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Monday, 22 June 2015

Miko talks recent show, studio practice, art education in Zambia

By Andrew Mulenga

As hinted last week, artist and Zambia Open University (ZAOU) Senior Fine Art lecturer William Miko has been on something of an express train regarding his activities of late, but perhaps most notable, is his return to the studio as a practicing artist and subsequently exhibiting in a three-man show entitled Borderless Women, which opened on 8 March and ran until to 20 May 2015 at the VoksenÄsen Cultural Centre in Oslo, Norway.

Miko in his Ibex Hill studio before shipping his
recent works to Norway early this year
He shares his experience of the Norway exhibition and how he managed to find time to paint when he was not marking student’s assignments, and as usual he also stresses how important university level education for Zambian visual artists.

“I must thank the Management and staff of Voksenasen for this display opportunity and indeed my two colleagues Narek Aghajanyan from Armenia and Jamal Ahmed from Bangladesh for agreeing to exhibit with me,” he says

“It really felt highly satisfying, I had to call on inherent perceptive instincts of working for this themed show. As you are aware the theme Borderless focused on celebrating the power of women and their contribution to humanity as evidenced by such pieces of artworks like The portrait of a street vender which was inspired by the resilience of street venders along Lumumba road here in Lusaka, mostly women, who I see every morning converge, mount their merchandise along busy traffic roads and dismount their stalls late in the evening as I drive past them on my way to and from university work in Lusaka West.”

Portrait Of A Street Vendor, 2015, Oil on canvas,
112 x 115 cm by William B. Miko
He stresses that this portrait is a hypothetical representation of that individual woman’s hard work and contribution to human existence.  The exhibition also included a cluster of 10 small paintings called the African Orgasms series and most of the medium sized pieces on display were crowd scenes, as well as a new body of work which was inspired by folklore, that he calls the Anthropo-zoomorphic series.

But what is perhaps most fascinating about Miko’s work is the production process, although viewers and collectors alike never get to experience this. His style is in fact a mark-making process and when you find him in full swing working on a painting, you hear the violent and almost primal scratches of a palette knife as it scrapes paint against the canvas either reductively or additively depending on what aesthetic he wants to achieve or perhaps depending on which direction the life-forces or his emotional state will guide him. Many artists who work in passionate repetitive rhythms like abstract expressionists or stone sculptors, often enter in to trance-like frenzies spurting their creativity out in spasms something akin to the work of a mystic who is heaving what is within.

Tubalye Tubalye - my brother-in-law, 2015,
Oil on canvas, 125 x 68 cm by William B. Miko
Interestingly, Miko indicates that when he is in an exhibition looking at one of his finished works on the wall, he can still hear the echoes of his palette knife scratching away at the canvas, for him, the creative process of a painting does not end in the studio, but follows it like a spectre.
Nevertheless, contrary to the widely held observation that painting as a medium is dying out in Europe, Miko’s disagrees.

“Painting is just a material of expression that the West has been using for centuries now, if it is less appealing or perceived to be so that is still a matter for debate. People out there and the rest of the world are still responding to paintings as a means of expression. We had a very good crowd at the opening: Among other guests were the likes of Norwegians who have collaborated and worked with Zambia, former ambassador to Zambia Terje Victel, and many others, Brit Botheim and Aase Marie from Kunstbanken, Prof. Michael O'Donell including long gone from Zambia artists such as Gemain Ngoma and Victor Mutelesha and my own brother Jerry and his family,” he says.

Can I Be The Witness, 2015, Oil on canvas,
199 x 150 cm by William B. Miko
“Also, the purpose of holding a show differs from artist to artist, I guess I am more concerned with the people coming to see the show once it’s on display than sales attained at the end of it. However, I can say that on the spot, a large piece titled Can I Be the Witness a commentary on why the reports on the death of Dag Hammarskjold here in Zambia ignored African eye witnesses, except for one or two.”

He says this painting immediately attracted the attention of the Voksenasen Management and has since been collected and joins another large piece of his called The Journey that was purchased in 2006 and is displayed in the centres public foyer.

“It is important that the value of artworks reflect consistency with one's development as an artist. Usually, I have no challenges in valuing my artworks as art does not depreciate and the value of art is usually aligned with career honesty and which is hypothetically constant,” he adds.

Commenting on his passion to teach and the work he is doing at ZAOU, Miko shares his sacrifices, his vision as well as the everyday challenges he faces.

When he is in the studio, the ZAOU senior
art lecturer calls himself a prisoner of art
“This personal commitment, however, comes with its share of advantages and disadvantages: to state the latter, its disadvantage is being compelled to work ‘26 hours’ (twenty six hours) a day, one has to find two extra hours to sleep. There are also implementation frustrations that need to be dealt with in actualising this degree in fine arts being the first of its kind since independence in 1964,” asserts the artist who is also Vice Chairman of the Lechwe Trust, a non-profit organisation that focuses on art scholarships and the collection of art by Zambian artists.

And one has just to deliver all round, finding time for oneself to be creative in the solitary confines of an art studio is what one must always strive to achieve. So, I have had to learn to create time within timeless moments. Apart from administrative and theoretical engagements, there must be three to four hours a day or night that must be invested in studio art practice as an artist.”

He further suggests that educating Zambia’s creative citizenry and artists to university degree levels is inevitable if the country is to remain competitive in today’s global art world. He adds that ZAOU currently has over 100 (hundred) fine arts students on BA degree level of study and their enthusiasm and anxiety to learn is what compels him to carry on despite all odds. Miko is also the architect of a philosophy he has coined “correcting a national anomaly”, in reference to the long absence of an art degree in Zambia and the general deficiency of art education. The philosophy attempts to respond to these questions.

Born in Mwense, Zambia, in 1961, Miko remains an artist and arts ambassador with an international reputation. He holds a Masters Degree in Fine Art (1999) from Middlesex University, London, UK and has conducted public lectures on art in Zambia, Nigeria, France, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States. He lives and works in Ibex Hill, Lusaka. 

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