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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Chibaye upholds Ndola’s artistic legacy



By Andrew Mulenga

Coming from a smaller town, it is no mean feat to penetrate an art scene that is concentrated in a large city, particularly the capital. Perhaps this is true to artists anywhere in the world, but more so in Zambia where this scene is essentially none existent and all the art spaces can be counted on one hand, perhaps with fingers to spare.

Brother (oil on canvas) by Emmanuel Chibaye
But recognition is not impossible and 25 year old Emmanuel Chibaye can bare testimony to this. Born and bred in Ndola’s energetic, council-house township of Chifubu, Chibaye was one of the artists announced on this page in the Five young Zambian artists to watch in 2014 list in February.

Outwardly, he does not appear to bear the gigantic ego of a rapper – although he does wear the occasional baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirt or hoodie as cool people say – but his pseudonym definitely does teeter beyond the margins of extravagant self-confidence. He signs his work as 'Giga Psyche' which he says means 'Giant mind'.

So, what is it that goes on in this giant mind? Artistically, it is the processing of portraits, everyday images as well as his own theoretical ideas and encoding them into geometrically inspired abstract paintings that he presents to the viewer in intense and at times inharmonious colours. 

You can see that his style is still very experimental, but in a good way. It is something fresh especially that painting run-of-the-mill realistic work may arguably be suspected as an avenue for cowering away from the challenge of idea-based image making.

Chibaye often has a central, bust-like subject in a front facing portrait configuration as can be seen in King of The Jungle and Self Image, but you can see how he tries to create depth in the paintings using tonal gradation. You can also see he has an almost preoccupied devotion towards breaking down natural forms into cones, cylinders, spheres and planes.

Dialogue (oil on canvas) by Emmanuel Chibaye
Although he prefers working in oil on canvas, he also exhibits exceptional draughtsmanship when working in pen and ink.

Arguably his pen and ink drawings appear more skilfully executed probably owing to his impressive tonal technique, where up close, his oil paintings on the other hand sometimes appear unfinished, such as Brother, a two-faced portrait that looks like it could have used a few more drops of paint. But nevertheless, is it not the Italian master, Leonardo Da Vinci himself who once said “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, so who is one to question Chibaye. 

However it should also be noted that quite a good number of Zambian artists may be found guilty of living by Da Vinci’s words. Every now and then they shamelessly sneak an unfinished work into an exhibition assuming viewers will not notice, but they do. This of course in the long run reduces the general standards in the quality of art.

As for Chibaye, he may or may not live by the words of Da Vinci, but he surely has been inspired by him and several other old masters of the European Renaissance because he used to spend long hours in the Ndola Public Library reading about them and imitating their work.

King of the jungle (oil on canvas) by Emmanuel Chibaye
“When I was in secondary school I used to paint realistically, copying the old masters, then I started experiments with abstract. Like now I use numbers and letters, and then I started using geometric shapes,” says Chibaye who attended Kansenshi Secondary School in Ndola where he was encouraged to be competitive and enter big competitions such as the Mukuba Awards which he attempted twice, and took the second place in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

“I went to Kansenshi in Grade 10. I was excited because I never did art in junior, but I was put in a non-art class so I had to swap. But I had to prove myself to madam Chimwaya and Mr Emmanuel Mwisa my teachers,” he recalls “That’s is where I saw the works of Caleb Chisha, -- the painter -- he was in grade 12 then, two grades ahead of me. The work on the school notice board was better than mine so I looked at it stood quietly and thought I could do it. I started practicing until I got close and was recognised too”.

At home, he used to engage in friendly competition with a close friend, Anthony Chama, now a student of Environmental Engineering at the Copperbelt University. This competition would continue even after secondary school, until Chibaye left for Lusaka to enrol in the three-year Art Teachers Diploma at the Evelyn Hone College that he completed last year.

