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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Spreading the gospel with paint

By Andrew Mulenga

Chantelle Mullins with her painting The Majestic Lion of Judah - 
The Messiah, (Acrylic on canvas)
“The eyes pierce your soul. And God begins ministering to your spirit. There are no words to describe His majesty. You stare in awe. At a piece of Heaven on Earth. All this from a Holy Spirit, heavenly inspired painting”, reads part of an exhibition write-up for a painting by daring young South African artist Chantelle Mullins.

Daring because the 23-year-old decides to unapologetically declare her Christian faith and spirituality in an exhibition that is part of a secular arts festival and society that encompasses everyone from the free-thinking, atheist-type academic, the Rastafarian, multi-racial Hare Krishnas and the lawfully liberated gay people.

Chantelle's replica of 15th century master Michelangelo's
famous The Creation of Adam
Not only does she risk being labelled a self-righteous altruist, it is her very first show and launch of her career, and she risks the reality of not making a single sale. But she could not care less, literally. After all, her show at the Albany Museum ends up attracting a steady stream of viewers over a two-week period during South Africa’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown early this month.

“I know very well the work might offend none-Christians, but then God said to me, Channy (the short form of her name) do you want to please man or to please me? So I’m not embarrassed by God, I think he is awesome. People can take it or leave it,” She says in a convincing, silky-smooth voice that resonates with the pious aura of a telephone helpline operator.

Much like the evangelical pastors who profess they commune with God directly, even on a daily basis, so does Chantelle. Where they (pastors) have a pulpit and a congregation, she has paintings and an exhibition space.

Rivers of Living Water
(Acrylic on canvas)
“I have to glorify Him (God) and not brush it under the carpet. At the same time it’s my exhibition if people don’t like it they can leave. Some people walk through quickly; look at me in a funny way as if they have seen a crazy person and leave. But some people walk up to me and share their life stories, burst into tears and then I will pray with them”, she says smiling, evidently gratified.

She says that touching people spiritually through her work means a lot to her and she well understands when they do burst into tears because she has been down that road before.

“I have not always been a Christian so I have been through that journey but now I would like to help set everyone free like me. People go drinking and want to have an alternative reality, they start taking drugs and want to find pleasure, a form of escape, I’ve been there before until I finally met God”, she says.

As a painter, the upcoming artist has not yet developed a definitive style and may still be rightfully exploring with her technique although she does seem to have developed a palette of chalky blues, pale yellows and reds, but of the colour choices too, she says they are divinely inspired.

Her exhibition, however, features some works that she created while at City Varsity in Cape Town where she studied motion picture design which also includes several disciplines of art such as video production, photography, puppetry, sculpture and classical painting. Which explains a marionette dragon floating from the ceiling of the exhibition space as well as a fairly large replica of Florentine master, Michelangelo’s 1510 fresco, The Creation of Adam that showcases some of her pre-celestial talent.

Chantelle’s exhibition may not have been preeminent among the dozens of shows at RSA’s National Arts Festival, but then again belief in her work coupled with the faith that it comes from a higher being gives it a sparkle that the others do not have.

“Because I have a relationship with God I just follow him I walk through his doors and follow his guidance. At the moment I believe he will open greater doors that will lead to greater exposure I hope to become international with my art as a tool to minister to people and get God’s word out there, ultimately it is to glorify Him,” says Chantelle.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Vice President and Head of Communications, Ericsson sub Saharan Africa (Pty) Ltd.
hands the CNN African journalist 2012 Award for Arts & Culture
to Andrew Mulenga, Freelance for The Post Newspaper, Zambia

Saturday, 21 July 2012

An arts ministry at long last, now what?

Sylvia Masebo

By Andrew Mulenga

One cannot help but harmonize with the smug expressions on the faces of the artistes from Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) who recently held a gathering to celebrate the re-alignment of the tourism ministry which now includes the arts.

It is now called the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and last week President Michael Sata appointed Sylvia Masebo as minister.

“We have a task, we have a job to make the Zambian people understand that art can create employment”, said Masebo addressing the small crowd of artistes at the ZAM gathering.
Nevertheless, for the minister to say “we have a job to do” may perhaps be an understatement looking at the epic task that lies ahead as a result of the neglect of an entire sector for a period that almost spans the entire post-colonial epoch.

