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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Zambian artists occupy old German Embassy building

By Andrew Mulenga

The German Embassy in Lusaka recently moved to new premises leaving the building it has occupied since the 1970s vacant. The old embassy building is in fact up for sale but before any transaction has come forth, the German mission decided to host an exhibition of contemporary Zambian art from 15 to 29 March.
Visitors listen to opening remarks by German Embassy
Head of Cultural Division Isold Aust
The idea to hold an exhibition was essentially in order to pay tribute to “African Market”, a 1977 mural (wall painting) by Henry Tayali and offer the public access to visit the masterpiece created by one of Zambia’s pioneer artists. According to the German embassy, also it saw the exhibition as a great opportunity to display the work of artists that it collaborated with as well as others who are linked to Tayali. The exhibition was curated by William B. Miko working together with Stary Mwaba and the author.

Entitled Visual Voices, the exhibition featured Zambian artists of various ages and career levels, in comparison the youngest is only 22 years old while the oldest is 73, the majority are self-taught, while the most educated has a Master of Fine Arts such is the broad difference between them. What amalgamates them; however is that they collectively possess an outstanding creative proficiency in painting, sculpture and multi-media installations and their work speaks directly to issues of everyday life, traditional rituals, sexuality, family love and politics.
Curator of the Visual Voices exhibition
William Miko with German Ambassador to Zambia Bernd Finke
and in front of Henry Tayali's 1977 mural, African Market
In her opening remarks during the launch on Tuesday last week, the German embassy’s Head of Cultural Division, Isolde Aust stated that Tayali´s painting at the old embassy attests to the time when Zambia and Germany broke new grounds in their collaboration in the field of art and regular exchange between artists that continues up to today.   

“We highly appreciate Zambian art - old and new - its diversity and energy, as well as the existing initiatives of artists which fortunately have been increasing over the last years.  The German Embassy itself joined in the effort of creating a space for Zambian artists by displaying selected works in the virtual grounds of an online gallery on our website,” said Aust.
Woodford School pupils during a
visit to the exhibition on Wednesday
In his curators note, Miko indicated that he did not have it easy when selecting works for the exhibition citing too many artists to choose from and therefore a lot that could have been included were left out. Eventually only 25 artists were featured in the show, namely Henry Tayali, Style Kunda, Vincentio Phiri, Rabson Phiri, Agnes Buya Yombwe, Mabvuto Mwanza, Njalika Chongwe, Mulenga Chafilwa, Ng’andwe Mwaba, Lombe Nsama, Lawrence Yombwe, Nsofwa Bowa, Flinto Chandia, Mwamba Mulangala, Patrick Mumba, Zenzele Chulu, Bisalom Martin Phiri, Tom Phiri, “Ziggy” Daka, Katwishi Tayali, Charles Chambata, Geoffrey Phiri, Stary Mwaba, Enock Ilunga, Linda Chandia and Charles Chambata.

Nonetheless, Miko stated artists will always remain a natural barometer of the past, present and future epochs pointing out that this is how the viewer reads the social temperature and gauges society’s intellect.
President of the German parliament Norbert Lammert
admires  a sculpture by Mabvuto Mwansa
“The ‘Visual Voices’ is an art exhibition conceived to showcase what Zambia has to offer to the world in the discipline of visual arts and its creative processes. The primary purpose of this exhibition is to showcase a trajectory of art development and indeed to celebrate the existence of the two artworks that are permanently located at this former German Embassy building,” declared Miko.

During the exhibition the said Tayali artworks that are permanently attached to the wall were accompanied by over 140 individual pieces spread across 15 rooms in the one storey building. The lawns and driveway also had an array of metal and stone sculptures that lent company to a 2003 work by Charles Chambata entitled “People coming out of nature to create a new world” that features concrete sculptures emerging from what seems to be a partially decaying tree.
The exhibition building had 2 floors
and 14 rooms filled with art
Clearly on borrowed time, if only for a few days, the display gave the implicit feel of a national art gallery in Lusaka, something that has been lacking for years and remains hoplessly elusive, a predicament that has for decades now, been compounded by the vexed question of funding towards the visual arts, both public and private despite seemingly positive lip-service with regards a revised cultural policy as well as general investment in the development of arts and culture infrastructure countrywide.

Nevertheless, the Visual Voices exhibition attracted a diverse range of people from foreign dignitaries attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union international conference to local school children from Woodford School in Lusaka. It was visited by the likes of President of the German Parliament, Dr. Norbert Lammert, Vice-President Claudia Roth and Sub-Committee on Foreign Cultural and Educational Policies, Dr. Bernd Fabritius who were all fascinated with the display.

Visitors admiring work by Charles Chambata,
Lawrence Yombwe and Lombe Nsama respectively
The old German Embassy building is still up for sale awaiting purchasers, animating suspense as to what will happen to the immovable 1977 Henry Tayali painting in its foyer and the 2003 tree sculpture by Charles Chambata on the lawns. Obviously there can be no instructing whoever will purchase the building to desist from dismantling it wherever and however they so wish.

All in all, the Visual Voices was surely an outstanding display of contemporary Zambian which would have been ideal to be left hanging a little while longer, so that at least more people could see it. As a curator Miko had really outdone himself concerning the display and mounting of the show, however, in retrospect one might observe that it felt to a certain extent like an extension of the Lechwe Trust Collection which to anyone who has been watching the Zambian art scene for years should not come as a surprise seeing he is the Trust’s chairman and is involved in its selection of works. It is perhaps against this backdrop that one can feel there were a bit too many Agness and Lawrence Yombwes, Mulenga Cafilwas and Style Kundas on display.
Copies of the “Visual Voices” exhibition catalogue are available for purchase at K120 from the Henry Tayali Gallery at the Visual Arts Council in Lusaka, the Zambia Open University Makeni Campus, Twaya-Art Gallery at the Lusaka Intercontinental and the Lusaka National Museum. The publication features 25 artists biographies, a Foreword by German Ambassador to Zambia Bernd Finke and Isolde Aust (Head of Cultural Division), a Curator’s Statement by William Miko, plus Preface and 25 artists’ biographies by Andrew Mulenga and poem by sculptor, Charles Chambata. The Preface, provides an updated overview of the contemporary Zambian art scene.



  1. It is with great pleasure that I read this well written especially that last month I was given an opportunity by my mentor Jean here in the Netherlands to attend the TEFAF in Maastricht an art exhibition which attracts the world to the beautiful city of Maastricht. It was at this exhibition while going round the stand that I came to both realize the great value people in the west place artistic work both contemporary and classic and are willing to pay a premium for them.some pieces even fetched in their millions of Euros.particulary I was amused by how much one piece of art from the 17th century from Mali fetched over 2 million euros .even though I was disappointed that there was nothing from Zambia in the exhibition I understood the value of art and thought of many ways to promote art in our country. There is huge potential in this industry indeed and we ought to up our game in promoting it.

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