By Andrew Mulenga
The newly opened Gianpiero's Hotel Ltd., on Kasangula Road in Lusaka’s Kalundu residential area is hosting a solo exhibition of recent works by Aubrey Chali, the display of about 20 paintings will remain hanging for a week, after which the prospective buyers will be able to collect their purchases.
|Behind A Tribal Mask, 2015 acrylic on |
canvas, by Aubrey Chali
The hotel becomes the second hospitality establishment this year, after The Spice, Indian restaurant in Rhodes Park, to offer alternative space to visual artists in Lusaka and because they are providing it as a means of social responsibility, Gianpiero's management will not be charging any sales commissions.
Chali is also expected to benefit from the hotels guest list, since its opening last December, the buffet restaurant that occasionally serves a speciality of Italian cuisine as well as family-friendly pool-side Sunday brunches has fast become a popular hangout particularly among expatriates and the diplomatic community.
Nevertheless, as for the work itself, Chali will be showing slightly new variations of his characteristically decorative crosshatch technique as he is currently attaching appliqué – ornamental pieces of cloth – to his painted canvases.
|Togetherness, 2015 acrylic on canvas by Aubrey Chali|
“I think diversification is key to development, my wife is in tailoring and fashion designing and she has a lot of chitenge off-cuts which are just gathered and burnt afterwards, so upon seeing the adorable patterns being burnt, the idea of recycling clicked in my mind and instantly, I thought of experimenting on one of my paintings and it made sense, that’s how I developed interest in using the chitenge,” explains the 37-year-old self-taught painter who relocated from Mansa district in Luapula province in search of better prospects last year.
Anyhow, apart from the new technique, the artist’s subject matter has also taken a shift. Instead of his trademark portrayals of scenes from pastoral life, inspired by the peri-urban setting in Mansa, he appears to be experimenting with African mask motifs, a theme that occurs to be a favourite among many African artists when they try to find ways of creating works that are “visually African” or can satisfy the needs of -- mostly overseas -- collectors whose notions of Africa vis-à-vis Zambia generally imply that its visual arts should have primordial elements to them.
|Trusted Friend, 2015 acrylic on |
canvas by Aubrey Chali
“The more young generation appreciate and understand the African masks of different eras, movements, styles and techniques, the better they can develop, evaluate and improve their own knowledge about the importance of preserving culture in societies,” mitigates Chali as his own honest reason for incorporating tribal masks in to his new work, obviously exploiting the symbolism of the Makishi and Nyau masquerades from North Western and Eastern provinces of Zambia respectively.
Typical examples of work in which he has done this are the aptly titled Behind a Tribal Mask which appears to reference one of the many, large-headed Likishi dance masks from the Lunda Lwena Luvale, as does the figure carrying a vessel on the head in Togetherness.
It must be noted that Chali is hardly the first Zambian artist to appropriate images of the African ceremonial mask. It can be argued that the urge to modify or recontextualize masks in Zambia can be traced back to artists including the enigmatic Aquila Simpasa, Flinto Chandia, Victor Makashi, Patrick Mumba and Lutanda Mwamba engaged witty tricks for resituating tribal masks in new and often satirical contexts. Simpasa’s 1973, large format charcoal drawings The Drummer and The Miner can be seen at the Lusaka National Museum, Chandia’s marble sculpture Amatebeto 1 (2005), Makashi’s Masked Chewa Heritage pastels (2006) as well as Mumba’s Tribal Mask (2007) can all be seen in the Lechwe Trust Collection whenever it is on display and Mwamba’s un-dated Drinkers is in the Post Newspaper’s Collection. More recently Danny Chiliapa Lwando has consistently toyed with the theme including in his most recent show Culture at the Zebra Crossing Café early this year. But perhaps the one who had been more radical in his appropriation to the extent that he appeared to have a sharp critique of traditional masks juxtaposing them alongside subject matter from city life is Ignatius Sampa. Sampa, an exceptional talent who died early at the age of 22 last year was so radical in his mask appropriations that the generally accepted belief in Zambian art circles is that the ancient spirits of the Makishi were angered at his parodies and therefore cast a spell and subsequently mysterious death upon the budding star.
|Gianpiero's on Kasangula Road in Lusaka|
Nevertheless, viewers should not expect any critical edge from Chali today as his work does not seem to hold a frim theoretical grounding, it is honest and to a large degree decorative, it clearly does not appear to harbour any lofty, or hidden philosophical ideology.
Chali’s first solo was held in September last year but he has managed to keep himself busy between now and then surviving on – as he says – art alone and he can often be found At the Art Academy Without Walls in the Lusaka Showgrounds where he has been occupying studio space with a group of like-minded friends.
“My last solo exhibition experience was a stepping stone to reach higher heights in art circles, it was a success and I thank God for that. Through participating in various group exhibitions, I have met a lot of different people and most import, a lot are my fans and are following me closely and eagerly waiting to see my latest work,” he claims.
Last year the artist was scheduled to take up an invitation to attend an artists' convention in Canada, the International Symposium of Painting and Sculpture in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean unfortunately, he could not make it due to a botched visa application process through a South African consulate. The trip however is still on for mid-2016, as the Canadians have been able to rectify whatever anomaly occurred and they have subsequently paid for his visa. It will be his first experience abroad and he is excited at the prospects of international exposure, networking opportunities as well as the exchange of artistic skills and ideas.