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Monday, 30 December 2013

Zambia Open University produces first art graduates

By Andrew Mulenga

There was a huge banner that read “Zambia Open University 1st Degree Show” in the foyer of the Lusaka National Museum the past couple of weeks, but in case you overlooked or just missed it and went straight into the main exhibition area, you obviously noticed a curious jumble of paintings, drawings and handicrafts.

Figure Drawing - Study (mixed media)
60cm x 70cm
by Andrew Katembula
But then again this mishmash of art was in fact the narrative of a four-year creative and academic journey experienced by about thirty gradaunds that will be Zambia’s first ever, locally schooled Bachelor’s degree holders in fine art.

“Zambia can now boast of the Visual Arts degree at Zambian Open University (ZAOU). Now we can also pride ourselves with the first cohort of our own graduates in art” stated Billy Nkunika, Senior-Lecturer and Head of Department in a congratulatory word to the students last week.

However, Nkunika, also hopes a good number of staff, books, more modules, art materials, print-making equipment and studio-facilities can be acquired for conducting practical activities to help raise the bar.

Fellow lecturer and unyielding crusader of art education in Zambia William Miko who for the past five years or so has been championing – through the press and public fora -- a cause he has coined ‘Correcting a national anomaly’ in reference to the arts not being of particular importance in the country’s schooling system came out very strongly in his statement for the 1st Degree show.

“The institutions of higher learning that hold-fast to old theoretical educational paradigms and bygone discourse and shy away from incorporating a much broader and pragmatic approach to a pedagogy that includes the Visual Arts, are a hindrance towards any trajectory of national development,” he stated, hurling an obvious jab at the University of Zambia.

Miko described the introduction of a Fine Arts degree course at the ZAOU whose predominant mode of course delivery is a Distance Learning system as awesome.

Gravity Has Respect For Me
(oil on canvas) Sylvia Mwando
“This is what I call ‘correcting a national anomaly’ because Zambia has had no school of art at university level since she attained her independence in October 1964. Now, the course is here and the first ever grandaunts are herein showcasing their art academic pursuits in this Degree Show at the Lusaka National Museum today the 20th of December 2013”.

He implied that the grandaunds are being produced at a time he thought the current political dispensation has begun to take note of the absence of – art – the ‘soul of the nation’ and that the creative industries to which Fine Art belongs is under what he regards a “positive review by Government at all levels: from re-aligning the school curriculum to coagulating arts, culture, museum and heritage sector under one government administrative structure.”

He described as fortunate that the majority of the gradaunds have a teaching background which he feels should make it easier for a torch of enlightenment in Arts Education to shine beyond the walls of their classrooms and lecture rooms.

“Needless to say, the road to this day has not been easy for both learner and lecturer. Each time I saw these brave and self-motivated students arrive for their short residential schooling and examinations in ZAOU challenging hired spaces, I felt strengthened by the words of the late USA President Kennedy who said to the American people: Ask not what your nation can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your nation!”

Prodigal Father (acrylic on canvas)
82 cm x 65 cm Chewe Brian Malama
Miko charged some of the obstacles came from the very people that he hoped would assist such as close associates, friends as well as some of the students who were graduating. He proclaimed that what he and a handful of companions has done, one needed to – in the words of Francis of Assisi – to “labour and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds…” by sacrificing almost everything, including monetary gain or prestige.

“Moved by the ethos ‘Service above Self’ and inspired by our own Art legends like Henry Tayali, Shadreck Simukanga, Martin Abasi Phiri, Prof. Mapopa Mtonga, Jacob Chirwa and countless others, past and present, we thought we could try and build on what the likes of the late icon Nelson Mandela did by teaching the world peace,” he stated not sparing Madiba but irksomely forgetting one of Zambia’s most influential artists Akwila Simpasa in his speech-making.

 “Our task has just been a simple one - starting the first ever Fine Arts degree programme in Zambia, thanks to the ZAOU this ‘national anomaly’ is corrected now and indeed great thanks to you students for believing in me,” he concluded.

