By Andrew Mulenga
Rummaging through the relatively small collections of contemporary art in Zambian museums it is difficult to pinpoint or rather, establish a bird’s eye view of how thematic content and creative expression has evolved in paintings over the past 50 years.
|Henry Tayali, Destiny, 1964-65 oil on canvas, 58cm x 89cm, |
donated by the Zukas family - © Lechwe Trust
Largely, because the museums are intentionally ethnographic by blueprint, as leftovers of the country's colonial masters, the British, their primary role remains that of providing a curious glimpse into local cultures as a phenomenon, through the eyes of explorers, missionaries, settlers – and in a nutshell colonizers.
Most if not all the museums from the Moto Moto Museum in Mbala to the Livingstone Museum in Southern Province are a display of collected and often misunderstood and misrepresented data in the form of objects from local ethnic groupings this is not to say the collections do not have important specimens of scientific significance. Nevertheless, this remains the focus of museums, the best place to at least view any meaningful trajectory in the development of an artistic idiom in Zambia is within the older private collections – long-standing collections in Lusaka -- such as the Namwandwe Collection, Rossi Collection at Villa Lucia and the Garden Group of Hotels, The Chaminuka Collection at the Chaminuka Luxury Lodge and Game Reserve and the Lechwe Trust Collection.
|Akwila Simpasa, Mother and Child, 1973, |
mixed media on paper, 110cm x 60cm - © Lechwe Trust
Even though they are private, all save for the Lechwe Trust Collection are on permanent display and open to the general public and they all possess wide ranging varieties of work from the 1960s through to the present.
As much as the Lechwe Trust Collection is the only “homeless” collection mentioned here, it has some of the most unique examples of contemporary Zambian art that date back to the 1960s in a traceable path. It has more than 300 paintings, prints, ceramics and sculptures and these are works by not only the Zambian greats but by a younger generation of artists that have shown exceptional talent that is worthy of display in a notable collection, so you will find works from the likes of the legendary Akwila Simpasa to the young and gifted Ignatius Sampa. Again what is significant about the collection is that it’s underlying strength is that it demonstrates how Zambian artists have sought to find their own visual voice over the years, they have been attempting to break the yoke of an aesthetic that has appealed to a Euro-American collector base and is characterized by paintings of wildlife and rural scenes that evoke an idyllic, unadulterated Africa such as giraffe drinking water or children drawing water from a stream. Images that had been popular since the days of the defunct Lusaka Art Society and its successor the Art Centre Foundation which through a collaboration between Anglo American and the Department of Cultural Services occupied gallery space on the first floor of the Anglo American building opposite the High Court.
|Henry Mulenga, Lusaka Rail Station, 1990-5, |
mixed media, 103cm x 82cm, donated by Diane Bouchard - © Lechwe Trust
Some works in the collection that can be said to have broken the aesthetic yoke are Henry Tayali’s The Irony of Destiny or simply Destiny done between 1960 – 1965, Akwila Simpasa’s Mother and Child, 1973, Henry Mulenga’s, Lusaka Rail Station, 1990-5 or Stephen Kappata’s, UNIP and MMD Governments, 1998 to name a few. Tayali and Mulenga’s work are comments on urban life from an African perspective, Simpasa’s is a stylized rendition of the popular mother and child theme in his own idiosyncratic style that has Afro-futuristic nuances and Kappata’s is a caricature of the hardships the electorate still faces whether they vote in a new government hoping for a change for the better.
Unfortunately, this remarkable collection remains sealed in two forty-foot freight containers, just as it has been for just over twenty years, only to be displayed occasionally in hired spaces such as the Lusaka National Museum. As luck would have it, after years of lobbying and fundraising the collection will soon be on permanent display. A piece of land has already been allocated and the gallery blue prints are all set. Scheduled for early 2017, construction of the building which will have a gallery as the centre piece surrounded by offices and shop spaces to let is dubbed “The Gallery Office Park”, it will be situated on Lagos Road in between the Law Association of Zambia Offices and the Alymer May Cemetery in Rhodes Park, Lusaka.
|Stephen Kappata, UNIP and MMD Governments, 1998, |
oil on canvas, 75cm x 97cm - © Lechwe Trust
According to the Lechwe Trust, the space will not only house and display the art collection for continuous public view but it will provide a community outreach facility for art education and cultural exchange programmes, preserve contemporary artistic heritage and contribute to sustainable tourism, assist visual artists to access a more professionally-managed space for display of their art, offer school children and groups guided tours and video projections of Zambian art and ultimately provide Zambia with a public visual art national gallery.
Established by Cynthia Zukas MBE The Lechwe Trust is a charitable trust for the Visual Arts in Zambia, started in 1986 with the primary aim of collecting Zambian art that would potentially find itself abroad at the hands of foreign collectors and members of the diplomatic core who constitute the main collector base.
Zukas an accomplished artist herself teamed up with her two friends the late ceramist Bente Lorenz and Henry Tayali. Lechwe Trust later broadened its scope and began providing scholarships to promising artists; commissioning works of art for public display, supporting organizations working for the promotion of the visual arts in Zambia such as Mpapa Gallery, Zintu Arts and Crafts, Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, Zambia National Visual Arts Council, Choma Museum, Lusaka National Museum, Copperbelt Museum, Mbile and Insaka International workshops.
|Due to the lack of it's own gallery space, the collection is stored in cargo |
containers and only exhibited occasionally