By Andrew Mulenga
“The Custodians”, an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by top contemporary Zambian artists opens at 17:30 hrs on Friday 20th November at the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka Show Grounds.
The Visual Arts Council of Zambia (VAC) will be presenting a show that comprises a body of work staging multiple themes while cultivating an explicit relationship between the present and the past by pitting some of Zambia’s greats, living and deceased alongside works by a younger crop of artists with great promise, as part of a fundraiser. As such, VAC will be charging a K20 entrance fee for the opening event, which of course will be characterised by an open wine and snack bar.
|Custodians, a group exhibition opens on |
Friday this week. Photo by Andrew Mulenga
The exhibition marks an important and new step in proving that as a space, the Henry Tayali Gallery and visual arts centre plays a fundamental role in offering testimony that against many odds, the country indeed has a flourishing visual arts scene and committed artists who are worthy of support, a point that is critical as definite political will is at long last on the horizon, vis-à-vis support for the arts from government – if of course President Edgar Lungu’s recent remarks and visit to the gallery are anything to go by.
Just a year ago, VAC hosted a similar group exhibition entitled “Visibility (can you see us?)”, well that show’s title was self-explanatory, it was a call by the gallery co-ordinators beckoning private and public stakeholders in the visual arts, a call for support particularly of a financial nature, which has been dwindling over the years since the main foreign donor agencies and their government began tightened their budgets and shifting their aide focus for various reasons. The Custodians, nevertheless, is an equally important show, assuming now that VAC’s visibility has somewhat improved, it is really time for its members, paid-up and non-paid up to put their house in order.
Over the years, the institution has been blemished by infantile bickering and finger pointing with accusations of individuals feeling they “own” VAC more than the next member as well as claims favouritism and opposing camps within the ranks, all this must come to an end if the council is to move forward as a unified body.
|Flashback - the main exhibition space in |
the Henry Tayali Gallery and
visual art centre, Lusaka © VAC
When a call out is sent to all artists to pay up membership, they must all comply, when they are all called to an Annual General Meeting, they should all do likewise and attend. Someone wise once said strength is in numbers, can you imagine if every single Zambian visual artist were up to date on their annual subscriptions, the funds would definitely go a long way in paying the gallery staff as well as the building rentals to the show society for VAC, Lusaka. Currently VAC demands a small amount of K50 for individuals and K150 for institutional membership, these figures are almost a joke to any practicing Zambian artist regardless of the hard economic times, if anything VAC should consider increasing the fee to K150 for individuals and K1, 500 for institutions, if you do the maths there will be no more delayed salaries for art centre staff in Livingstone, Lusaka, Kitwe or Chipata. Also, if all the visual artists get actively involved in the council, they are bound to have a stronger voice and will be heard whenever they call for something. As for art students from the Zambia Open University and Evelyn Hone College, these institutions should make it mandatory for each and every student to be a paid up member – at a special students rate of course – school pupils and art clubs should be encouraged to join and told of the benefits of being affiliated to a professional body of artists.
On the other hand, returning to The Custodians it is gratifying to note that among the featured artists, the gallery co-ordinators decided to include the late Martin Phiri. Phiri is arguably the most unacknowledged contemporary Zambian artist of his generation, which is quite regrettable considering the artist’s legacy. Truth be told, without him there would be no VAC at all, it is Phiri whom as a young lecturer at Evelyn Hone College in his late twenties elbowed his way into a high-profile cultural policy meeting chaired by Lazarus Tembo, the late singer who was also a government minister overseeing Labour and Social services at the time. Phiri, who had just returned from China where he had obtained a BA Fine Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and was obviously inspired by the students uprising of that country, argued that the cultural policy that was being created lacked visual arts representation and demanded he be given a month to organize artists and create a nationwide, professional body. Along with three of his students, William Miko, Harry Kamboni and Agnes Buya Yombwe, they were able to pull off this immense task and mobilize close to 100 artists from all over the country to gather for a meeting at the Evelyn Hone College, this was the birth of VAC, mind you this was way before the e-mail and cell phone era. This is not to say Phiri has been entirely forgotten, of course the VAC offices in Chipata are named in his honour, but the man at least deserves a retrospective show to bring awareness to his contribution and work.