Search This Blog

Monday, 18 May 2015

Kanyama Art Centre, an oasis in need of water

By Andrew Mulenga

On paper, Kanyama is a bustling urban constituency, complete with an honourable -- as they like to be called -- Member of Parliament from the ruling Patriotic Front in the name of Colonel Gerry Chanda who is also one of two Home Affairs Deputy Ministers alongside Colonel Panji Kaunda – yes as if one was not enough.

The centre needs about K20,000 (approx. US$ 2,800) 
to complete this classroom which will 
cater for 75 art students
But in reality, Kanyama is one of Lusaka’s largest shanty towns which also encompasses the infamous Chibolya, the city’s most notorious slum, a crime and drugs haven. It has inadequate sanitation, has floods every rainy season and has insufficient schools even though more than half of its 366,170 population were below the age of 18 according to the last census in 2010.

Because of the latter, Kanyama-based artist Albert Kata, 53, took it upon himself to establish the Kanyama Art Centre which in its own way has been keeping children off drugs, off the streets and generally away from mischief. Situated within the premises of the Kanyama Youth Training Centre along Los Angeles Road near City Market the informal art school has served as a drop-in centre and youngsters are never turned away regardless of them having no artistic talent at all.

“I started it in 1996, it’s registered with the National Arts Council as an institution that is teaching young ones. When I just started it was difficult because the management at the Youth Centre did not allow me certain things because I’m Rasta, I don’t know what people think when they look at Rastafarians,” explains the self-taught artist who personally imparts his artistic skills and not Rastafarian ideology on children of all ages.

Kunda Simwanza, 15, of Chibolya Community
School working on a miniature sculpture
He conducts the lessons free of charge and currently has about 75 students separated into three groups, they come not only from Kanyama and Chibolya but also from John Laing and Misisi compounds. Kata has no specialised equipment but tries to supply the children with the most basic art materials such as paper and crayons which he purchases from his own earnings, money made from the art that he sells through galleries and to his own collectors.

“I will not lie it’s a challenge and I think this year for some reason it’s our hardest year, I don’t know why. At some point we had some Danish volunteers who were funding the Kanyama Youth Programme Trust, we were not a part of the programme, but the Danes ordered management to support us whenever they could because they were passionate about art,” he says “Then more children started coming in numbers so I started teaching them, then after the Danish volunteers left, some volunteers from Finland started helping the programme, but it always depends on how much the volunteers love art, at times they will support by giving you a small grant or by buying my work then I put the money back into the art centre”.

An anatomically correct miniature
sculpture by Kunda Sikazwe
He complains that the only proper funding he has received was in 2,000, from Kepa Zambia, a Finnish Partnership Ngo Programme that awarded him money to teach children uninterrupted for three months.

“At the moment, like I said, I won’t lie, things are a bit stuck, so far there are so many children coming, at times when they are chased from the gate by the guards they jump the fence so that they can attend art classes,” he explains.

Kata has been using the Youth Programme’s hall facility when it is free but most of the times his students have to work outside. A few years ago he was able to build a classroom but it remains incomplete, it needs roofing as well as a door and window frame. All out of ideas, he is directly appealing to roofing companies such as Malata Roofing Limited, ClassEcon Roofing Africa or Safintra for assistance. At the moment he is not really concerned with equipment as it can be costly, but he would appreciate any well-wishers that can provide power tools for his sculpture class or a steady donation of cement from Lafarge perhaps so that he can use it to teach his students how to cast flower pots and garden decorations for sale. He estimates the classroom only needs about K20, 000 (approx. US$ 2,800) to be completed.

A student shows off a miniature of Zambia's
first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda
“I really need support, even from government. If maybe someone can also help me create a curriculum because right now my students don’t graduate with a certificate, only a skill. At times when I see a student has stopped coming I know that they are ready and I am happy when I meet them elsewhere doing maybe a sign-writing job”, he adds.

