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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Kata’s captivating snapshots of everyday people

By Andrew Mulenga

The movers and shakers of the city of Lusaka are not the coffee-sipping wannabes that plague the ever mushrooming shopping malls or the smartphone-flashing urban young professionals that literally have their eyes glued to these mobile devices 24 hours a day.
It is the street vendors, the call boys, the salaula (used clothes) traders, the youth pushing a wheelbarrow and the little girl selling fritters on the corner, they run this town. They are its heart beat; to listen to their loudness is to place a stethoscope on its pulse as well as observe the city’s very rhythm and this is what the snapshot painter Albert Kata does, and does so well.

Market place, 2014, acrylic on canvas by Albert Kata
“There is a very good reason why I have chosen to paint daily life. Everything comes to pass, nothing stays the same, so what I do is record, I keep memories, when I paint this street scene and you come back here after five years it will not be the same,” says the 53 year-old artist who lives and works from Kanyama where he oversees the Kanyama Art Centre within the premises of the Kanyama Youth Centre on Los Angeles Road just behind Lusaka City Market.

Evoking watercolours, Kata’s paintings are slightly stylized realistic images that are brought to life by his impeccable mastery of the colour wheel; it is clear that he does it effortlessly and has been doing so for years. He also appears to do it with such a conviction that one might suggest he has a passion for the hustle and bustle of inner city and township life.  
“As you can see my compositions are detailed so obviously I have to work of photographs, digital images, but you have to be careful because the crowds can beat you up before they ask you where you are taking their photos. A good strategy is to tell a friend to pose then you use an angle that will capture the background,” he says.

Spectators, 2014, acrylic on
 canvas by Albert Kata
But although his work is vibrant and he is prolific in his work ethic churning out one painting after the other, resulting in stacks of the work, he says at times it becomes problematic when you make so much art because you end up with nowhere to take it, no matter how good the quality is.

“The challenges we face as Zambian artists is the market, there are limited places to exhibit, and then also prices are too low. Look I spend two months on one painting for some of the work then they don’t appreciate the effort or the skill, so I’m thinking maybe I can start making small post cards, just for a little money when its dry,” he cries.

Challenges or not, it appears art is the life Kata has chosen, he lived, ate and breathed it ever since his older brother introduced him to portrait drawing when he was only grade 2 in the mining township of Mindolo in Kitwe the copperbelt

Water Crisis, 2014, acrylic on
canvas by Albert Kata
“Since childhood I have never looked back. I went to Mindolo secondary but only up to Form 3, I left school in 1980 and started doing some sign-writing jobs around Kitwe with a few friends of mine, one of them was a safety inspector in the mines it was a very respected position but he also used to paint murals on the tunnel walls deep underground to warn miners against an underground cliff and so on,” he recalls.

Because he was from a mining family, in 1986 he was forced to join the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) and undergo 6 months of training as a safety inspector, just like his friend, but still his heart was with art.

“I was finally employed at the Mindolo shaft in Wusakile, but then underground the conditions are very bad, even when you don’t smoke you find yourself thirsty for very strong tobacco so we used to smoke Guards (a cigarette brand) and Kaponda (unprocessed tobacco),” he explains “but one day while we were smoking underground we were standing at a certain place and I wasn’t comfortable because I’m tall, so I told my workmates let’s move and stand where there is more room, minutes after we moved a huge rock the size of a house fell right on the place where we were previously standing my friends were surprised and said this is a sign, I agreed and I took it as a sign for me to quit my job and go back to art.”

Albert Kata - I preserve memories 
He went home and told his parents that he had stopped work. They were not pleased so he decided to leave Kitwe and travel to Lusaka because he heard this is where artists were earning a decent living.

“In Lusaka I met Mubanga, he was well known and specialized in wildlife painting, he is the one who used to give me materials and take me around to his clients and I started selling, but he died and then I was on my own,” he says “Then I started taking my work to Zambili Gallery, it used to be on Chandwe Musonda road in the light industrial area, it was owned by a Mrs Mutale, they even had a curio shop where we would display some of our works, the times were good”

After the death of Mubanga he made a new friend who used to visit his home for art lessons in John Lenge compound. Before his death too, this friend introduced Kata to a Mr Kalitenta at the Kanyama Youth Centre where the latter was in need of someone to start teaching art. It is at this same centre where Kata would later form the Kanyama Art Centre, read about is next week and learn about the amazing work that the artist is doing against serious odds.

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