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Thursday, 5 November 2015

The charming strokes of Zambian painter, Raphael Chilufya

By Andrew Mulenga

From the tender age of 10, Luanshya-born painter Raphael Chilufya’s restless imaginative spirit indicated that he was on a one way path to become an outstanding artist. Creativity was his itch and art was his scratch.

Swing (oil on canvas), by Raphael Chilufya
“I could not control myself when I was a young boy, I just had to draw with anything, on anything, the walls, the road, even in my school books, from the time I had access to pencils,” he says.

But he began to take art seriously while in grade four at Kansumbi Primary School except it was only two years later while in grade six that all his friends yelled out his name when a call for entries to an art competition was announced during assembly. He entered and eventually won this competition and never looked back.

“But really it was when I went to Roan Antelope Secondary School (RASS) which had a very strong art foundation that I was inspired, because I was introduced to new techniques and materials,” he says “When I finished school, I came to Lusaka immediately that was in 1985, my dad was retired and my mother a bread winner passed away. I was given a job by Mrs Musakanya and I had to manage her fleet of buses, but I wasn’t too happy.”
He was not happy because managing a transport business meant waking up at ungodly hours to be on the ground with the fleet as well as spending long hours at an accounts desk, managing figures; this meant he had not time to practice his true vocation.

Own Market (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
“I was glad to discover the Central African Correspondence College from Zimbabwe which allowed me distance learning, so I enrolled in a course and struggled to do art and work with buses as at the same time. Then Evelyn Hone College launched a two year graphic design course and I quit work and enrolled in 1992 because it demanded that I should be there full time,” he says.

Upon graduation in 1995 he joined the industry and worked for a string of printing houses and creative establishments among them Mojo Press, Piltcher Graphics and Moore Pottery, during this period the newly formed Zambia National Visual Arts Council (VAC) was in need of new members  Chilufya got involved in mobilizing recruitments through the Imiti Ikula (growing trees) project for younger members alongside notable artists such as  Geoffrey Phiri, current VAC vice-chairman  Zenzele Chulu, and current chairman  Mulenga Chafilwa as well as artist turned journalist Ms Diana Mulilo.

Middle of Nowhere (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
“Although I had a job, as the younger group at VAC, we couldn’t afford or find materials so we were usually helped by the likes of  Godfrey Setti,  William Miko and also s Zukas helped us with money because we used to sleep at the Henry Tayali gallery and vowed never to shut its doors like a police station,” he recalls.

Eventually their beloved workspace at the gallery was turned into a restaurant by new management and the  Imiti Ikula group also outgrew their alliance for independent careers in the visual arts, some joining teaching practice, others choosing their own personal space while  Chilufya decided to head south for inspiration. His venture took him to Mbabane, Swaziland where he successfully held shows at and Indingilizi Art & Craft Gallery.

Left Behind  (oil on canvas)
He moved on to South Africa where he was offered a contract with a black empowerment corporation in Limpopo but could not stay long because it demanded that he work for two years before he could come home to Zambia and marry his fiancé and settle with her there.  Chilufya retuned to Zambia from his foreign adventures after 2002, settled down married his fiancé and returned to practicing as an artist in Lusaka.

Describing himself as a “social environment observer”, he remains one of the country’s finest figurative oil painters of everyday life and his style can easily be identified by the hazy character of his brush strokes and soft palette which could probably be described in fine art terms as a cross between Scumbling and Sfumato.

He has been widely collected both locally and overseas, his works can be viewed or purchased from the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka show grounds or Twaya Art Gallery at Intercontinental Lusaka. 

(The print version of this article was first published in the August 2014 edition of Zambia’s Bulletin & Record magazine under the title The wandering artist as social environment observer).

Child (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilfya
Big Advice (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
House Wife (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya

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