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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Chibwe adds spice to Protea buffets

By Andrew Mulenga

Protea Hotel Safari Lodge, Chisamba,  located 35 minutes from Lusaka city centre has over the years become a favourite for corporate workshops and seminars due to its tranquil environment away from the hustle, bustle, and unbearable traffic of the capital.
Surely, one of the hotels specialities is its famed buffets served under the ambience of a large thatched dining space. The hotel has been in existence for 15 years but only recently received a touch from one of Zambia’s leading painters, David Chibwe who was hired to give the drab wall of the interior a lively touch, and surely the buffets have never been the same again.

Detail of dancers in a section of the painting
“The wall was blank and old fashioned, so I thought we should have someone work on it with an artistic touch. Someone told me of David and I looked him up on the internet and was instantly fascinated by his work”, says Jenny Liva General Manager at the hotel “I like it because it is not overly traditional but has a modern edge, it fits just perfectly and people who visit the hotel love it, we are happy to have it, it’s quite remarkable and every time you look at it, you see something new.”

At 66, the Luanshya-born painter and printmaker is classified as a senior artist and a Zambian master who has been active on the Lusaka art scene since he moved to the city in 1970 and later became a prominent member of the now redundant Lusaka Art Society and the Art Centre Foundation. He often boasts of having survived on art alone for over 50 years.

Chibwe in front of the mural that took
him just over a month to complete
“I worked on the painting for one month and one week and I was working day and night so I was even lodged here at Protea Hotel Safari Lodge, I titled it Together we celebrate, it’s a mixture of several things”, says the artist who was assisted by his apprentice Emmanuel Chibwe, “but I did one in a similar abstract style way back in 1977 at the Long Acres market where we were given a contract at the vegetable market, very white area, but I did that one with two other friends, Patrick Mweemba from Choma and the late Fackson Kulya.

Actually, the Protea Hotel Safari Lodge mural is very different from Chibwe’s usual style which is very pictorial, the images are stylized, a blend of angular and curved outlines that depict musicians, diners at a buffet and so on. In the mural, his use of a whole range of brown and orange, just held together and delicately balanced by threads of blue acknowledge his mastery of colour composition.

The mural sets the backdrop of
the restaurants buffet area
Nevertheless, dancers, among his favourite subjects do feature prominently in the piece.
But besides the abstraction he mentions in the 1977 Long Acres piece, he is also one of Zambia’s prominent printmakers preferring the art of linocut, in fact a set of twelve unframed prints that were just 41.5 x 29cm sold for £1,080 at Bonham’s in London.

“I was given a job as an artist by the Cultural Services Department in 1972, by Edwin Manda the actor, he was my boss, a very good man, that time the department used to buy a lot of art, it’s not like nowadays,” he recalls.

Some of Chibwe's  works are available for
purchase behind the hotel's reception area
He says it is Manda that introduced him to the late Henry Tayali, when the latter returned from studies in Germany around the same period, although it is the Choma-based, Dutch artist Bert Witkamp that really made an artistic impact on him in terms of imparting skills and technique.  Witkamp arrived in Zambia in the mid-seventies and quickly became popular among the local artists to the extent that he went to live among a group of them in Lusaka’s Mtendere Compound, something which even today would be regarded as radical.
“Witkamp taught us how to use linseed oil and pigments, there were no paint tubes for fine art around this time. Even the printmaking, he is the one that would never hide anything from us, he wanted everyone to learn, he is a very good man”, he adds.

Witkamp is the brains behind the Graphic Art of Zambia exhibition held at the Choma Museum and Crafts centre during the UNWTO General Assembly that was co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe in 2013. The exhibition featured other prominent printmakers from the Art Centre Foundation days such as Fackson Kulya, Cynthia Zukas and Patrick Mweemba.
Chibwe remains a key figure in the contemporary art of Zambia not only being a prominent resource person in art workshops, but he has been very active over the years as a reliable tutor in a number of Lusaka’s prominent international schools. He attended the Athens Royal School Likasi in 1964, the Academies of Fine Arts in 1967 and Artistic Humanities Des Beaux Arts, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo in 1969. He works from his home in Kaunda Square Stage II but hopes to set up a studio at a small holding in Chongwe just outside Lusaka.  

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