Miko is also a practicing artist who recently completed the restoration work of the Njase Murals by the late Emmanuel Nsama in Choma; he is also curator and arts administrator having studied at the Middlesex University in the United Kingdom and counts the likes of South African celebrity artist Zwilethu Mthetwa as his contemporary.

Nevertheless along with collegues he has been under critical attack over the past few years for what some have claimed the teaching or training of half-baked artists. His students, often labelled as his ‘disciples’ have been accused of taking up the course merely to pursue a first degree that will enable them to get promotions within their institutions or government ministries citing their rare appearances in art exhibitions that feature ‘mainstream artists’. But in their confessions, these so-called disciples, particularly the fourth-years cannot be bothered by these not-so-kind contentions.

Self Portrait, by Alex Nkazi
“The period under review here has been educative and challenging at the same time for a distant scholar of the creative industry.  During this period, I have undergone a series of theoretical and studio practice training processes in Fine Art,” Stated 49-year-old Felix Wakyembe who Lives and a Headmaster at Kyapatala Primary School in Solwezi, North-western Province. “The introduction of a live model in our drawing class in studio practice by Mr Miko was challenging to me in the beginning, but later on, it became a good menu for art drawing practice. This level of academic discourse and its theoretical engagement made me take a deeper understanding of my abilities which triggered my skills development in art.”

Felix Maliwa, a 33-year-old teacher of art in Limulunga district, Western Province testified:

 I have acquired a lot of artistic knowledge during my four year study of fine art degree program on MPFA.  Involved were: students’ study tours, studio practice activities and all the assignments in theoretical discourse. These engagements have created a great impact on my life, although residential school durations were always short.  Nonetheless, I have come to appreciate various visual cultures that permeate societies around the world. As a matter of fact, I am now a competently exposed and educated Zambian contemporary artist”

“The past four years have been an eye opener to me in my study of Fine Arts at a higher level. I have learnt a lot in art history, photography, different cultures, drawing, paintings and exhibitions. This has enabled me to interact with various personalities in the arts industry and has also exposed me to insights in the manner exhibitions conducted…” declared Mary Wauna a 39 year old teacher of art at Kabwe Secondary School.

“My four year odyssey has greatly enriched my understanding and appreciation of my culture as an African. Through art, there are so many signs and symbols in African culture, which are symbols, are equivalent to the Western alphabetical literacy. These signs and symbols are so rich, obscure and subtle as they may seem, they tend to convey significant messages to the discerning decoder. For this and more other reasons, I am more than poised to uphold my African identity. Thanks to the introduction of this BFA,” stated Andrew Katembula a 38-year-old Lecturer of art at Evelyn Hone College.
And Chewe Brian Malama a deputy teacher of art at Kasalamakanga Basic School in Mkushi declared: “I have learnt art theories and gained the skills of executing artworks professionally.  The course has also helped me to gain curatorial skills. I would like to thank the ZAOU Management for making the school of art a reality in Zambia. In particular, my gratitude goes to the Dean Mr B. Nkunika, the coordinating lecturer Mr William Bwalya Miko and the Tutor Mr Elisha A. Zulu for being there through all our academic endeavours.”


  1. zambia Open University - ZAOU gave me a sense of achievement in that I have acquired a lot of knowledge during my four year study.Many of their courses encompass a number of subjects.

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  4. Can you please post a complete and high quality image of the father and prodigal son? I'd like to use it in my theology class. Thanks!

    1. Just saw this. I'm afraid I don't have a copy.

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    3. Okay. Thank you, anyway.

    4. Hello Gallagher

      Mr Brian Chewe, the author, of the prodical Father and Son, is currently working at Malcolm Moffart college of education in Serenje, Zambia. You may kindly get in touch with him at Cell number: +260967050978 or + +260955050978.

      Fr. Muluka

    5. Thank you very much, Father.