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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The artist as political commentator

By Andrew Mulenga

(This story was first published in The Bulletin & Record Magazine - Zambia in 2014)

Not all visual artists are stimulated by notions of beauty or inspired to mind-numbingly repeat in pictures what their patrons and viewers would want to lap up.

Donchi Kubeba, 2013 (mixed media)
by Mapopa Manda
Some function on another plane, informing their art production with the inequalities and prohibitions that can be made visible by observing the daily lives of the electorate in comparison to that of the rulers they vote into power.

In Zambia, this type of artist is rare; often taking the trouble-free stance of keeping away from politics, our artists tend to restrict their focus to delicate social commentary which can easily go unnoticed if not explained by the creators themselves.

Perhaps a wise position considering they are always scouring for public patronage hoping of being subsidized by government someday, so it is sensible to avoid biting the fingers before they feed you, whether this day will come or not .

Nevertheless, there is a young rabblerousing Lusaka artist, Mr Mapopa Manda who has cast his fears to the wind and speaks his creative mind with regards his views on politics to the extent that a few times his works have been rejected in exhibitions for being too politically charged and his favourite subject is no other than the president.

“My themes are based on current affairs in line with politics. We cannot all be painting market and village scenes just because this is what the Martin Phiri’s and Henry Tayali’s (two of the founding fathers of contemporary Zambian art) used to do” says Mr Manda who believes his commentary stands for something. “It took me almost two years to discover my rhythm. I’ve developed a mock newspaper style,” he says.

Independence 2013 (mixed media)
by Mapopa Manda
The mock newspapers resemble front pages. He uses a combination of paint and collage, cutting out actual newspaper editorials, text or headlines and sticking them on to the canvases.

He uses The Times of Zambia because he believes it represents Zambia’s political history, whereas he links The Post to controversy and the Daily Mail everyday issues.

He often depicted Zambia’s late President Michael Sata clad in military uniform with grim facial features that project him as a no nonsense authoritarian. Manda intends to push his creativity to the limits and interrogate issues such as the “90 days” election promises.
 “I want to be extradited at some point through my work and I don’t restrict my commentary to Zambia, I have done a version of The Spear after the painting by the South African artist”, he says in reference to a controversial painting by Cape Town based Brett Murray that depicted the South African president Jacob Zuma bearing all. In his version however Zuma covers himself with a newspaper that has a picture of The Spear.
But Mr Manda does not restricted his troublemaking to the canvas. He is known for causing a ruckus during art meetings and workshops where he speaks his mind.

Plot 1, 2012 (acrylic, collage on canvas)
by Mapopa Manda
“I have a problem with arts administrative bodies, I feel like we have been recycling leaders who do not know a thing about art. The National Arts Council has been a failure, an organisation can’t be run by the same people for 10 years,” he points out “The same thing applies to the Zambia Visual Arts Council (VAC), I think we need new leadership, young and energetic guys like me. VAC doesn’t have direction, even in the past all the leaders have only been there to spearhead their own interests that’s according to my own informal research it’s time for young people to rule”.

He does not mind the criticism and censorship he has faced by fellow artists and proclaims one day he will make it big, if not in Zambia then abroad, citing the adage that prophets are never appreciated in their own land.

Lusaka-based artist,
Mapopa Manda
”I have even been labelled a trouble maker, but I don’t mind. I will be a star someday, yes in fact I believe artists belong on the red carpet too, I want to be a celebrity artist,” he adds, which is not unachievable. Artists do get to achieve celebrity status such as the high flying American artists Andy Warhol or Jean-Michel Basquiat, the latter even having dated the singer Madonna at the height of her popularity. Locally we had artists such as Akwila Simpasa whom when outside Zambia mingled with the likes of rock stars Jimmy Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Eddie Grant.

It is still early days in the career of the 31 year old, but Mr Manda is full of energy and coupled with a prolific work ethic these are winning formulas, along with his astute political eye, the art scene is yet to see the best of him.

He has not been formally trained as an artist although he underwent some apprenticeship with the prominent Zambian painter Stary Mwaba. He  has been creative since a tender age but was inspired to take up art after watching the biographical movies Vincent and Theo and The Agony and the Ecstasy about the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh and the Italian renaissance master Michelangelo respectively. - ENDS

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