In an interview for this column shortly after the Patriotic Front was voted into power last year, arts writer Roy Kausa said: "I am appealing to government to quickly consider the arts to fall under the tourism ministry. Then with the help of stakeholders the ministry can identify which people can sit on the National Arts Council from the various arts disciplines”.
Obviously at the time Kausa was making these suggestions, he had no idea that his words were prophetic to a certain degree.

 "The minister of tourism should call a meeting where the creative community can sit down and map a way forward otherwise I see no future for the arts if they fall under the ministry of chiefs and traditional rulers, because tourism as well as art is dynamic. Let culture related issues be handled by the chiefs and other traditional rulers", he continued.
Wise words and valid suggestions indeed from Kausa, but his proposals would just be part of the beginning.
A starting point for Masebo and government to strengthen and support role of the arts towards realising a vibrant and diverse creative sector, the anaemic National Cultural Policy of 2003 must be revised as soon as possible. A new cultural policy must set the framework for Government’s constitutionalized support for the arts for the next few years, furnishing us with a collective, planned direction and grounds for investment in the sector.
In the past, government support of the arts was weak because the creative sector was fragmented over too many line ministries this was acknowledge by means of a disclaimer in the National Cultural Policy (2003, p6):

"2.7 Administration and Co-ordination of Cultural Affairs. The Cultural Sector cuts across a number of line ministries such as: 
a) The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (under which the Department of Cultural services and the National Arts Council of Zambia fall); 
b) The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (under which Zambia Music Copyright Protection Society and film and cinema administration fall); 
c) The Ministry of Tourism (under which the National Museum Board and National Heritage Conservation Commission Falls);
d) The Ministry of Local Government and Housing (under which the administration of Chiefs falls); e) The Ministry of Science Technology and Vocational Training (under which the training of artists in colleges falls); 
f) The Ministry of Home Affairs (under which the national Archives falls).
The above scenario raises the problem of co-ordination for effective and efficient delivery of cultural services to the nation."
But let bye bygones be bygones, the revised cultural policy must formulate and implement the support of professionals and amateurs alike in the disciplines of theatre, music, dance, fine arts, crafts, cinema, fashion, poetry and copyright-related issues, as well as to protect Zambia’s cultural worth and create an annual National Arts Festival that will encompass all these mentioned categories of the arts.

Another thing that belongs in the dustbin, particularly now that tourism and art is under one roof is the Zambia National Tourism Board’s (ZNTB) promotional booklet targeted at tourists and visitors among other things.
If one flips through the pages 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.
Furthermore, there is no mention of the thriving handicrafts markets and curios 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.
And although it might be delving into foreign affairs territory, a recent comment in the June 2012 edition of the Bulletin & Record magazine by Jack Zimba upon returning from a US State Department sponsored educational trip to Washington DC further highlights the shambolic image of Zambia that Masebo and team will have to consider correcting.
“Being at the Zambian embassy felt like walking into a typical government office back home. We had to wait a couple of minutes before an Asian man appeared at the reception and gave us a not-so-warm welcome. Dirty carpets lined the floors of the embassy offices and the toilet was not up to Washington standards,” writes Zimba “What was even more shocking was that there were posters bearing the old “Zambia, the Real Africa slogan still hanging on the walls of the conference room and reception area. The ZNTB, which markets Zambia’s tourism, rebranded itself last July with a new logo and motto, discarding  the “Zambia, the Real Africa”, which was seen to project the wrong image and adopting “Zambia: Let’s Explore”.
Obviously the tourism booklet and Zimba’s experience insinuate that Zambia is in dire need of re-marketing. As such, sentiments from Livingstone-based veteran artist Benjamin Mibenge who is also a retired graphic designer from what was called the Zambia Information Services come to memory.
“My government too is not doing much for the arts as far as I am concerned. Government should immediately employ or assign people to specifically acquire and decorate our embassies with Zambian art; it used to be done in the 60s and 70s, why not now?” said the 67-year-old who is responsible for redesigning the interiors of the Livingstone and Moto Moto Museum  during an interview with the Saturday Post early this year.

