By Andrew Mulenga
(Photos: courtesy of Chipika Simanwe)
When he held his first solo exhibition 1 Night Stand in 2008, Chipika Simanwe tested his limits and pushed his own boundaries by displaying his work in a very intimidating space, the Lusaka National Museum. A colossal space that is not easy to fill, neither with painting nor viewers for that matter not even by more experienced artists.
|Simanwe (l) cuts the ribbon with Lucy Michelo CEO |
of Altitude Media during the opening night
In that show, he hung 35 paintings and only sold 5 earning him K15, 000 of which he still had to part with K4, 000 for renting the venue. He did not make a killing, but neither did he walk away empty handed if you do the math, better still he walked away with something more valuable than money, willpower.
It is the same willpower that led him to Red Handed a smaller but more successful show at the Alliance Francaise in Lusaka three years later and this year, between March 20 and April 2 he staged Red Handed Too a sequel at The Spice, a restaurant off Chaholi Road in Rhodes Park which is a popular hangout for celebrities such as football star Christopher Katongo, singer JK and rappers Slap Dee and Macky II. In retrospect, Simanwe briefly share’s the planning, occurrence and aftermath of the show.
|Chipika Simanwe (R) in front of his painting |
Tailored Thoughts with hip-hop artise Macky II
“I am a person who loves to challenge myself with my art practice. My first solo was a very bold move, I do not regret it at all despite the low sales. I was learning the ropes and I still am. In Red Handed Too I managed to sell 18 out of 30 pieces (on opening night). For me, this only shows that hard work does really pay off. I have really pushed myself so hard and I am only seeing the fruits now,” says the painter who is also a full time Art Director in a leading media and advertising company.
Although he has enjoyed a general increase in private collectors, he claims it is not unique to him alone as an artist.
“There is definitely an awakening that is going on in Zambia and I’m just loving it. Gone are the days when only White people collected art. The majority of people that buy my art are indigenous Zambians and I salute them. With the mushrooming of new buildings, I can only hope that more collectors will jump on the band wagon and give artists space on their walls,” he says revealing that broadcaster Inutu Himanje is one of his long time collectors.
|Viewers enjoy Simanwe's work during |
opening night at The Spice Indian restaurant
Reiterating on his choice of venue, he explains that exposing art to popular people gives the usually overlooked visual arts a higher profile. His opening night was a red carpet event, complete with the cutting of a red ribbon with Lucy Michelo CEO of Altitude Media on hand for that particular moment, while the master of ceremony was prominent public relations personality Kamiza Chikula. Also present was the Ambassador of the Russia to the Republic of Zambia Konstantin Kozhanov.
“I really wanted to make this show very different from the shows I have had in the past. I did a lot of brainstorming alone and with some colleagues to make the opening night grand. The Spice Indian restaurant is a place where a lot of celebs come to unwind. That speaks volumes about the courtesy of the restaurant owner Pavan Kottari,” he says “Besides Macky II told me that he actually used to draw a lot at some point but switched to his Kopala Swag music. He was impressed with my work and said he might work with some of my ideas. Prior to my show, Pompi (a popular Zambian recording artiste) actually sent me a tweet saying he loved my painting Valley of Decision”.
|Guardian, 2015, acrylic |
on canvas 75cm x 60cm
Simanwe’s recent work is mostly semi-abstract, and he explores a broad range of themes, the ones that stand out prominently are his examination of social issues as he humorously casts suspicion on male dressmakers and hairdressers.
“My art has become very experiential. There is a market where I go to every month to have my hair cut and what you see in the paintings Hidden Agenda Salon and Tailored Thoughts are things that I observe keenly,” he explains.
Hidden Agenda Salon probes the influx of male hairdressers from East Africa into Zambia, many said to have Masai origins, from whose rich culture they have lent their excellent hair plating skills into a money spinning venture, beautifying local woman. Simanwe questions the honesty of these hairdressers insinuating like the title of his painting suggests “hidden agendas”. Hairdressing can be a very intimate process, which is why these Masai gentlemen are also alleged to be smooth talkers who can get themselves into ladies beds with the same ease with which they plate their hair.
|Elephantourage, 2014, acrylic on canvas 90cm x 120 cm|
Tailored Thoughts plays around with the same sexual innuendo except it explores how mail tailors seem to enjoy measuring the waists and upper-torsos of their female clients slightly more than they do the male ones.
Nevertheless, it is clear to see that the artist is having fun, enjoying every moment of what he is doing, but besides the glitz of the opening event and the playfulness of some of his work, he is dead serious with what he does and every work has a deeper underlying concept not easily read at first glance.
“The new abstract characters that appear in my work are called Robokishi. They are inspired by the Makishi, which I took some time to research on. I found a document on the internet by Victoria Phiri Chitungu very helpful. There are also traces of Adinkra symbolism in my work. Overall, Red Handed Too is a fusion of some old and new concepts,” he says.
Overall, the show was an outstanding effort by Simanwe who managed to print a full-colour, 18-page catalogue to go with the event. Zambian artists often overlook the importance of exhibition catalogues ignoring their archival significance. One can argue the excuse of sponsorship for such publications is a tired one, for this particular exhibition, the artist managed to coerce The Spice, Juziel Digital Print Ltd, HK Media, Fortress, Prign Prints & Advertising Ltd, Balistiq and City Media Ltd. For sponsorship.
In the catalogue he gives thanks not only to God and people who have supported him over the years but to his close family.
“I mention my wife Bwalya in my thank you note because she has stuck with me through very difficult times in my life and has always been a source of encouragement. Last month in the month of March, we celebrated 9 years of marriage,” he says.
Simanwe is the winner of several awards – particularly in the area of graphic design -- that include the 2014 Overall winner of Publicis Africa Group Greeting Card Contest, 2011 First Prize winner in ‘Healing the world through Music’ International Logo Competition, 2004 Runner-up in Visiting Arts Artist-in-Residence at Delfina Studios, UK, 2003 Second Prize winner in Eastern & Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group Logo Competition and the 1996 First Prize Winner in World AIDS Day poster design competition under Ministry of Health – Zambia.
His International group exhibitions include the 2006 3rd International Rhodes Cartoon Exhibition – Greece, 2005, Japan Expo 2005 and 2003 ARTIADE – Greece whereas the local group shows he has featured in are the 2014 Lusaka My City, Mulenga Chafilwa and others at 37d Gallery, Lusaka, 2006 Selected Southern African Artists, Luanshya, Zambia, 2003 National Exhibition, Henry Tayali Gallery, Lusaka, 2001 National Annual Artist Exhibition, 2000 National Artists Exhibition, Henry Tayali (HTVAC) Lusaka and the 1999 Mulungushi Hanging (ICASA conference), Lusaka, Zambia.
He was born in Lusaka in 1978, attended Kabulonga Boys High School, obtained a certificate in Graphic Design at the Evelyn Hone College in 1997, an Advanced Certificate in Multimedia and Web design Technology, Centre for Development of Advanced computing (CDAC) in Chandigarh India in 2006.