King of the jungle (oil on canvas) by Emmanuel Chibaye
Actually, it was while in college that he got his big break to start showing works at the privately owned 37d Gallery in Lusaka, currently the country’s place-to-show art space whose name -- perhaps -- ubiquitously darts out of the mouths of Zambian artists in choral harmony owing to its highly successful sales strategy that serves a steady stream of well-healed clients. Right now, everyone wants to show there, so it is certainly a deserving godsend for this talented Ndola youth to be there.

“I started exhibiting at 37d after Emilia saw my work at the Visual Arts Council, that she was the gallery assistant. She asked me to create some more so I did about 15 and they chose some drawings, up to now I’m very thankful to her” he says. 

According to the artist, it was Emilia Alvarez Nordstrom who indicated his name was too long for his paintings, prompting him to adopt the pseudonym Giga Psych. How bizarre if this is true, because a shadowy nick name is going to stick with him for the rest of his budding career and honestly there are Zambian artists with longer names, Gordon Shamulenge for one. Honestly, enigmatic pseudonyms are usually the preserve of editorial cartoonists and graffiti artists whose work is informed by a more edgy political, cultural or social commentary. 

Nevertheless, the young artist is enjoying a good run at the gallery where both his paintings and drawings fetch in the region of K2, 000 (two thousand) a piece after gallery fees. He humorously boasts that in one exhibition he sold four works and was able to clear a debt he accrued in College fees having squandered the resources sent by his parents. 

Silence (oil on canvas) by Emmanuel Chibaye
“Well at times as upcoming artists we feel that we get too little for our work and cannot control the prices but well at least I’m selling. In Ndola there is nowhere to sell art, it’s a disgrace. Even that thing you call Copper belt Museum, what is that?” he asks “Look, we are celebrating 50 years of independence and we don’t have a big museum in Ndola. We have a big stadium that brings foreign teams with their fans. Tell me the first place a foreigner goes to when they are visiting? It’s the museum; now what museum can they see here, it’s a joke”.

He claims if not a museum, Ndola deserves a good gallery because there is a lot of artistic talent and the city has a proven track record citing the likes of Angela Kalunga, Danny Chiyesu, Caleb Chisha and Nsofwa Bowa of the David Livingstone statues. 

Of course Chibaye has the right to dream with regards a gallery, but he may have a point concerning the city’s artistic legacy. 

The town has been home to a number of important artists, among them Adam Mwansa, a multi-discplinary artist who has settled in Luanshya after enjoying an illustrious run that has seen him train at the Wimbledon School of Art in the UK as well as Hague, Netherlands before a long stretch of teaching practice in Botswana. There is also Style Kunda, one of the country’s leading painters known to seamlessly shift from realistic representation to total abstraction; he has works dotted across major Zambian collections as well as abroad. Lawrence Yombwe who co-runs Wayi Wayi Art Studio and Gallery – currently a tourist crowd-puller in Livingstone -- with wife Agnes, pioneering a Mbusa themed artistic concept. 

Giga Psyche aka Emmanuel Chibaye
The late reclaimed wood maestro and founder of Ulendo Studio Friday Tembo whose legacy lives on in his protégés Rabson Phiri and John Miti of Lusaka also claimed “The Friendly City” as his home town.   

William Miko too who is currently a lecturer in Fine Art at the Zambia Open University (ZAOU) as well as Hughes Mwansa of Times Printpak Limited an illustrator who has done extensive work for Macmillan Zambia, Tom Mbumba a multi-disciplinary artist who gained recognition in the area of logo design in the 1990s particularly for Zamtel and the late Jones Muna who made the Catholic Icengelo Magazine’s Bemba comic strip Katona a sensation across the Copperbelt, North Western and Northern Provinces. Ndola was also home to the Arts and Crafts Association of Zambia in Twapia Township.

Chibaye is currently awaiting graduation in July as he also expects a posting as a school teacher. He intends to teach and continue practicing as art as a profession, further studies at degree level is also among his thoughts; as far as what he has to offer, surely the best is yet to come.  

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