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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

In Zambia, working together is a taboo – Kalinosi

By Andrew Mulenga

This year’s unprecedented upsurge of creativity on the Zambian art scene does not seem to be slowing down at all as the inaugural Harvesting Workshop hosted by the Mutale Kalinosi-led Munandi Art Studio (MAS) in Chongwe District, adds wood to the fire.
Designed in the form of a one-month artist’s residency, it was organized for the sole purpose of bringing artists together to share collaborative conceptual ideas for future projects, an incubator for creativity of sorts.

Visitors view drawings by Kalinosi at The Cave,
a collaborative work that comprises a dug out anthill
According to Kalinosi, the workshop, that is pegged to be an annual event was scheduled to take place in October last year but could not take off and was postponed twice because MAS was waiting for a response from the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC) concerning a grant request that was eventually unfruitful. The artists finally had to dig deeper into their own coffers to get the ball rolling and the event took place in the month of April.

He says while the postponements may have led to the low turnout and only 7 artists were in attendance instead of the 15 that were expected, artists still participated in a robust exchange of ideas and unbridled creativity, exploring themes ranging from parliamentary politics to colonialism, all expressed by means of conceptual art using mainly found objects.
“Our main objective is to create a culture of realizing and developing ideas together, and by changing the mind sets of people in our communities. Move them away from this culture of selfishness and working in isolations.

Artists at work during the workshop
“A culture of developing ideas together can bring sustainable developments in our communities. We are using art as a source to spark off that idea.  The development of the world lies in the hands of the artists, also in Zambia, working together is a taboo, so we are using Munandi Art Village as our lab for experimenting with our ideas as artists,” explains the 43-year-old who has had his fair share of international exposure having exhibited in France, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, India and Brazil over the past 10 years.

Although it appears MAS has not been too active, it was established in 2004 as a result of Kalinosi’s completion of a two-year artist’s residency at the acclaimed Royal Academy of Visual Arts popularly known as the Rijksacademie in Holland. The Munandi Art Village however, is an entirely new space in the Kanakantapa area to be specific, Shyala Village that is expected to provide a two hectare camp site where artists can “develop their ideas in a quite environment away from the noise of the city”. In future MAS hopes to build some long-lasting structures and thatched chalets.

Mr Speaker by Danny Lwando
“From the experience I gained in Europe. I thought of bringing a new independent platform conducive for artists to create art, but also in Zambia artists are stuck with the 14th century type of art, using brush and paint on canvas or chisel on wood or stone,” argues Kalinosi.
Of course he may sound slightly fanatical with that statement because brushes and paint as a means of art production is still very much at the core of art-making even in 2015. But then it should be understood that Kalinosi belongs to a radical group of Zambian artists whom at the launch of their careers, with European exposure, in the early 2000s produced some extremely unusual works that were not entirely appreciated in Zambia.

“Yes, painting is still accepted in the west, but the audience and the artists don’t treat it as the only media someone can use in order to express oneself artistically.  Unlike here where all the upcoming artists are sculptors or painters, even the audience to accept you as artists, first of all you need to be good in portrait painting. In fact painters in the west are even finding it difficult to penetrate the art scenes, like Museums and galleries,” he claims.

Stone installation by Chama Kabumbu
He maintains the art world is moving so fast such that painting has failed to catch up with the pace at which it is moving and that realistic or representational painting is contesting photography in a losing battle. He believes the camera has taken over painting and most paintings end up in living rooms as decorations instead of being in the archives.
“I’m one of the very few conceptual artists in Zambia, because the culture we have developed in this country is slow to change in everything not only the artists but a nation as a whole. Someone saw my works and said in my face that, this is westerner’s art, and I asked him to show me the Zambian art, he pointed to a painting on canvas.

“But the westerners have been painting on canvas since 14th centuries. So you see how we are slow in changing. You change the subject on the canvas and you call it Zambian art and other forms of art are not art? Stretching and painting using brush or palette knife on canvas were used by artists like John Constable until the camera was invented,” he says.