And Kunda Simwanza, 15, says he is always at the centre because he feels at home and it also keeps him from joining thugs. On average, children his age are in secondary school doing their Grade 9, 10 or even 11, Kunda, however, is in Grade 6 at Chibolya Community School, slightly over-aged as is the case with many shanty town children as their education is often interrupted because of the lack of school supplies. In fact it is not just the passion for art and the desire to keep away from vices that prompted him to join Kata’s students, but also wish to develop his skill to a money making level that can help support him through school. The up-coming artist is quite skilful too, during a visit to the centre, he was found creating miniature, paper Mache sculptures. With proper support there is no telling where the talented youngster may end up.

The students are trained to make
garden sculptures such as this one
Nevertheless, it can be argued that what Kata is doing for his community is more than what any chauffer driven, elected Member of Parliament is doing for their constituencies with regards youth empowerment or development. There is no need to even dwell on substantiating these claims because it is common knowledge that MPs hardly ever visit their constituencies between elections.

Also, Kata is perhaps doing more for the development of the arts than what the entire Ministry of Tourism and Arts has done ever since it was streamlined as an entity by late president Michael Sata.

This brings to mind the remarks of outspoken Chingola art promoter and stage actor Ackson Tembo’s in the April edition of his electronic newsletter Abetartsnews. Tembo, considerately asks how the arts in general have benefited from the streamlining of the ministry.

“The big question that needs an honest answer is whether the creation of the Ministry of Tourism and Arts two years ago has really boosted the development of the arts in Zambia. Or the other way of putting it is to ask what the creation of the Ministry of Tourism and Arts has so far done to the development of the arts in Zambia?” he asks “You see each artiste has this big task of answering this question according to what they have seen or not seen. This is where perhaps it would be a good thing if we could get an official brief down from those in the corridors of power as to what has gone on – lest we under state what has happened or what has been done since.”

Well to answer, Tembo’s question, one does not have to be innocuous about it, there is no need to use any hyphenated euphemisms, and the ministry should just be told to its face that it has done absolutely nothing in the two years of its existence. Why pretend, the ministry has not done anything, period. If at all it has, not even the slightest ripple has emerged on the surface of the collective arts scene or the creative industry. Unfortunately the arts are still not seen as a possible means for job creation and poverty alleviation. Therefore individuals making efforts such as Kata’s do not even know where to go, as those who are duty-bound to support them are constantly engaged in ceaseless bi-election campaigns when they are not mudslinging against rival political parties, which appears to be their daily occupation – not the running of ministries.

Kanyama Art Centre
founder Albert Kata
There are also suggestions by some including Tembo that having a separate Permanent Secretary in the ministry specifically for the arts may help. But in reality this will mean the purchase of two new landcruisers among other amenities for the personal use of a PS who is likely to have no idea or interest in helping develop the arts. This PS like many others, might as well be picked from a cadre of slogan hurling jobseekers. So, no, another PS may not be the solution, enlightening the present one on the developing the arts as a responsibility would be the way to go.

Here again one is tempted to reflect on the words of budding Chingola actress Memory Kasweshi concerning her views on the new ministry in an interview with Abetartsnews.
“It is a positive move in the right direction, but I am yet to see what it will put on the table for artistes. My prayer is that it shouldn't be coined to be just the "Ministry of Victoria Falls". But one that will bring sanity to the arts,” stated Kasweshi.

Well, Kasweshi may be on to something here, it might as well be called the “Ministry of Victoria Falls”, the purveyors Zambian tourism, particularly the Zambia National Tourism Board see nothing beyond the smoke that thunders at the Victoria Falls, equally the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, sees nothing beyond tourism.

Anyway, we can only hope that individuals like Kata that are providing oases in their fields and communities whether they get help from those whose job it is to empower the country’s citizenry, continue with the good work. After all, there is no telling when oases such as Kanyama Art Centre will ever be watered, especially by a government body, because lack of political will towards the arts is hardly a PF predicament. It is very likely that the state of the artiste will never improve, regardless of whichever political party will be in power in the near or even distant future.

No comments:

Post a Comment