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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Is Great East Road home of ugly art?

By Andrew Mulenga

Sweden is said to boast the world’s longest art gallery, reporting for BBC Travel, Lola Akinmade Åkerström writes: “Running 110km underground in Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (subway) is the world’s longest art exhibition, with paintings, sculptures, mosaics and installations created by 150 artists since the 1950s in more than 90 of the city’s 100 stations.”

A huge statue of a chicken along Great East Road
This brings to mind a key component of Zambia’s transport system which – with due respect to the artists -- also boasts a fair share of art that passengers can gaze upon as they use it for their daily commuting, this is the Lusaka’s Great East Road.

If you live in the Avondale, Chelstone, or PHI areas and use it to commute to the city centre, or if perhaps you are visiting Zambia for the first time and are being driven from the airport to the many hotels in the heart of the metropolis, the first one you will see a huge statue of a Chicken.

Although it is clearly of questionable artistic merit, this structure is a hit among pre-schoolers, and perhaps for good reason, because toddlers may liken it to something they can make in an art class. One can argue it resembles a papier-mâché project a 5-year-old would produce in an art club. Also the chicken has the character of a cartoon which might be the reason why it is popular among toddlers.

An Eagle at the Munali roundabout
Anyway, the sculpture was put up by a business as a guide or beacon to guide its clients to its whereabouts so in that regard it is serving its purpose spot on.

Further down the road is another intersection, popularly known as the Munali Roundabout, this one too is adorned with a huge bird. Although smaller in comparison, this particular one is supposed to represent an eagle, Zambia’s national bird so fondly mentioned in the national anthem: “like a noble eagle in its flight”.

That line alone suggests that an eagle is graceful in flight and one can therefore argue that its strongest attribute is perhaps the span of its wings. But the metal eagle at Munali appears to have an awkwardly short wingspan and equally undersized legs that give it the appearance of a crow.

A water fountain at the Manda Hill
footbridge along Great East Road
Beyond the Munali round about one notices a concentration of drilling and exploration companies, at least five on each side, on their wall fences are paintings of Ashok Leyland drilling lorries, the type built in India. As much as these companies deserve a pat on the back for hiring sign-writers, the hired artists appear to be outdoing themselves on who can produce the least accurate and most ugly rendition of a drilling lorry.

Finally, as you approach the Manda Hill foot bridge you will notice, there is a horrendous water feature made of cement which is technically I collection of geometric shapes placed one on top of the other. I turns out this particular piece was placed there as an advertisement for anyone who might consider commissioning a similar structure.

This art is in public spaces, one wonders whether the civic authorities that approve them have any eye for art at all.


  1. Dear Andrew, interesting and stimulating comments as usual but I have to point out your neglect of the plethora of advertising hoardings which litter Great East Road. Talk about appalling visual pollution, not to mention the distraction from safe driving (and the danger of them falling down, which has happened)! The Council seems to have been carried away with the income they earn to the neglect of the beautification of the city. It makes me yearn for the days when the very plain Lusaka was beautified by the various tree plantings undertaken decades ago, and which still give pleasure in their respective flowering seasons - eg the bauhenia, the flame trees, the cassia and the glorious jacaranda. Maybe they are taken for granted now but they shouldn't be for they are probably nearing the end of their lives and there urgently needs to be a programme of re-planting or the city will be nothing but a waste land of ugly metal signs. It is a pity this wasn't implemented for the 50th anniversary. Art by another name! Here in far away Canberra I have Peter Mabwe's paintings to remind me of their glory. Former Lusaka resident, 'Mama UN'.

    1. Dear Anonymous from far away Canberra, thank you for taking time to read. I can't agree more that the advertising is in itself pollution. The fact that the authorities have forgotten that Lusaka was intended to be a "Garden City" is food for thought and debate. I'm glad you have a Peter Mabwe please treasure it, he is only with us in loving memory now.