Rastaman by Francis Mubanga 
In 2004 Kalinosi held a show entitled Konse Kubili alongside Zambian-born Anawa
na Haloba who is currently based in Norway. Konse Kubili (which can loosely be translated as “both sides” in the Bemba language of northern Zambia) was misunderstood because of the radical nature of the work which can be classified as conceptual art or conceptualism. To an audience that has for a long time been accustomed to paintings, drawings and sculptures, art in which the concepts took priority over conventional aesthetics was a non-starter. It can be argued that the negative response from the audience and fellow artists forced the two artists in to creative exile. Kalinosi would spend the next decade showing in Europe whereas Anawana eventually decided to settle there, launching a successful career having graduated from the Oslo National Academy of Fine Art with a degree in 2006. She has enjoyed several important commissions in Norway and in 2008 she featured in the 53rd Venice Biennale, the zenith of art expositions, at the age of 29 and she remains the only Zambian to have featured in this prestigious event considered the World Cup of the visual arts. Like Kalinosi, much of Haloba’s work is performance-based video and sound installations and occasionally using their own bodies as a medium.

“The Zambian audience didn’t understand Konse Kubili because in the first place they don’t even understand the word ‘conceptual’ or ‘contemporary’. That’s why it was taken with mixed feelings, and a lot of them referred it to the west, but conceptual art is not a new thing to Africa, it has been practiced here before the Muzungu (European) stepped foot on African soil, argues Kalinosi

Detail from Ship on Mediterranean, a collaboration
by Mutale Kalinosi and Joseph Shakulipa 
“The type of education we have is very wrong and needs to be revisited. In school look at what they are teaching young ones, they don’t teach them about what we used to do before instead they use colonial textbooks, where is the ministry of education?  If I have to ask a question what is education? To my understanding education is to be cultured. We don’t learn about how rock paintings were done, what media was used and how we could develop from that base, we don’t.”

Nevertheless, it turns out the participating artists at the just ended Harvesting Workshop went flat out in the use of non-conventional media. Gallery nurtured artists such as Danny Lwando, a painter and photographer left his comfort zones and came up with a non-permanent work entitled Mr Speaker using rocks, found wood and sand. Kalinosi and Joseph Shakulipa produced Ship on the Mediterranean a conversation piece that explores colonialism and modernity using everything from cut out newspapers to discarded television sets.

Artists engaged in debate during
the Harvesting workshop
However, as much as Kalinosi may have a point in the need for artists to embrace new media and forms of creative expression, in an environment like Zambia where special grants do not exist for the promotion of works in this medium, conceptual art should remain something just for creative sparring and intellectual isometrics. Let us be honest, works such as Mr Speaker and Ship on The Mediterranean will not put food on the table, not in Zambia where the production of art remains pretty much an issue of the tummy.
Therefore, paintings, drawings and sculptures will remain a very safe practice. Besides, even in the west these forms of creative expression remain a favourite particularly among investment art collectors whom it appears are continuously veering towards the African continent.

Anyway, if a time will come when brushes will be thrown away, it is certainly not soon. This is the age of 3D cinema but people in the so-called west Kalinosi speaks of still flock to the theatre to watch dramas as they did in Classical and Hellenistic Greece over 2,000 years ago. It is the age of Auto-Tune and digitally enhanced music but they have not thrown away their violins and they still flock to the orchestra concert halls to listen to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, even though it was composed 300 years ago. If anything the Zambian public is still being force-fed “conventional art”, there is still time to feed them conceptual art, spoon by spoon.

Kalinosi and team have not yet announce the exact date for the next workshop, but it is pegged for some time in April 2016 and a call out should be made to artists soon, participation fee is only K50, 000. Despite their inability to directly support the workshop this time around, NAC officials did show up at on open day to view the works alongside members of the general public. The project was also supported by a Judith Hall and Sue Hunt from the UK who provided art supplies and the Insaka Artists Trust offered camping tents and mattresses .All in all the Munandi Art Village is yet another welcome and exciting addition to the Zambian visual arts arsenal. “Munandi” means friends in Bemba, let us hope these friends will be around for a long time to come. 

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