto style where the paint stands up above the surface, the artist now appears to apply his paint thinly. It is his impasto nonetheless that once stole the hearts of Nordic Europe, earning him successful solo exhibitions at Gallery Viktoria in Göteborg in 1997, and Ugallery in Stockholm in 1999.

Speaking of impasto, this is the technique that the much younger Danny Lwando – who now signs his work as Chilyapa -- appears to have adopted after his own little hiatus from the scene. A good example would be Nyau, the portrait of a masked dancer finished in angular brush strokes or pallet knife.

Among some notable newcomers are Nukwase Tembo, Fr. Eliot Ngosa and Dwain Whitaker. Tembo, known more for her work as an actress than a painter provokes the audience in her painting Crumbling At The Seams which confronts the issue of two-facedness head-on and as she puts it herself: “It’s a metaphor representing society and how it often portrays itself in a sort of ‘holy’ façade, beneath that mask, there’s a lot of dirt that goes on”.

My Bad Xmas by (oil on canvas)
Eliot Ngosa (Fr.)
The painting depicts a young lady with her hair in a bun who is naked save for a Rosary – Catholic prayer beads -- and what is left of a torn, black nun’s habit around her left arm and collar. Her lower torso is only saved from nudity by racy black underwear only held together by a band around her broad hips. Although her body is completed in a shade of brown from the neck down, her expressionless face is in black and white and she has a huge crack on her right lower chin that complements the numerous stretch marks around her waist in some way reinforcing the paintings title. But what may be most striking about the image is the way the subject suggestively clutches her nipples and the white halo around her that gives her a pious aura against the stark red and black backgrounds.

Fr. Ngosa, a young Catholic priest of the Capuchin order who only took up painting a few years ago and out of a driven enthusiasm enrolled for a Fine art Degree at the Zambia Open University about a year ago shows his a painterly hand in My Bad Xmas that depicts a sad young child wiping tears of its face with the back of his hand. As a late bloomer, Fr. Ngosa shows that one can do it if one makes a determined effort to. Unlike his fellow students from ZAOU who for some reason tend to shy away from gallery exposure, he is not afraid to exhibit his work and await the sometimes merciless judgment of more expreienced artists and the public. And good for him, it is only by testing the waters that one can prove oneself, what is the point of painting for the classroom or the closet. The artist also has a large drawing in the exhibition that also reveals another area of strength.

Hash tag addict (mixed media)
by Dwain Whitaker
As for Whitaker, there is not much known about him, although he first caught public attention with his submission to the Lusaka 100 exhibition held at Manda Hill Mall in July, with his hip hop graffiti style he brought something new to the stage.

Of course it has been done many times, probably even before the time of the famous Haitian American Jean-Michel Basquiat, but this is the first time in Zambia we are seeing graffiti in a gallery. Now, to the uninitiated, this is not just the insults-on-the-public-toilet-wall type of graffiti, or the vote-for-so-and-so type of graffiti, it is spray paint graffiti as in one of the main elements of the hip hop cultural movement that began among the urban African American and Latino youths in New York in the early 1980s. What Whitaker is doing, is “throwing-up” if what the Johannesburg graffiti artist Dice from the Transit Killers told this author in an interview back in 2005 is anything to go by. According to Dice to “throw-up” is to spray the outline of a tag -- signature – rapidly in one or two colours just as Whitaker has done in the painting Hash Tag Addict. Just one look at the painting evokes some form of street credibility. Whitaker has two more paintings in the show and with titles such as Star 114 Hash and The Lost Button; he appears to be toying with the theme of mobile communication.

Nyau (mixed media)
by Chilyapa Lwando
The exhibition also has a few good wooden sculptures scattered across the floor particularly by the likes of Esaya Banda. His Elephant Skull made of salvaged wood is particularly a resourceful collector’s item and for a sculpture, its K3, 000 price tag is friendly. As for general pricing in the exhibition, in most cases it is fairly reasonable even to the gift buyers as the show’s curator Zenzele Chulu who is also VAC Vice Chairman explained in a brief interview a day after the opening last week.

“It’s simply an end of year exhibition and we asked artists to submit works that are less than 90cm around because we wanted to accommodate as many works as possible. The whole concept was based on the experience that at the end of the year we need smaller pieces because people tend to carry them off as gifts as they go on holiday”, he explained of the open themed exhibition.

My Cascade by Joachim Kalulu
However, he was not too happy with the show’s opening citing the small numbers of people that came through as a possible draw back to opening night sales. But he also explained that exhibitions are unpredictable and sometimes you can have a lot of people and no sales or a few people and a lot of sales.

Chulu is still confident that both sales and visits will pick up as the show closes in January. He explained that some visitors who could not make the opening actually braved the rains the following day. And reflecting on the year ended, he said it was not the best but he remains optimistic towards 2014.

”To be very frank we are not funded by any entity but the  centre has been able to survive through sales, one month to another even through these tuff conditions we have been able to pay our rent to the Show Society. It has been challenging but we have been able to survive,” he said of 2013.

Swing, the neighbourhood rampage
(oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
He explained that one of the biggest disappointments this year was the annual National Exhibition in October, a huge undertaking for the artists with high expectations of recognizing some sales from the anticipated government “collection policy” which they hoped would have been put in effect by then.

The “collection policy” Chulu speaks of is ideally supposed to see government investing directly into the visual arts by purchasing works for public buildings such as the Government Complex, Parliament, Courts, Hospitals and so on. But such are things probably enshrined in the much anticipated Arts, Culture and Heritage Bill to be implemented by the National Arts and Culture Commission.

“We hope this commission works, you see the changing of names is one thing but changing of personnel is another, if you change the name of a river it is the same water that is flowing in it,” he explained using a metaphor.

Hair Plaiting (pastel on paper)
by Albert Kata
“The benefit should reach the artists in terms of grants, commissions and so on, we have seen it happen in other countries, but if we leave it open and allow every Jim and jack to jump on board here, we may not see the benefit. We have been treading on the same spot for too long, so when the commission comes in it should be a body that will change the outlook of Zambian art forever”.

In addition, Chulu said the coming year looks to be a busy one and that if in 2014 Zambia is going to celebrate 50 years of independence he feels that artists should be tasked to do a lot. He hopes that government and its cooperating partners can invest in the creative sector for the event.

 “It  is going to be the arts that will pronounce the anniversary, talk music festivals, film festivals and so on. Look at Kenya they had Kenya Art 50, they invited big artists just to spice up the event, I feel 2014 should be the biggest year on our calendar,” he said.

Chulu says visitors to the Henry Tayali Gallery next year should not expect an exhibition every month. VAC wants to have a few, but well organised exhibitions that will be timely with the 50 years.

Elephant Skull, (mixed media)
by Esaya Banda
“We are also thinking of a workshop where we will invite artists from our neighbouring countries. When there is a party you invite your neighbours. We are even thinking of a book, maybe something like 50 years of Zambian art” he said loosely modelling the book around 10 years 100 artists Art in A Democratic South Africa. He concluded by saying preparations for the jubilee should start in January and those with the resources should start coming forward, not wait until October.
Artmas runs until January 12 and art lovers can also catch a glimpse of works by the Lungu brothers, Jeff and Jim, Vincentio Phiri, David Chibwe, Adrian Ngoma, Mulenga Mulenga, John Mwandila, Joachim Kalulu, Christopher Simbule, Albert Kata, Raphael Chilufya and others.

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