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Monday, 13 July 2015

Conquering the world from Kalulushi with colour

By Andrew Mulenga

Fourteen kilometres outside of Kitwe, the little town of Kalulushi is more known for the Chibuluma copper and cobalt mine, its heartbeat. But perhaps it is more famous in sporting circles being the home of some of Zambia’s oldest sporting clubs, Chibuluma Rugby Club and Kalulushi Modern Stars FC. The latter being the formative club for football legend Gibby Mbasela and CAF 2012 champion and BBC's African Footballer of the Year 2012, Christopher Katongo.

Mother and child study, pencil and
charcoal on paper, by Sakanya Banda
This off-the-grid mining town is hardly a place that one would expect to be on Zambia’s visual arts circuit having no conventional art materials, art and crafts markets, galleries or patrons and being occupied mostly by miners, it is hard to imagine a painter can actually live and work there surviving on art alone.

Sakanya Banda, however, appears to have defied these odds. Born in Kasempa, North Western, Zambia in 1969, he moved to Kalulushi as boy and has lived there ever since except for a four year stint as a freelance artist in South Africa between 2001 and 2005.
Like most Zambians of his generation, Banda grew up making his own toys particularly clay models and cars made of wire, usually nicked from damaged fences. His skill was above his peers and he shortly began experimenting with the drawing of wildlife and nature from memory as he spent his early years near Kafue National Park before the shift to Kalulushi.

“The distance to school was a two-hour walk and sometimes I never used to go because it was unbearable to walk a long distance for five days more especially in cold seasons and considering that shoes were not known, in short we used to walk bare foot. At times we would encounter big animals like rhino and elephants on the way to school, but that never prevented me from completing my primary school,” he points out that this was nothing compared to the 72km from his home village Kamakechi to the nearest district Kasempa which would take 19 hours on foot.

From the fields, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
 In fact it was the days that he would miss school that he would practice on his art. It is when he enrolled in Grade 10 at Kalulushi secondary school that he would later be advised by one teacher to take up art as a subject but the self-confident young artist rejected the advice claiming: “if it (art) is in me it will still come out”. Surely he did continue to draw and paint and after completing grade 12 he enrolled at the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation (MEF) which at the time was providing training in Pottery and Ceramics. At the height of its popularity, the now embattled MEF boasted The Dag Hammarskjold Memorial Library that was considered among the best on the African continent attracting students from as far as Canada and India.

On a trip, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
“I still have memories of my days at MEF the place is more like a home for me because that is where I gained this knowledge. I used to borrow books on art from the library and get ideas of some great artists like Picasso and Kandinsky and learn the way they approached art, he says.

“I still feel I am very far and I am constantly searching and buying books on art because I want to compete with the greatest modern artists like Andy Thomas. I love the simplicity in the way he does his works,” he says.

Have you heard, oil on canvas, Sakanya Banda
But it is rather odd that Banda would single out an artist like Thomas for inspiration, because apart from their choice of material, oil on canvas, it is hard to find any other comparisons. The 58-year-old American chooses rodeo and cowboy portrayals, historic scenes of his country’s civil war as well as the portraiture of some of his iconic compatriots mostly former presidents, and although his subjects have an animated immediacy, his choice of colours is very subdued, almost reptilian and unenthusiastic. In comparison, Banda’s work is too versatile to isolate from its broad subject matter to his choice of lush colours. As for his style, to cut a long story short, the artist seems to effortlessly blur the line between realistic and abstract painting. Whereas his subject matter, again encompasses anything from wildlife to small crowd scenes and still life.

Pounding, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
In much of his abstract work, he prefers to employ flat, two-dimensional picture planes and at times reduces the human form to renderings as minimal as a single, hard edged brush stroke making it hard to believe that this is the same person who makes detailed pencil drawings. But not all his pencil and charcoal works are purely representational as can be seen in an untitled mother and child study that is an inventive throng of arcs and crescents and appears to evoke a blend of African tribal sculpture and early Christian iconography.
Speaking of Christianity, Banda stresses that positive thinking and his religious beliefs are a driving force in the production of his work.

Wildlife painting is Banda's first love
“You should be in a good mood and listening to good music like Gospel, Praise and Worship, like I do.  I find it very difficult to paint without music or at least the radio on,” he explains he enjoys working long hours when fully inspired, particularly when he has all his favourite material in front of him.

“I like this medium because of its slow drying time which allows me to work on a painting sometimes for 3 weeks which involves blending. I have found oil to be the best medium for me though I work with acrylics and water colours as well.”

Selling, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
Banda insists his career is a journey and he is enjoying every step. He joined the Zambia National Visual Arts Council in 1998, and the same year he submitted his first abstract painting Lost Child in the National Exhibition at the Henry Tayali Gallery, it was purchased by the Norwegian Embassy.

Based in the small mining town of Kaululushi,
Sakanya Banda sells his work internationally
A year later, a late friend called Joe Henry organized an exhibition for him at Model Arts and Niland Gallery in Ireland, it sold out in less than a week. He has also participated in numerous other group exhibitions such as the Cat on the Moon Art Gallery also in Ireland, and Articles and Frames Art Gallery in Pretoria, South Africa. In 2013 Professor Mel Coffee and Professor Chike Anyaegbunam both of Kentucky University of Journalism organized an exhibition of his works at Gallery Hope in Lexington Kentucky, USA.

Locally he has also enjoyed commissions at the Hotel Edinburgh and Arabian Nites in Kitwe. His largest market however still remains USA, UK, and South Africa. Just as he refused to be forced into art class as a pupil, he refuses to leave Kalulushi insisting that he wants to stand firmly rooted on his home ground. Perhaps his attitude rings true to his local football team Kalulushi Modern Stars FC nicknamed “Stubborn Kalulushi” because since its establishment in 1962 it has been a giant killer, known to hardly ever lose home matches, similarly, Banda appears to be conquering the world from this obscure little mining town, and one can only hope he keeps up the creative spirit. 

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