Search This Blog

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Agonies of a rural-based art teacher (in Zambia)

By Andrew Mulenga

He first caught our attention as a gawky, bespectacled young student when he was the outspoken chairman of the Evelyn Hone College Art Club while attending his first year in the Art Teachers Diploma Course in 2008 and appealed to Charles Chambata and other non-academia artists for mentorship, voicing his earnest appeal through this column.

Five years down the line, Samuel Mabuku has graduated and enjoyed some gallery exposure as well as two years of experience as a schoolteacher.

Journey to Chiengi by Samuel Mabuku
Now based in remote and distressingly underdeveloped Chiengi, the smallest and northernmost district in Luapula Province which just as many areas in rural Zambia is often cut off by rains, bad roads and lamentable telecommunications networks; Mabuku – who was recently in Lusaka -- shares the struggles of plying his trade as an artist and schoolteacher in the countryside.

“It is not easy being an artist in the rural areas. You cannot exhibit; there are no galleries or buyers. I am also forced to avoid certain themes and styles. Not everything is acceptable, for instance I have given up carving sculptures because all forms of sculpture whether in stone or wood are considered a form of witchcraft in Chiengi,” he claims that witchcraft is very much a part of daily life in the district that borders the Democratic Republic of Congo and that the slightest suspicion of practicing sorcery can attract either a lynching by a mob or a contest by someone with more superior wizardry.

“When I first came to Lupiya Primary School – which was formerly a basic school -- I was informed I should teach history and English and I did so in 2011. I later got some of my personal art materials and started working with pupils. But at least this time school management is really trying to support although help is minimal,” he says.

He is happy that school management eventually authorised him to teach art as a subject, but he appears more excited that this year art will be fully integrated into the school curriculum by the Ministry of Education countrywide.

My Old Truck by Samuel Mabuku
“There is a two career pathway some [pupils] will take the academic route and some vocational, so those who are doing arts will be doing it alongside other supportive subjects. I feel this one will help even for us in the rural setup,” he says “But government should also train more teachers of art because some of them [teachers] are teaching subjects for which they never trained. We have one teacher who did art at Northern College in Kasama but he is now teaching Religious Education, this has to change”.

The enthusiasm as a young teacher is plain to see in Mabuku. He believes that artistic talent can help give even the most disadvantaged of children a future to earn a living from their creativity even if they may not perform well in other subjects which he observes is often the case in rural areas.  He also observes a sense of sacrifice as Chiengi is not the most comfortable place to live in, having himself grown up in urban areas.

“I have to travel to Mansa to collect my salary and I end up spending over K500 on transport and lodging. For the whole trip from Chiengi to Mansa it takes me over 10 hours. From Lupiya School – in Chiengi -- to the first main stop, Nchelenge we pay K100 and then from Nchelenge to Mansa we pay K80,” he recounts. There are no banks in Chiengi, and the nearest stop, Puta only handles money transfers from a small shop which is not reliable.

The commuting takes up much of his monthly K800 allowance, an incentive he earns for living in a rural area. Although the journey takes a whole day, it is only about 400 kilometres from Nchelenge to Mansa but the roads are treacherous and bus operators will not risk taking their buses beyond Nchelenge so Mabuku and colleagues have to travel on the back of lorries, a scenario he often depicts in his work and can be seen in paintings such as Journey To Chiengi that portrays an old, long-nosed Mercedes Benz Truck laden with goods and passengers – the scene could easily be a picture from the 1960s.

 Journey to Chiengi speaks volumes on how underdeveloped rural Zambia remains while urban parts of the country have forged ahead with the construction of lavish hotels, shopping malls and housing developments; it is in short a time-warp to the 1960s, a shame really when you consider 2014 is the country’s Golden Jubilee year.

Nevertheless, although Mabuku is in the process of pursuing a government scholarship to further his studies, at the moment he remains dedicated to improving the lives of rural children by nurturing a skill inherent in them and he – the illegitimate son of a military man -- sites his own unstable upbringing as proof that a child can overcome odds and get an education in art.

Chiengi-based artist and schoolteacher
Samuel Mabuku at the Art Academy Without Walls
in Lusaka last week
“I lived in Mufulira where I was raised by my grandmother. My mother had to be sent to the village, to Chishamwamba in Mporokoso shortly after giving birth to me because it somehow created problems for my father,” he recounts “I never saw her again until she returned with three more children from a different man but she just stayed for two years and died after growing a mysterious pimple on her face. As for my father, well he died in 1992, and he had a lot of women”

Mabuku would later leave Mufulira to live with an uncle in Kitwe where he was encouraged to take art by a teacher he recalls as a Mr Munalula at Chamboli Secondary School. Upon completing Grade 12 in 2003 he obtained a division one in art and took up apprenticeship as a sign-writer around the city of Kitwe.

Still under apprenticeship, he came to Lusaka for a sign-writing job and while here, he decided his future prospects lay in the capital so he moved in with an uncle in not-too-far Kafue. This is where he would meet artists Frank Kanjele and the celebrated painter Poto Kabwe – who also features in Oprah Winfrey’s personal collection – and it is Kabwe’s true-to-life style that appears to have a large influence on Mabuku’s work particularly his palette and subject matter.

“Mr Poto Kabwe advised me to go back to school. He told me that I was still young and should go to Evelyn Hone College to study art because he himself went only up to grade form 5 and he encouraged me to try and do better. At the time he was working for the Kafue Textiles, where I joined him,” he says.

But getting into college was not that easy, yet through sign-writing jobs, selling a few works at the Henry Tayali Gallery and the support of his uncle on the Copperbelt he was able to enrol in 2008.

Fast-forward to 2014, we can only sympathize with Mabuku. It is hard enough to be an art teacher in urban areas, where even some of the best schools never have art materials so one can only imagine what Mabuku and other art teachers in the outskirts of Zambia go through. Likewise one can only wish all the rural-based teachers safety as they jump on the back of Lorries to access their salaries as well as comfort as they take up accommodation in mud huts while they boldly go about their noble duty of educating a nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment