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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Poetry and paintings wed on women’s day

By Andrew Mulenga
The Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka showgrounds was last week host to a visual art and poetry event, to celebrate International Women's Day.
The show was organised by the Art for Art organisation and Bitter Sweet, a group of poets that hold regular recitals at Arcades Mall and the University of Zambia.

Untitled by Ignatius Sampa

“We had Bitter Sweet bring five poets, because they had the main part of the event, then we had members of the audience, anyone who had a poem or a word to say just stood up. I was impressed with the play between the poems dedicated to women and the paintings on the walls,” says Albert “Kilarenz’’ Zulu one of the participating artists and organisers.
From a professional standpoint, however, it was as if the works on display were just hung randomly with no labels or write-ups, as well as no mini biographies for the artists. Zulu on the other hand has an explanation to this.
“The paintings were a visual effect for the poetry but they were also for sale, I deliberately didn’t put prices and names on the work, just numbers so that people can actually come to the organisers and enquire, just to play on their minds and see how interested they are in paintings,” says Zulu.
Untitled by Victor Kalinosi
Nevertheless, as much as the show had organisational defects, a few of the works on display are worthy of note for instance an out of the ordinary ‘Makishi Mona Lisa’ by upcoming artist Ignitius Sampa. It is a rendition of the famous renaissance painting adorned in Makishi garb of the North Western province traditional masquerades. Interestingly, this Mona Lisa has the Mosi -0a- Tunya (Victoria Falls) in the background and not the eerie landscape of Da Vinci’s from where it is borrowed.
Another attention grabbing work was a euro-esque, reclining woman comfortably relaxed on a bench with a flowing pink dress, fast food and a purse resting on the floor by Victor Kalinosi. In the backdrop is a nightline of a cityscape, and amusingly much of this is a blend of cutout magazine mosaic blended with paint.
Untitled by Dan Hangoma
Of course, Zambia’s recent triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations was not to be omitted from the subject matter of the exhibition. Dan Hangoma provided a painting of a mother and child clad in national colours. The child is fast asleep on the mothers back, with a homemade football popularly known as ‘’chimpombwa”. The mother too looks tired with a despondent expression, probably reflecting back on reality after the frenzy dies down and she realizes she had been waiting along the airport road on an empty stomach the whole day to get a glimpse of her heroes and the trophy, as did thousands of Zambians on February 13, including the author. - ENDS

Yombwe interrogates corruption, love, homosexuality in latest show

Yombwe (far right) with fellow artists Stary Mwaba
(centre) and William Miko (left)

By Andrew Mulenga
Lawrence Yombwe’s good-natured persona should not disguise the fact that he has always been a painter with a radical outlook. In 1990, he was instrumental in initiating “Artists For Change” a group exhibition held at the then Ridgeway Hotel and now Holiday Inn to raise money to support multi-party politics in Zambia.
Corruption Iyoo
(Acrylic on hessian)
Judging from his just ended solo exhibition “Love Affairs” at the Alliance Francaise in Lusaka, about 22 years after “Artists for Change”, he is still a bit of a rabble-rouser as he interrogates locally spiky issues such as corruption on various facets as well as homosexuality.
His work suggests that corruption is still very alive in Zambian society despite calls and claims of the vice being contained by authorities.
“Corruption is still there, everywhere around us, but we tend to look the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist”, he says.
“And if you look at elderly people, it’s not every one of them who is capable of guiding a people just because they are advanced in years. Some leaders are respected just because they are old with grey hair but they are irresponsible and incapable of leadership”, he says pointing to a large painting entitled ‘Corruption Iyoo (toilet)’.
This particular painting depicts two grey haired men urinating facing cisterns in opposite directions. One of them crouches, peering into the toilet bowl for a better aim. The other urinates nonchalantly facing upwards and sprinkling all over the floor as a result. As Yombwe explains, the picture depicts both a careless as well as cautious senior citizen in leadership positions.
In most of his work, Yombwe borrows symbols from the Mbusa initiation rites practiced by the Bemba tribe of Northern Province. According to tradition, the symbols objectives are aimed at helping to mould young men and women into responsible citizens.  
In ‘Corruption Iyoo (toilet)’, Yombwe borrows the symbols once again. The floor in this ‘’gents room” that is being sprinkled by the careless elder is tiled in a typical Mbusa motif of shaded triangles that symbolizes anything from hygiene to patience. The painting’s background is adorned in little “C-like” symbols that represent “pamo” meaning unity, togetherness or company. The ones behind the careless elder are scattered in every direction whereas the ones behind the crouching elder are well organised in rows and columns.
In “Corruption (Homo & Heterogeneous)” Yombwe grapples with homosexuality and sees himself as the male in the heterosexual couple in the middle of the painting, flanked by a homosexual male couple to the left and a lesbian couple to the right.
“I don’t know how they (gay people) feel, I don’t know whether they are born like that or are just fooling around, I really don’t know”, says Yombwe, a father of two “when I look at how other countries have accepted this, I ask how it has affected their development? We need to learn; maybe it’s no big deal, someone will look at the painting and explain it to me”.

