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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Chikankata endorses art with new statue

By Andrew Mulenga
As much as Chikankata became a district at the bidding of the late republican president Michael Sata in December 2011, like many other districts in the Southern Province it was hardly one of his political strongholds neither is it that of his successor Edgar Lungu, judging from his pitiful performance against arch competitor Hakainde Hichilema during the 2015 presidential bi-elections.

The sculpture with the new Chikankata
Civic Centre in the background
According to Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) statistics, Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) polled 471 against United Party for National Development’s (UPND) Hichilema’s 12,456 from a total of 28,778 registered votes but this has not prompted him to stay away from the district, according to well-placed sources he will be in town on official business in the next few weeks to formally open the yet to be completed managerial offices that include a large police station, a post office, district administration offices, staff houses and a civic centre.

In fact, it is the last item here – civic centre -- that is of particular interest to this columnist because before completion it already features a sizeable concrete statue by Kafue-based artist and cultural officer Edward Kampeshi, commissioned by the district council the work celebrates its two main resources, agriculture and water – as a natural resource. Apart from commercial and subsistence farming, the district also boasts of the Kafue Gorge, the biggest source of electricity in the country.

By and large, the Chikankata District Council has outdone itself as a pastoral, roadside town that one would honestly imagine does not have the commissioning of art as part of its grand scheme. Speaking in an interview early this week, council secretary Damson Mukwato shed light on the project.

Close up of the statue shows the
picturesque Chikankata horizon
“First of all, as Chikankata District Council we are happy with the artist’s work. As a district council we have a motto and we say ‘water and farming is our strength,’ these are well articulated in the sculpture” he explained.

He added that as much as Chikankata is considered a rural town, it has a story to tell and this can be best done through the commissioning of art works such as the one to adorn the new offices. He pointed out that his council intends to mainstream art.

“We can tell our story through art. You and I know that when we travel abroad we are encountered by statues at important buildings that tell us more about the places we visit. Similarly when someone visits Chikankata they will find the statue and recognize what we are about. It’s not only a way of promoting international tourism but local tourism,” said Mukwato.

Nevertheless, the artist also attempts to create a statue that embodies the very culture of the locals depicting a hard-working man and woman driving a plough with two oxen. They stand elevated on a large plinth while two youths, a boy and a girl are at the ground level with buckets as if fetching water from a river.

Whereas the two cattle may look disproportionate, during a visit to the site early this week, the artist reasoned that he was approached by a local by-passer who argued that when ploughing the fields cattle often stoop as well as sink their legs deep in to the earth for traction and therefore end up looking shorter than they actually are. Truly, who can argue with a local that has spent all his years living the pastoral life? Upon hearing the explanation, the artist made the necessary changes. If anything, it can also be noted that the two animals in the sculpture appear to be more anatomically correct than the rest of the figures but this could be part of the aesthetic.

Front view of the Chikankata Civic Centre
sculpture by Edward Kampeshi
“I think I am happy with the final works. I know I may not be the best in Zambia but I am happy to be part of the project. I have been working on the piece for the past 21 days, but now I can safely say I can allow it to harden for a few more days then return with some power tools to smoothen off the rough edges,” explained the 50 year-old artist who graduated with an Art and Design Teachers’ Diploma from the Evelyn Hone College in 1996, taught in various schools for several years and has worked in the civil service in various capacities ranging from graphic designer to cultural officer.
He also spoke highly of the hospitality of the locals who inundated him with locally produced gifts of milk and chibwantu, a wholesome, non-alcoholic energy drink popularised by the Tonga speaking people which has maize-grits as one of its main ingredients.

“I haven’t been drinking water since I came here. Milk has been my water, every day I am given a 5 litre container,” boasted Kampeshi light-heartedly.

Front view of the Chikankata Civic Centre building
He hopes to complete the project within the next two weeks but expressed reservations whether the water feature will be up and running by then. Evidently, the plinth is designed to have water seep down its sides by means of a concealed fountain system and a pump.

But during Mukwato’s interview however, the council secretary seemed confident that with good cooperation between his council and the contractors, the council building along with the statue and other infrastructure were in line for completion in the second quarter of 2016. 

Some of the new staff houses for civil servants
near the civic centre
Already popular among the locals, the Chikankata statue is likely to become a winner among art lovers and landmark enthusiasts who enjoy taking photographs because it is just a few minutes’ walk from the Mazabuka-Kafue Road which proceeds to the tourist capital, Livingstone. The new offices are about 50 kilometres from Mazabuka town and 15 kilometres from Kafue town.

The fast growing district is also home to the Chikankata College of Bio-Medical Sciences a major training facility for the ministry of health, Chikankata High School which is run by the Salvation Army and Namalundu Secondary School plus over 30 primary schools, it would be good if visits to the statue can also become part of their school tours programmes to help inculcate an appreciation of art and a further understanding of the districts strength.

Nevertheless, without doubt much can be critiqued in terms of the overall design and perhaps the finish of the statue so far, but it is yet to be complete and can be given a benefit of a doubt on those scores. Zambian artists may not have the resources and equipment, but a bronze would have been a befitting medium for the final statue not only for longevities sake, but as a hint towards prospective nickel mining in the area as the resource is often a component of bronze casting. Furthermore here in Zambia, if previously built statues with water features are anything to go by, maintenance is usually an issue, even the simplest of water fountains end up being turned off. But all things said and done Chikankata District Council deserves a pat on the back and has to be emulated not only by the other newly established districts but also by those that were established before and after independence some 50 years ago but do not seem to show any appreciation for art or public sculptures.

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