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Friday, 21 September 2018

Colourfully Zigzagging through social commentary, portraiture, landscapes and wildlife

By Andrew Mulenga

(Story first published in The Bulletin & Record Magazine - Zambia - 2014)

When he was a teenager, his mother jokingly nicknamed him Zigzag, because of his meandering personality. He was into everything; he was on his school’s football team, basketball team, in swimming, as well as the drama and culture clubs.

Zigzag, 2014, Mayo Mpapa (coloured pencils on paper) 
At some point, he was even the leader of a reggae band, but it is in the visual arts where Mr Samuel Nawa would seemingly settle his restless vitality. But even here the character of his technique is still true to the nickname that stuck on him by which everyone still calls him today.

The themes of Zigzag’s art meander from social commentary, portraiture, landscapes, wildlife as well as none-representational abstract and political satire. But of late his work has assumed a snapshot, spur of the moment signature. Notably in works where he passionately depicts everyday street people, particularly focusing on the vendors of such products as boiled eggs, plastic bags and roast maize.

Zigzag, 2014 Masuku for the journey
(watercolour pencil on paper) 
In Livingstone, where he has established himself as the resident artist in a very unusual setting at the Jolly Boys Backpackers, just next to the Livingston Museum, he freely paints in full view of guests and restaurant patrons, exchanging friendly chitchat while applies paints with to a canvas or doodles in a note pad. He believes mixing with people while he works makes the people part of the process, part of the art work, he is surely not the type of artist that will lock himself in a confidential studio for long hours.

No doubt this positive energy provides an animated spontaneity that matches his snapshot style whether he is painting from a previously sketched street scene or doing something from the imagination or memory.

These friendly customer relations skills also help pull in the sales and he never goes a day without a sale, the lodge’s gift shop too is filled with gift cards and book page holders that he created, the rooms too are decorated with his works and guests can purchase them upon request when they are checking out.

Self portrait 
But this is not his only point of sale, the tech-savvy artist also uses his Facebook page to advertise his work and he even ships as far as New Zealand and Canada.

But life has not always been a joyful bliss for Zigzag, who is only in his late 20s, again true to his nickname; it has had its fair share of ups and downs. Early in his career as an artist he faced marginalization and subsequent rejection, but has never given up.

When he was only 12 years old, he had a burning to desire to launch his career professionally and his uncle took him to the Visual Art Council at the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka Showgrounds.

“I went to see some art work with my uncle. I was inspired and wanted to join but they told me I was too young. I was told I was good but I was a kid, at the time I was at Jacaranda Basic School, I used to live at NIPA flats in the servant quarters with my parents,” recalls Zigzag.

Zigzag, 2014, Mandanda (watercolour pencil on paper)
The house was so cramped he would have to paint at night when everyone was sleeping and at school during the day he  used to draw comic books in exchange for exercise books or lunch, among his bestsellers were Duck Tales and the Ninja Turtles.

“After a few years I met a girl from Canada called Ashley who introduced me to Twaya Art Gallery at the Intercontinental Hotel; they asked me for sketches and for my portfolio but I was about 14 years old, come on I didn’t even know what a portfolio was” he says.

A year later, still determined, he tried to establish himself with a slot at Arcades Shopping Malls Sunday market, this is where he met the Lungu brothers from Mtendere, Jeff and Jim. The brothers, although very active on the Lusaka art scene would bend the highbrowed gallery etiquette and sell their works curio-style in the mall parking lot.
Zigzag, Malonda (Watercolour pencil on paper) 

As much as the brothers inspired him, the young and restless Zigzag always dreamt of one day packing a bag and heading to Livingstone, to have a shot at the tourist capital. By the year 2000, he had already completed school and decided to travel; he had nothing but a bus ticket and a few clothes to change.
“I had nowhere to sleep so I used to sleep on a bus, Bookers Express, so when the bus doesn’t come that night, I was in problems, I will be stuck and have nowhere to sleep,” he pays homage to the bus company in one of his recent works entitled Masuku for your journey, which depicts fruit vendors raising their baskets to the passengers for a purchase.
“I tried to work with at the Mukuni Curio market but it didn’t work, I tried to work at the falls with my friend Luka whom I came with from Lusaka but it was tuff and he finally gave up and went back to Lusaka,” he says.

Zigzag poses with two satisfied customers at the
Jolly Boys backpackers in Livingstone
He says at the time the Livingstone Visual Arts Council was very active, they had a lot of paintings at the museum but were not selling.

“I was then given a chance at the Arts CafĂ© being operated by a foreign couple Bob and Marylyn, and that is where I would end up spending most my time but they only ran it for three months because they were discouraged that the tourism season in Zambia is very short”.

Luckily he had a backup plan and arranged with the proprietors at Jolly Boys Backpackers, where he still works at no charge. But it was while negotiating for space at Jolly Boys Backpackers that he met the love of his life. A Norwegian volunteer named Silje Pedersen who was still a college student back home in Europe.

Zigzag, 2014, Chimanga (watercolour pencils) 
“From the first time I saw her just sitting there it changed everything this was after I hadn’t been with a girl for 9. I met her hear in 2010, but she later left for Tanzania with her friends, and when I asked whether she will be back she said she didn’t know,” he affectionately recalls with an broad smile on his face “So I was forced to sell an artwork cheaply in order to follow her because I could stop thinking about her after she left.

Like he left Lusaka, once again Zigzag found himself on a journey, a three day journey to be specific. This time all he had was an address, two bottles of water, two packets of biscuits and K2 loose change. Afraid to lose his sweetheart, he embarked on the journey to search for her.

Zigzag and wife Silje Pedersen
“ It was the first time for me to travel for a woman in life, then I saw her and it was nice just like the first time a saw her again we spent about a month in Tanzania getting to know each other more but things didn’t worked out then I came back to Zambia” he says.
She too came back to Zambia and stayed here for some social work with YWCA for 4 months. But a few months later they would patch things up and head to Norway for a colourful wedding.

He came back to Zambia while she had to take up work in Norway. But today, they are expecting their first child and he has briefly abandoned his post at the Jolly Boys Backpackers to be by her side during this blissful moment in the young couples lives.
So if you intend to pass through the Jolly Boys Backpackers for one of his usually reasonably priced works, you will have to wait a few months or look for him on Facebook and order something from his page. - ENDS

(You can flow Zigzag on Facebook @


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