Another item Masebo should consider for the recycle bin would be the annual Ngoma Awards, they are clearly out of date and have been begging for improvement for years. According to sources the awards could not take place last year because of lack of resources, political will as well as uncertainty within the ranks of the arts council as they had no clue to which side the political hammer will fall late last year.

 Winning an art award should be a life changing moment both inspirationally and financially, the prize money given to artistes for the Ngomas being about K1.5m is nothing short of a joke. With government patronage and its business connections, an artiste should be able to walk home with at least a K50m cash prize.

Artists and creative practitioners have been blubbering for government recognition for decades, finally their time has come. However, outsiders may be unaware that the realms of the Zambian arts scene are notoriously factionalized and antagonistic, a truth that many insiders would want to ignore. At this point in time it would be wise for them to work together as a unit if they do not wish to see tourism become the more dominant half of the ministry (which is very likely), and like Masebo says they have a job to do, it is therefore important that they help her help them by being united.

Masebo is an experienced ministerial leader, as well as a trendy fashion icon with an affinity for the arts. Surrounded by the right people, if drawn from the adequate arts administrators and creative individuals whom are not lacking in the country, she is bound to be successful. One only hopes she does not end up with a cadre of PF members that have been waiting in the side-lines for their share of the victory pie or members of the archetypal family tree that has become a norm in post-Kaunda leadership. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

University schooling essential in contemporary art world - Machona

By Andrew Mulenga
Outspoken Lusaka artist, arts consultant and fine arts lecturer in the school of Media and Performing Arts at the privately owned Zambia Open University, William Miko is often considered a dreamer by many in the Zambian art scene with his continuous advocacy for the introduction of fine arts at bachelor degree level at the University of Zambia persistently falling on deaf ears.
I Am My Doll (Detail), colour photographic print
by Phiwokule Khumalo (3rd year student)
Whenever given the opportunity at public forums he never hesitates to make it a point to advocate for his cause of “correcting the national anomaly” as he puts it.
“The University of Zambia has been producing aesthetically blind graduates at BA, masters and postgraduate level, that’s why they have failed to make a school of art in the past almost 50 years. It is a national anomaly” he recently said addressing at least 300 art teachers from Lusaka province at the launch of the Zambia schools art exhibition held at Nkwazi School.
“We (ZAOU) may not have the resources and infrastructure, but I intend for as many artists as possible to have degrees so that they can go into schools and become headmasters or head of departments. I believe this is a revolution that I call the ‘national anomaly’ or ‘correcting the national anomaly’”.
Collaborative printmedia project based on
the Dada Exquisite Corpse, Linocut
prints by 2nd year students
Kiara Waterrmeyer, Sarah Juckes,
Callan Grecia and Jennifer Ball
Miko who has a Masters Degree in Fine Art (1999) from Middlesex University, London, UK and has lectured in Nigeria, France, Switzerland, Sweden and the USA dreams of a day when all the 67 fine arts students currently studying for their degrees at ZOAU will possess MA too.
But perhaps there is method to Miko’s madness and persistent rambling rabble-rousing. Maybe artists do need to possess degrees in drawing, painting and photography and merely possessing the natural skill or ability to create is not enough?
As such, the display at Rhodes University’s Annual Student Exhibition that is held during the country’s National Arts Festival in Grahamestown may be testament to the importance of institutionalised art training at degree level.
Comprising a variety of traditional and contemporary media and spanning a broad range of conceptual and thematic concerns, the undergraduate art students reflect innovative and bold layers of discourse that reveal an almost frightening energy and can only be attributed to them undergoing rigorous theoretical and technical tutoring.
Untitled, oil and tape on board,
by Sarah Juckes (2nd year student)
Untitled, oil on canvas, by Francis Spangenberg
(4th year student)
“Like any other profession, if you go through an institutionalised process of learning it has its advantages, depending on how you apply it. It is easier for you to also fit into the bigger and more lucrative realm of global contemporary art and not fall into the economy of the craft market” says second-year MA fine arts student Gerald Machona who wasn’t part of the exhibition this year but was instead in Making A Way, a 16 man exhibition of critically acclaimed artists from China and South Africa whose theme was based on “forging new pathways physically, socially and conceptually” and was curated by Ruth Simbao who is Associate Professor of Art & Visual Culture and  has a PhD in African Art History from Harvard University.
“Studying art at degree or institutional level, you get to produce a body of work over the study period which can become an investigation into the human condition, or even identity politics. Look at this black child with a white doll for example”, he says pointing at a photograph of a dark skinned African child alongside a red-haired Caucasian doll in series of photographs entitled I Am My Doll by third-year student Phiwokule Khumalo “As much as there is innocence in it, it is important to question such things. With Institutional training you learn to create something critical that pushes the boundary. But you also benefit by gaining immense technical and theoretical skills, and also learn the importance of networking and not working in isolation.”
Certainly, the issue of dark skinned dolls is universal, even here in Zambia any parent with a girl child will know how difficult or literally impossible it is to get dolls with a darker skin hue in all the major toy and department stores, causing some culturally conscious parents to opt for Teddy bears or Mickey Mouse characters that bare no racial credentials.
Grandmothers favorite, charcoal on fabriano
by Mirra Berridge (2nd year)
Machona who did his undergraduate studies at the prestigious University of Cape Town adds that the current trend in international conferences and artist’s residencies too demand for a minimum of a BA in fine art for you to attend, and that it is becoming increasingly competitive.
“But don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that artists who haven’t been through institutional training must be written off. Because similarly, the institutionally trained artist can tend to be boxed in”, he counter claims “They often tend to start making similar works, to feed into a certain category of the contemporary art world. They end up structuring their work around the western gallery system forgetting what might truly be patterning on the ground with in terms of the consumption of art.”
He also suggests that academically trained artists are at times very extreme in terms of pushing the boundaries and at times may step on people’s toes. He cites The Spear, a painting by South African artist Brett Murray that depicts President Jacob Zuma in a pose reminiscent of Lenin, with genitals exposed as an example of how liberated artists at a higher conceptual level can be. The painting has since triggered a law suit by the ANC.
Nevertheless, back to Miko and his solving of the ‘national anomaly’, his first set of graduates are set to be churned out next year. He also bemoans the distant learning system that he has had to engage because art is in itself a hand on discipline and cannot be studied by correspondence. The students are only in residency twice a year for two week intervals. Right now, ZAOU remains the sole provider of a BA in fine art in Zambia as art remains of no consequence at UNZA. But as Machona and Miko rightfully observe with changing times the art world demands artists to be academically trained

