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Monday, 23 March 2015

Footprint in Lusaka’s Chalala, latest gallery on the circuit

By Andrew Mulenga

Show me the money, (mixed media with
Rhodesian pennies) by Onesmos Mpand
Little known Onesmos Mpande, 58 is a hard working yet obscure protagonist of the Zambian art scene, he currently has at least 50 paintings and sculptures on display at his Footprint Gallery situated in a new shopping complex he built after opting for early retirement years ago.

But what is fascinating about Mpande’s path as an artist is that he had never thought of it as a career, nevertheless it is as if now, after many years it has finally caught up with him in one whole creative outburst. He attempted Catholic priesthood, was trained in the Zambia National Service, had a career in Public Relations at the Bank of Zambia and has finally wound up as an artist and gallery owner, a passion and talent that has always been innate in him.

Jokingly, he can be likened to the Biblical Jonah of the Old Testament whom after attempting to run away from his calling, it finally caught up with him, cornered and having no choice at all, he ended up doing God’s will. Likewise for Mpande, after his many sojourns he has finally succumb to the will of art which one might add is not a bad thing, he is a very welcome and unique contribution to the Zambian art scene.

Tears have no colour,
(mixed media)
by Onesmos Mpande
Having had no formal training or direct influences he has developed an eclectic style making any signature hard to pinpoint, save for the scrap metal he constantly infuses in his paintings as can be seen in works such as Tears Have No Colour a very emotive painting with moody colours that depicts a crying face, he uses steel ball bearings for the tears. Equally there is Show Me The Money the money a signature piece that shows a figure behind steel gauze, the type that can be found on barbeques stands. The beady eyes of the subject are made from bicycle reflectors and give the impression of a burning desire, a lust for money whereas the subjects garment is made entirely of vintage, Rhodesian pennies the oldest being from 1937. An intense piece of work, it clearly evokes notions of greed, and the figure behind bars may reference a jail cell, the place where an unbridled lust for money may otherwise land you.
Mpande’s zeal has lead him into becoming a self-taught metal fabricator, using this newly acquired skill to craft complex scrap metal sculptures, never modifying the found pieces but selecting ones that will fit in  to his concept without alteration.

His series of masks and faces such as the piece Nigerian conman do not only serve as wall hangings but can have security cameras concealed within them, he intends to market these in business houses. Each sculpture is unique and complicated in its own right but the towering Manshunkulumbwe worrior head on a steak is perhaps the most complex, it anchors the artists deep-seated passion for antiquity. One of the works key features is the head of a warrior with a peculiar hairstyle that appears like an inverted funnel. According to the artist the Ila and Tonga would use this hairstyle in the military to identify each others positions before engaging the enemy, it was called Isusu. Something akin to the towering locks of David Hinds, frontman for the Reggae band Steel Pulse, Isusu were constructed from the hairs of the warriors’ wives.

Nigerian conman, (painted scrap metal)
by Onesmos Mpande
Nevertheless, the artist is now keen on gaining recognition but is worried that he is not getting as many viewers as he would to his gallery which is off the ring road in Chalala, he may have to place a sizeable billboard along the roadside. He is however enjoying some visits from school going children who organize themselves to come and see the works. Although this is only the beginning of his gallery, it is far from the beginning of his journey as an artist.
“I started painting way back in 1984, just for fun while working for the bank of Zambia, but I especially used to paint just to decorate my flat and my friends would encourage me even though they wanted to get my work for free,” he says.

“Those days I never used to miss an exhibition that took place at the Mpapa Gallery that used to be in town somewhere near Kulima Tower Bus Station towards the end of 1984 I even managed to exhibit a single work there and it sold.”

He recalls that his true passion for art developed when he was just a child in primary school but he could not develop it further due to changing schools among other things. His father was a police officer who lived in Lilayi, Kasama, Mpika, Nakonde, Mbala and Livingstone where Mpande was born.

Three wise hourses, (mixed media)
by Onesmos Mpande
“I remember just after independence, all the classes were encouraged to do art, I was at Chiwanda primary school in Isoka by then, but later I went to Lubushi Seminary in 1971 until 1975 even the current bishop mpundu we were together, we used to play football together,” he recalls.

“But then remember that is when ZNS was introduced so I ended up in Solwezi at Kamitonte where I did my 20 months military training, then my agriculture I did in Kitwe and all hope of becoming an artist evaporated. Then I ended up joining the BOZ as a Clerk in 1978, I worked for the exchange control department for 7 years”.

He was later transferred to the Protocal Section to work on an in-house magazine called Zambanker but they had no journalists and he was picked by the bank alongside a colleague David Kalumba to undergo training at the Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe. They became the banks first PR officers later followed by politician Kabinga Pande.

But it was not until in 2005 when he successfully applied for early retirement that he took to his brushes and welding machine. 10 years down the line his works are on permanent display at Footprint Gallery. Although he currently works from his home in Makeni, he is building studio space just behind his shopping complex in Chalala. Apart from his own work, the artist’s son Wezi also exhibits there, he shows great promise too having executed a very mature abstract painting entitled Eruption when he was about 9 years old in 2011. 
First black pope, (acrylic on canvas)
by Onesmos Mpande
A large sculpture by Mpande takes
centre stage in his gallery
Eruption, 2011 by Wezi Mpande
Footprint Gallery is situated inside
Rockfield Shuffle Mall in Lusaka's Chalala owned

Untitled, (acrylic on canvas)
by Onesmos Mpande

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