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Monday, 20 October 2014

Team player with a spirit of freedom

By Andrew Mulenga

Artist, David Makala describes Metamorphosis, the recent two-person exhibition alongside Natasha Evans at the 37d gallery in Lusaka as a terrific learning experience, much more than he expected.

David Makala (Photo: Gareth Bentley)
Although he was reluctant to mention the benefits business-wise he insists the feedback was highly motivational plus it also got him into the respectable Lechwe Trust Collection, an honour sought-after by many a Zambian artist.

He has been at it for just over seven years, but the unassuming change is reluctant to declare himself as someone who has arrived artistically.

“I’m still new on the scene, maybe in the next three years, when I will have been working for ten years, but for now I’m still learning. There is a lot I must do, look, there are some people who are no longer on the art scene but you can still see their influence,” he says referencing Rockston Studios legend David Chirwa.

He explains that his strength to develop as an artist has been through his ability to collaborate, share experiences and learn from others, finding this the time when he is at his most creative.
“You need the hand of fellow artists because of their experience. I’m not scared of anyone running away with my ideas, I’m really just a grain of sand on the banks of a river, a tiny part of the bigger picture, knowing this has helped me come this far and will take me forward,” he adds.

'Priest' 154 x 129cm, by David Makala,
Lechwe Trust Collection
Examining the course of his artistic journey confirms that he is a team player who is always equal to the group challenge at hand. Late last year, he was a key player in the construction of a towering Christmas tree made of 9,000 discarded plastic bottles alongside fellow artists Mwamba Mulangala and Vandita Varjangbhay at the Swedish School in Lusaka.

The tree was designed by celebrated Zambian sculptor Flinto Chandia and assembled with the aid of 31 children from the Lubuto Library, Mulele Mwana, Chikumbuso, Open Arms and Pestalozzi orphanages in a community outreach project by the stART Foundation. When lit up, the three storey tree was a crowd-puller at Arcades Shopping Mall throughout the festive season.
2006 was perhaps the busiest year during the launch of his career, he had just attended the August Studio workshops organized by Mulenga Chafilwa for upcoming artists with the Zambia Visual Arts Council, joined the Arts Academy without Walls and also worked with his close friends who were involved in launching Alexis Phiri’s Kachere Art Studio.

'Element Q, #1'
“I'm unable to say much on Kachere Studio because I was working in the shadow of my friends. It was after those days that Roots of Expression Studio (ROXS) was born. With the desire of expressing ourselves as young artists and running a studio of our own” he explains “We knew it was the only way to grow, Bisalom Phiri, Jarvis Michelo and Tom Phiri who had my interest at heart made sure that whatever was going to make them good, I was to be part of it. It’s a desire we shared, when they set out forming ROXS with Agnew Masango, they asked me to join which I gladly did.”

ROXS is still operational although the initial team that also included Othenial Lingwabo a prodigious school leaver at the time has disbanded. Lingwabo has set up base at a small holding in Chongwe where he still produces impressive works of steal on wood that he exhibits in Lusaka. Masango, originally from Zimbabwe is now based in Paris, leaving the Phiri brothers occasionally joined by Michelo to run the space. Primarily a makeshift sculpture studio, they produce contemporary marble works and ornamental tombstones.

“Alex Nkazi and Stary Mwaba are a big part of my metamorphosis as an artist with them I learnt, the power of contrast, creative composition, colour confidence, suggesting form and space, evoking atmosphere and mood,” he explains “It’s important for experienced artists to organizes studio visits and workshops, these help upcoming artist a lot. Art space initiatives give us the opportunity to create new ways of thinking.”

'Usual Spot' Acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 154 x 129cm
The passion to collaborate and work with others has left an indelible mark on his work often making it hard to pin down in terms of a signature identity, but his recent investigations into abstraction reveal a free spirit that dashes away from his comfort zone, away from the herd.
His energetic and unconfined brush strokes, general rough handling of paint with thick impasto compliment an impression of a wild if not turbulent freedom that also echoes in his deliberately unkempt personal appearance, wearing a scruffy beard and shaggy hair. This is however countered by a warm personality as he is often cracking jokes and laughing out loud.
Makala lives the true life of a Zambian artist, by instinct always hoping for the best and trying to improve himself professionally without blaming failure on the lack of resources and support structures.

He is yet to have his shot at international exposure but is gunning for residencies and workshops abroad already having a few applications in place, one can only wish him the best hoping he maintains the forceful energy and no doubt when the opportunity shows itself he will represent himself and his country well.

“What’s happening elsewhere is as important as what's happening locally, the more dialogue we have the more we will learn as artists, as people, and as communities, the opportunity to re-draw cultural and artistic maps, to remove boundaries and to create new relationships between different artistic centres” says Makala the 30 year old who was born and raised in Lusaka, attended Kabulonga Secondary School.

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