...while feuding continues to characterise Zambian scene
By Andrew Mulenga
Lawrence Chikwa has just returned from Zimbabwe where he was invited to exhibit in an international show entitled 'Beyond Borders' held in honour of late Mozambican painter and poet Velente Malangatana who died early this year.
|Zambian artist Lawrence Chikwa with internationally |
acclaimed Zimbabwean sculptor Tapfuma Gutsa during
the Harare International Festival of the Arts where Chikwa
was invited to exhibit
The artist has considerable study and exhibition exposure in Europe, and has given the Weekend Post several interviews before. But returning from neighbouring Zimbabwe, he appears to come back with a strong admiration not for the works he has seen nor an excitement for exhibiting in the same gallery as Malangatana, but by the unity of the artists, young and old with whom he mingled.
"The conflicts of the generation gaps that we have in Zambia, I didn't see them in Zimbabwe. In Harare, the conflict between senior and upcoming artists does not exist, everyone works together. I even met Tapfuma Gutsa (a Zimbabwean sculptor of international acclaim) and we spoke at length. He asked so much about Zambia and told me he studied with Flinto Chandia (a Zambian sculptor) in London during the 80s," says Chikwa.
He explains that for him, the Harare experience is not just important because he exhibited, but he thinks its also important in how he now views the disunity on the Zambian scene. The 37-year-old believes Zambian artists have to 'come back together' and that if someone in his generation does not make a move, the visual arts will continue to suffer what he describes as an inertia towards development that has crippled the sector for decades.
"We have been having this problem for over fifteen years or so. In fact, it is a two way thing; there are older artists who think too much of their seniority and then there are younger ones who think so much of their international exposure and therefore cannot be told anything," he says. "There is need for us to come together as artists. If you hold a talk or discussion at a certain venue, some people won't come. So if I was to present a paper, I would rather do it on neutral grounds, such as here at The Post".
For any dedicated observer of Zambian visual arts politics - including the generation wrangles that Chikwa mentions - one would want to agree with him and acknowledge that his assertions hold true. Cynicism has been at the very core of the arts' internal politics.
In fact, it is tempting to describe the scenario as a microcosm of the bigger Zambian political picture and furthermore enticing to borrow from a past editorial comment entitled "A nation of cynics" published in The Post of January 11, 2005: "Cynics have never built any nation or community. There's need for all of us to accept and respect the right of every citizen to participate in the building of this nation," read the editorial in part.
In the arts context nonetheless, it can be said that cynical artists young or old will never build a viable and self-sustaining arts community. There is need for every artist to accept and respect the creative right and ability of every artistic citizen to participate in the building of this creative industry.
In conclusion, the 2005 editorial read: "Whatever contradictions arise among our people, let's resolve them through unity. By this we mean that we have always to start from the desire for unity, resolving contradictions through criticism or struggle and arriving at a new unity on a new basis. It is imperative to overcome anything that impairs unity in the nation because without unity, we won't make any meaningful progress." Now that definitely needs no paraphrasing because in any context, it speaks for itself.
So, Chikwa's cry and newfound energy to champion unity among artists has to be supported. It is surprising how artists, no matter how much international exposure they seem to be getting, find it so hard to work together in a fledgling visual arts sector such as Zambia's. The blame is often thrown at the lack of public support when indeed the artists themselves are not united. It is only at a time when they do so that there will be any meaningful progress for arts advocacy.
Chikwa showed 7 works during this year's HIFA exhibition. HIFA is a 6 day annual festival and workshop programme that showcases the very best of Zimbabwean, regional and international arts and culture in a comprehensive programme of theatre, dance, music, circus, street performance, spoken word and visual arts.
According to Professor Luc Rukingama of the United National Eductational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in a forward for the Beyond Borders exhibition catalogue, for over a decade now, UNESCO has partnered with HIFA and during the past two years, UNESCO has focused specifically on support towards exposure of visual arts during the festival with an objective to provide marginalised Zimbabwean artists a platform on an international stage.
Surely, what would stop UNESCO supporting a 'Lusaka International Arts Festival' (if there were ever to be one in our life times), or supporting marginalised Zambian artists by helping providing an international platform? You guessed right; a cynical and disenfranchised arts fraternity who do not even have a Lusaka Arts Festival in their thoughts.