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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Matero Girls pupils call for government policy on art education

Education Post  deputy editor and Weekend Post  art columnist
Andrew Mulenga (l) addresses Matero Girls’ Art Club when the
pupil’s visited the newspaper’s offices to view it’s art collection

By Allan Mulenga

APART from art's crucial role in helping young people  express themselves freely, it is an important creative outlet for children of all ages.
Last week, about 30 Matero Girls High School Art Club members visited the Post newspapers head office to view the paper's corporate collection of paintings, as well as share experiences with Education Post deputy editor and Weekend Post art columnist Andrew Mulenga.
And 16-year-old Ziwase Nindi observes that many young people have a wrong perception of art.
The Grade 10 pupil, says most pupils do not know that art is complex in nature. "At our school most of the girls think art is all about drawing and most of them can’t draw. So, many young people have no interest in art," she says.
Ziwase urges pupils to generate interest in art, saying it enables young people to see the world and the human condition differently.
Kumbukani Zulu (art club club president) -
art is healing to the soul; it is the light
that shines in the darkest parts of our lives
"Art is not only a talent, but a skill that can be improved on over time. Through art we can get to know and understand things well," she says.
Ziwase also urged the new government to come up with a deliberate policy that would help develop art in schools.
"Art raises questions and compels us to think. Children have vivid imaginations and they need to be able to express them creatively. There are many great artists being born everyday but will those children know that they have a greatest artists within them if they are never exposed to the tools to create their art?," she asked.
And 16-year-old Kumbukani Zulu says art could unlock pupils' imagination and stir them to pause, think, and reflect on various aspects of life.
"Art is healing to the soul; it is the light that shines in the darkest parts of our lives; and art comes in an exemplary character that stands the taste of time," Kumbukani says.
The religious pupil says young people needed to take art seriously, just like God the creator, who is the great artist.
Kumbukani, who is also president  of the school art club , urged the PF government to take keen interest in issues relating to art.
Meanwhile, Education Post deputy editor Andrew Mulenga urged the pupils to develop interest in art-related activities.
Ziwase Nindi - art raises questions and compels
us to think. Children have vivid imaginations and
they need to be able to express them creatively
He explained that although there has always been a semblance of a creative industry in Zambia, the arts had been neglected as a sector by previous governments, and while it has always had a potential to grow as a professional fraternity it has never had much support, as such much of what is Zambian art is not documented.
"Seeing that there are no books on art in Zambia, I'll share some of my own writing that highlights more current issues that are surrounding contemporary art, the challenges visual artists face, as well as the lack of recognition from the public and the corporate community. But I don't know as yet what the new government has in store for the creative sector," he said as he presented them with copies of a 12 page conference paper on Zambian art entitled Exhibition Content: A Stillborn Birth In The Artist and Funder’s Matrimony that he delivered at the University of California in Los Angeles during a symposiumthe Arts Council of the African Studies Association early this year.
He urged young artistes to take time to read art-related educational materials wherever they can find them.
"Do take time to read this [his publication] and be inspired because art is still growing in Zambia and I am sure at some point it will be recognised, as long as people are still active and as long as people like yourselves continue to be creative," he said.
Mulenga challenged the pupils to look up to established artists for inspiration.
"Mingle with artists, visit exhibitions. Ask them [artists] questions and they will be very happy to share with you. Keep learning new techniques maybe painting here and there, then you will grow the passion. Luckily, entry to exhibitions in Zambia is free," said Mulenga.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Gustavus’ spiritual no man’s land

