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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

African Art and Agency in the Workshop

(Book Review)

By Andrew Mulenga

While African Art and Agency in the Workshop from Indiana University Press’ African Expressive Cultures series will resonate among the general students and scholars of African art history and anthropology because it contains a broad and uninhibited array of researched data resulting from archival material and fieldwork, the book contains compelling case studies of traditional and contemporary art workshops across the continent compiled by leading art history professors as well as practicing artists that will interest an enthusiast of art produced on the African continent.
The book will especially sit well with students and scholars of art in Zambia because as has been continuously stated in this column, literature on the traditional and contemporary arts in Zambia is all but none existent be it of a scholarly or easy-reading nature, so whenever it pops up on the radar it is always an exciting thing, regardless of whom has authored it.

Of particular interest are Chapters 4 and 9, An Artists Notes on the Triangle Workshops, Zambia and South Africa and Lewanikas’ Workshop and the Vision of Lozi Arts, Zambia which mention contemporary and traditional art practice in Zambia at length, the former co-authored by artist and Makerere University lecturer Nambiru Rose Kirumira of Uganda and Dr Sydney Littlefield Kasfir Professor Emerita of Art History at Emory University of the USA, examines aspects of the long running Triangle Workshops originated by British art collector Robert Loder and sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. In this Chapter, Kirumira gives stimulating insights into the types of training as well as interaction that occurs between artists during Zambia’s long-running Insaka International Artists Workshop of 2005. In the framework of the analysis, Kirumira also gives a detailed demographic profile of participants to the Insaka International Artists Workshop of 2005 in a table, complete with participating artists’ country of origin, sex, age, artistic medium and education. The chapter also carries about three photographs that depict workshop activities, nevertheless as much as the research is well put together, one may perhaps find it lacking in that it does not mention the name of a single Zambian artist while the South African artists that initiated Thupelo, one of that country’s versions of the Triangle Workshops are clearly stated. The chapter is summed up by an observation of how the Triangle Workshops have encouraged the globalization of artists through working in groups.

Lozi King Lewanika is
revealed as an artist 
And Chapter 9, Lewanikas’ Workshop and the Vision of Lozi Arts, Zambia, authored by art historian Karen E. Melbourne who has worked extensively in the Western Province of Zambia for the Smithsonian Institute gives a compelling revelation, an arguably untold story of King Lewanika the artist. Melbourne writes: “Perhaps one of the most extraordinary untold stories… is that of an under-recognized African king who audaciously utilized the power of art to envision his nation, Barotseland (now Western Province, Zambia)”. Strictly speaking, it can be argued that this detail, the fact that Lewanika was an artist is little known to the average Zambian citizen. In this chapter, Melbourne reveals that Lewanika not only invented the emblematic carving style of wooden bowls that are internationally recognized as the Lozi style often embellished with the royal elephant symbol, but he also had an artist’s workshop in which he personally trained apprentices in the crafts of carving delicate ivory trinkets and the weaving of basket ware. The chapter also points out how Lewanika had devised an international distribution system of his work as early as the late 1800s. Melbourne divides this chapter into four parts, The Vision of Lozi Arts, Barotseland and Its Visionary King, Lewanika the Artist, Lewanika’s Legacy and the Power of Style. However do not expect to merely read the ode to a King who dabbled in the arts, as the last sub-heading hints, the thoroughly referenced and field-researched piece also provides the history of a proud people in a scholarly tone. The chapter closes with six images that speak to the text.

As earlier highlighted, in broader terms, the book in its entirety is a thought-provoking volume, with over 12 academic essays it is highly recommended, not only for schools, but academic art intuitions, it begs to be in the curriculum. The book is sold and shipped from, but may also be ordered locally from your favourite book dealers by request.

Title: African Art and Agency in the Workshop (African Expressive Cultures)
Editors: Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Professor Emerita of Art History at Emory University and Till Förster, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Basel.
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Paperback: 424 pages

Language: English

1 comment:

  1. While Andrew Mulenga is especially right in stating that “....literature on the traditional and contemporary arts in Zambia is all but none existent be it of a scholarly or easy-reading nature...” as regards scholarly publication he is less so when it comes to media coverage and internet publication. I am saying that in acknowledgment of Andrew Mulenga’s very own contributions in that field. He over the years has published an impressive corpus of journalistic articles on Zambian art and Zambian artists in particular, a corpus which in its totally provides a broad and detailed overview of what is happening in the contemporary art scene of Zambia.