Bashi & Bana Mpundu

It is obvious that homosexuality is secretly practiced in Zambia, with prisons, colleges, tourist hotspots and certain nightclubs being among the main arenas; society does not take kind to it. In fact, Same-sex sexual activity is proscribed by Cap. 87, Sections 155 through 157 of Zambia's penal code, homosexual or "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" is a felony punishable by imprisonment for 14 years. All the same, Yombwe is playing a fundamental role as an artist by putting his head under the guillotine by cross-examining this subject.
Meanwhile, Yombwe remains one of Zambia’s most emulated and plagiarised artists with “Sunday market” painters being among the major culprits in copying his style.
“I was invited to dinner by a collector who confessed that she had a painting that was an imitation of mine and has been hoping to buy an original,” he explains. “At one time I found the guys responsible at Arcades Sunday market, but then I probably can’t blame Arcades because I’m sure they don’t have an art expert to consult and advise them against copyright issues.  It’s not fair; it takes years to develop your own style”.
He says notifying the Visual Arts Council, the National Arts Council and other authorities on the matter has born nothing. In a similar vein, he complains that a general lack of engagement with the arts at the highest levels of Zambian society and the academic elite has not helped.
“We also have to really look at our education system; if you look at some of our graduates they are so behind in terms of art appreciation. You find someone with a masters degree is still an infant when it comes to reading art, this results in a society that is rigid and uncreative in all that they do,” he says.
Anyhow, Yombwe has continued to develop his technique, over the years working with rudimentary materials such as sackcloth (hessian) that he uses for both economy and identity giving his work a subtle yet sophisticated finish.
Mother & Child
“When I look at African art or the Mbusa symbols, the materials used are very simple, it’s pointless for me to use expensive material.  With simple materials, I can feel the texture, shape and form all working well, I am looking for a simpler way to convey my message, after all African art is functional and not materialistic,” he explains.
Considering a profile spanning 30 years, his latest show may have not been well publicised prior to its opening and most of his fans and collectors possibly missed out.
While the venue may have been more accessible to the public, one feels staging it at a high profile hotel could have been more suited in terms of capturing revenues as well as a new audience. This is not to say sales were reasonable probably owing to some literally pocket-sized works that could fit almost everyone’s pocket financially too including that of this author. The ones that particularly sold out were the series of tiny paintings, that could easily fit in a jacket pocket going for as little as K350,000 (three hundred thousand kwacha).
In contrast, we had huge life size paintings such “And They Danced” a colossal work costing  K40,000,000 (forty million Kwacha) this particular painting was literally aching for a hotel lobby, conference centre, or executive’s office as a flagship piece, it unfortunately never sold.
In addition, unlike his last show that featured a well-designed booklet edited by Professor Stewart Crehan and lecturer fine arts William Miko, both of the Zambia Open University his latest one had nothing.
This however was compensated by some photocopied handouts of his profile, an artist's statement, and most interestingly a single copy of poems by the artist. The poems are married to some old paintings while some are paired to new ones; Yombwe has not yet decided whether to publish this material as a booklet.
Nevertheless, he has had over 12 solo exhibitions locally and abroad. He studied for art at the Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe in 1980, Croydon College in the UK in 1987, Evelyn Hone College in 1990, went on to teach at Matero boys and subsequently proceeded to Botswana where he taught for 10 years alongside his wife and fellow artist Agness Buya.

Corruption Iyoo (Hetero & Homosexual)

Arts conspicuously missing from tourism booklet

By Andrew Mulenga
Any way you look at it, the arts continue to play a back seat role in our beloved republic. Zambians in general look at artistes as escapists, failures in life who take an ‘easy way out’.
The education system does not entirely recognise and support the arts as an academic discipline and since the post independence era, successive governments have never seemed to know what to do with, or where to place the arts.
Consequently, it is no surprise that the arts are conspicuously missing from the Zambia National Tourism Board’s (ZNTB) recently published promotional booklet, a full-colour publication that targets tourists and visitors to Zambia.
As you flip the cover page open, a cliché photo of tourists relaxing on the Zambezi greets you, followed by what appears to be some sort of foreword entitled “Zambia ...a beacon of peace” which has “Home of the Victoria Falls” as the first five words of the introductory paragraph.
The photo of tourists on the Zambezi and the mention of the so-called Victoria Falls (which of course is the “Mosi - Oa -Tunya” or “The smoke that thunders” ZNTB should know better) gives an indication of the scope of ZNTB as a marketing entity. It is obvious that the boards marketing priority is indeed the mighty Zambezi river from where the country gets its name, as well as the falls of which we are proud.
This however should not suggest that the 34-page booklet does not cover other areas that might be of interest to a visitor or indeed a tourist. It goes on to briefly profile wildlife, national parks, lakes, canoe safaris; elephant back safaris, bungi jumping and white water rafting.
It also has an impressive traditional ceremonies calendar listing about 30 of them complete with title, tribe and place of the event.
When it gets to the city profiles and travel tips it elaborately covers banking, climate, etiquette, currency, visa requirements and language among other things but does not mention a single thing about the arts.
There is no mention of the contemporary art scene or works that can be viewed at the National Museum and private collections such as Chaminuka, Villa Lucia and Namwandwe, or the Henry Tayali gallery and Twaya Arts where reasonably priced purchases authentic contemporary art can be made to carry off as souvenirs or gifts. 
Furthermore, there is no mention of the thriving handicrafts markets and ‘airport art’ that can be bought at Livingstone’s Mukuni market, the Kabwata Cultural Village and Arcade’s Sunday market in Lusaka, or even the Twapya roadside market in Ndola.
The Lusaka Playhouse, Kitwe and Chingola little theatres get no reference too, suggesting that theatre is none existent in Zambia and that a visitor cannot catch up with local productions.
Similarly, there are no profiles or consideration of local arts festivals such as the Mwela Arts festival or the Chikuni Music Festival that, according to an insider at ZNTB attracts scores of traditional musicians and over 70,000 villagers annually.
Generally speaking, it is not clear, whether ZNTB deliberately omitted the Zambian art scene from the publication or whether there has just been no collaboration between the board and the arts fraternity.
Nevertheless, since the booklets are already in circulation, some modifications could be made on the ZNTB website in this regard.