By Andrew Mulenga

Belief Changes The Perspective (1999)
watercolour on paper
At a glance the vivid,  browns, yellows and blues of Berlin-born and Magoye-based artist Peter Gustavus' watercolours currently showing at the Zebra Crossing Cafe in Lusaka present an immediate freshness that lends a positive and powerful ambience to the restaurant area.
But as much as the colours heighten the viewer’s perception, as you draw closer the sharp-edged images reveal something else, something bizarre. The work attempts to blend mythical, mystical and common religious symbols or in other words it is a fleeting confluence of religion and atheism albeit in an erie manner, surely not for the faint hearted.
And as his titles might suggest, Gustavus is obviously a man of  profound reflection and metaphysical examination that may border on the blasphemous to many; Belief Changes The Perspective, Different Spiritual Approaches, Spiritual Kiss, Oshun And Her Playmates are just a few names among the twenty or so works on display that revel in some sort of mysterious spiritual credence.
Belief Changes The Perspective is one of the paintings with the most powerful and yet perplexing imagery. A painting probably as chaotic to perceive as it is to decipher. It depicts a large cross with two severed, blood-dripping hands nailed to it. But at the centre of the cross is a horizontally flipped clock from whose centre protrudes a neck with a crowned, mask-like figure extending an arm down on to the head of a kneeling female nude, with bare buttocks to the viewer at the foot of this cross who seems to have her face in what would be the groin area of the 'crucified' image, as if in some sort of sexual act.
Different Spiritual Approaches (2000)
watercolour on paper
Fiery rays of light seem to be beaming down onto this nightmarish image that appears to be surrounded by ghoulish, bird-like figures. There is no telling what exactly the artist is trying to say.
And dear reader if you are lost by this description, or the image provided with this article, you are encouraged to go physically to the viewing space off Addis Ababa road to have a look for yourself.
It probably gets worse with Different Spiritual Approaches, in which it may be assumed that he attempts to create a religious, or rather spiritual no man’s land. Here we see a 6 pointed star of David, the  symbol of Jewish identity  sitting on top of an arch, flanked by the black and white Yin yang symbol of polar opposites in Taoism and a crucifix, a symbol of Christianity to the left while the minaret and  dome of a mosque tower to the right of the image obviously representing Islam. All this is placed against the backdrop of a barren landscape with austere emptiness.
Spiritual Kiss watercolour on paper
Spiritual Kiss depicts a brown, elf-like figure with pointy ears kissing a chameleon that is holding on by the chin and curling out its tongue in readiness. Here the prominent use of a chameleon for symbolism is pregnant with meaning but of course it could mean anything. In early Christianity, the chameleon was used to symbolize Satan who, like the chameleon, could change his appearance to deceive mankind.
But the centrepiece of his exhibition, To Believe Or Not To Believe, That’s The Question an installation piece made up of a table,  old pieces of wood, coconut shells, bowls of assorted grain and a cloth with writings from the religions of the world is probably the most puzzling of the works on display. Any attempt to define this shrine-like conceptual piece would be doing it, as well as it's creator an injustice, although it can be regarded as a hideous heap of old wood by some.
Neverthless, his text for this exhibition partly reads; “In my exhibition I show pictures and an installation about different approaches of faith. I try to express my respect for the beliefs of others and try also to express that there are no superior or inferior ways of beliefs. The decision how one should believe is a very individual one and everyone has to decide only for him or herself and not for others which is the right way to believe. When we find out why people believe the way they do, we might understand their reasons of their different religious approaches and it is easier to accept that.”
To Believe Or Not To Believe,
Thats The Question mixed media installation
In any case, Gustavus' strand of creativity should be welcomed as a right to creative expression. Art in itself is often more interesting when it is shrouded in mystery and ambiguity, always implying that its creator knows something that we do not know, as we wrack our heads trying to figure it out.
Gustavus was born in 1946 in Berlin, Germany and moved to Zambia 4 years ago. He lives on a smallholding in Magoye in the Southern Province where he and his Zambian wife Namoko are establishing Shazula Cultural Forum, a centre for the arts on their property.
He took up art as hobby about 40 years ago while studying public administration and working as a civil servant. In 1978 he joined the German Development Service (DED) and served for more than 20 years in Germany, Nepal, Lesotho and Zambia.  But since 1995 he has concentrated on his art and has held several exhibitions in Zambia and abroad.
The show To Believe Or Not To Believe, Thats The Question runs until  November 1.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Geoffrey Phiri show set for Iseni House

