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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Where are all the female artists?

By Andrew Mulenga

At the age of 12, Angela Ninda Soko was already using her artistic talent to earn a bit of pocket money. By creating greeting, birthday and Christmas cards, on a good day, she would have more than a few coins to spare, and it was at this tender age that she was once able to buy two pairs of not-so-cheap spectacles, one for herself and one for her mother.

Noticing Angela’s artistic promise, her mother, a widowed and single parent at the time continued to support the girl’s creative endeavours eventually encouraging her to enrol at the Evelyn Hone College to study for an Art Teachers Diploma after high school.

Angela Ninda Soko
But her enrolment in the college was not all smooth sailing. Her mother could only manage to sponsor her first term but fortunately, she was not the only one alert to Angela’s talent. The young artist was spotted by the Lechwe Trust who had a long standing commitment towards sponsoring art students within the Evelyn Hone College and other institutions.

“From term two onwards I was sponsored by the Lechwe trust. This is when I went into sculpture – as a medium -- I had never done it before but just took up the challenge. It was the best experience ever. In the first year I was blessed to be part of a workshop sponsored by the Netherlands and I did three pieces and two were actually sold,” explains the artist who had the opportunity to meet and be tutored by leading Zambian sculptor Eddie Mumba, who was one of the key people conducting the workshop.

Her two pieces from the workshop were sold for K4,500 – formerly K4.5 million – each giving her a total of K9,000 – formerly K 9 million – which in 2009 was a fairly reasonable amount of money that she says saw her through school; for things such as transport and pocket allowance while supplementing the money an uncle would send monthly.

“But I just didn’t make a little money in this workshop. I was glad to meet Mulenga Mulenga too; she and I were the only females on the programme. But most of all I used the workshop to my advantage to lobby for a room on the college campus. After the workshop I was able to convince the Dean that I was working hard and had to be accommodated on the premises,” she explains.

Thinking (mixed media)
by Angela Ninda Soko
Motivated by the successful workshop and bubbling with confidence, she would subsequently enjoy a fruitful stay at the college graduating best in her school for the class of 2011 for which she was honoured. A year later, she returned to Kabwe, one of the towns she grew up in, there she opened a small shop called Artlands Creative with her fiancé. She would help manage the business and at the same time she would conduct art classes for disadvantaged children at Chemo, a school founded and ran by her mother, who had now found success after working in South Africa for a few years.

Recently married, Angela is now a teacher in Kapiri Mposhi, but often commutes between that town and Kabwe.

“In 2013 I was posted at Kapiri Girls Technical School. I teach an art class but I only have 11 pupils and they are all in grade 11. But I also formed an art club which has  28 members and I feel honoured because I was initially teaching English, but now my school is very supportive of what I’m doing and they are even budgeting and providing art materials,” she says.

From how she fondly speaks about her practice as a teacher it is plain to see the enthusiasm is very much part of her drive and focus. But one might speculate that this has also drawn her away from the gallery circuit which is seriously lacking the contribution of female artists, particularly those such as Angela that are also sculptors.  

Weeping Drummer (Rosewood)
by Angela Ninda Soko
As much as a few higher learning institutions such as the Evelyn Hone College and the Zambia Open University – where Angela recently enrolled as a first year BA Fine Arts Student—are churning out fresh art graduates every year and many other informally trained artists are emerging on the scene, we see fewer female artists actively involved in art practice and even less more exhibiting. There is no telling why this is so, one can speculate that after marriage they are discouraged by the uncompromising husband who will rather have a spouse in a different field, a housewife or an outright procreation partner.

In fact it is so frustrating that we are lead to believe that Zambia has no female artists. About four years ago, the Lusaka National Museum hosted the  International Women's Day Exhibition 2010 -- by all means a landmark show in this country’s art history – which managed to showcase works by over 40 women, including our featured artist Angela herself that were actively producing art at the time.

For records sake, one is tempted here to call them out and probably remind them of their creative vocation; these are namely Vandita Varjanhbay, Bridget Sakwana, Angela Kalunga, Caroline Miyoba, Gift Nondo, Karin Cocker, Tamryn Pohl, Nan Van Ginkel, Laurey Nevers, Constance Mundui, Helen B. Mulubwa, Olipa Mumpuka, Agness Lubumbashi, Sylvia Mwando, Gladys Kalichini, Cynthia Zukas, Agness Yombwe, Sue Somerset, Misozi Moyo, Brigitte, Zarina Khan, Tessie Lombe, Eva Middleton, Phylis Konoso, Eunice Walker, K Cocker, Mulenga Mulenga, Kamwala Kaoma, Akakulubelwa A. Shawa, Jaquiline Musonda, Ngambi, Christabel B Banda, Rhoda Phiri, Petronella Ngolwa, BM, Mirriam Kaleyi, Ellen Hitas, Mumpa D. Chanda, Lillian Mwemba Himoonde, Stella N. Banda, Susan Mbao and Kalcho Group.

In recollection the show which ran for two weeks did not sell much, but in line with the Women's Day theme for 2010 which was "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities”, it was a resounding success having exposed female artists from different cultures, generations, social and educational backgrounds. It begs the question “Where are all the female artists?” Who can best address the challenges of a woman, or celebrate motherhood, beauty or indeed women’s rights or the feminist movement in art more convincingly than the woman herself. Nevertheless this is not to say there is no one keeping the female flame alive in terms of artistic presence, right now we only have a handful namely Laura Chimowitz, Agnes Buya Yombwe, Caroline Miyoba, and the younger crop of Mulenga Mulenga, Gladys Kalichini, Nukwase Tembo and Alina Mateke. Of course there is the Ababa House group of hobby painters mainly of European or either Zimbabwean extraction as well as the Sunday painters of Choma who are mainly farm wives but are able to exhibit nonetheless.

But anyway we digress. Back to Angela, her works Thinking and Weeping Drummer are remarkable pieces, one a mixed media drawing and the other a rosewood sculpture but it does not look like the art viewing public should be expecting anything new from her any time soon.

It is possible that she too like many others before and among her will be engrossed in the daily humdrum of being an art teacher – which is not entirely a bad thing – but why not practice and exhibit professionally while you still have your art teaching to lean on when sales are low or exhibitions are not frequent.
It would be good for her not to give up working in wood or stone – rare materials among female artists -- while she still has the zeal and energy, which one might add is not hard to lose, and once it is gone, it seldom returns, unless of course with inspired effort.

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