A Good Briton In Your Backyard (mixed media)

By Andrew Mulenga

Iseni House at the Dutch Reformed Church in Kabulonga, Lusaka will next week host a much anticipated solo exhibition by Cape Town-based artist Geoffrey Phiri.
The show is scheduled to open at 11:00 hours on Saturday the 8th of October and is expected to run for a week.
At 38, Phiri is one of the most emulated contemporary Zambian artists of his generation as such the show is expected to be entertaining.
He is known for his fascination with experimental textures, and looking at his recent works, he still does not disappoint. Along with paint and charcoal, he uses anything from burnt brick dust to tarmac. A typical example would be A Briton In Your Back Yard a painting of a wrecked and rusty Land Rover, who's title probably has more layered meaning than the layers of material used to execute it. In this work he uses the crushed ochre dust of the bricks to bring out a lifelike texture of rusting metal and the tarmac he uses for the shades equally brings out a course natural feel.
Wachitatu Ni Waboza
In Wachitatu Ni Waboza, Phiri uses charcoal excessively for his line, leaving it raw to give it more of a drawing than  painting effect. The work is part of a series and it depicts three vagabonds, with one facing the viewer suspiciously in direct eye contact. Wachitatu Ni Waboza is an anecdote of suspicion. In full, the commonly used nyanja phrase is in fact Zababili ni zababili. Wachitatu Ni Waboza an amateur attempt at a  loose translation would be "Something kept among two people, should be kept among two, involving a third would be involving a liar".
Nevertheless, Phiri's subject matter goes beyond vagabonds and rusty old Land Rovers, he also has a political streak and is once quoted as saying: "If we have a corrupt country we are citizens pushing a bus without wheels" this was in 2003 when he collaborated with other Zambian artists in an initiative called 'Images of Integrity' .
In  a painting entitled Election lessons (mark X on the chap you don't like) he toys with the rural vote and how politicians are said to often dupe the illiterate rural electorate into voting for them. For this abstract work he used his personal collection of miniature African statues as models.
And in Hair Therapy a picture of a woman lying lazily on her stomach, pulling on her hair with her feet in the air, the artist brings out a playful character.
Phiri arrived in the country late last week to add some final touches in the preparations for the exhibition. He also shed light on his choice of venue for this show.
"I thought I should break the monotony, you don't have to think about the Visual Arts Council every time you think of exhibitions. I also thought why not support someone like Lwao Chilambwe the proprietor of Iseni House who is trying very hard to support the arts and crafts industry. Let’s introduce more art houses, let’s grow from where VAC started," says "Besides, I met Mr Chilambwe through Lawrence Yombwe in Cape Town, and he showed interest in me having a show back home."
In Cape Town, Phiri is affiliated to three galleries;  the Gill Alderman Gallery, the Association For Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery and the iArt Gallery on Loop Street although he works from a converted gallery space at home.
"I park my car outside and I have converted the garage into my studio space. In the five years that I've been in Cape Town I can say I’ve been well received. I think its really about how loud you speak, you can be heard anywhere," he adds.
He says Zambian artists have as much to give as anyone else in the world but the only problem is they often end up influenced by their host institutions and therefore  lose their authenticity.
As a personal inspiration,  he says he has always admired Lawrence Yombwe and was at one time taunted by his peers for his early works bearing too much of a resemblance in style to the senior artist.
Phiri was born in, Livingstone, after completing school he qualified to study architecture at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe but instead opted to study art. In 1997 he graduated with an Art Teachers' Diploma from the Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce.
Between 1998 and 2003, he helped as a coordinator and researcher for the publication and production of one of the first books on visual arts in Zambia, Art in Zambia. He has also attended a number of study tours in Norway, Sweden and Holland.