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Of concrete Teddy bears and suitcases

By Andrew Mulenga
The thought of a concrete Teddy bear is of course absolutely nonsensical, bordering on absurd.  Teddy bears beloved by little girls (and their mothers alike) are supposed to be the fluffiest and most huggable of toys and to imagine one made from one of the toughest building materials known to man is odd.
In-Transit  by Regardt van Der Meulen
symbolizes 'emotional baggage'
As bizarre as it might sound, concrete Teddies do exist, well at least one does. So do concrete sandals and a sweater and they are all in a concrete suitcase, which in turn is in a concrete exhibition that features concrete limbs, torsos and donkeys.
Roxanne Litchia’s Zipho examines
motherhood and pregnancy
The exhibition is sponsored by South African cement giant PPC entitled ‘Reimagine concrete’ and is being held in collaboration with the Association of Arts Pretoria. It is part of PPCs 21 year old annual Young Concrete Sculpture Awards that honours South African artists who are either beginners or have not been professionally established.
This year, PPC chose 21 of its previous winners to develop 21 sculptures that will be auctioned and the total proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to 21 non-governmental organisations mainly involved with orphaned children and the disabled, as a Zambian one wishes our own corporate houses could take a leaf.
Nevertheless, each artist was given the details of an NGO and was asked to develop an artwork reflecting the NGO’s work in the community.
Roxanne Litchia’s Zipho examines
motherhood and pregnancy
The Teddy bear and suitcase sculpture is titled In-Transit  and artist Regardt van Der Meulen’s statement on the work reads: “The suitcase is a metaphor for the emotional luggage we carry with us, how we try to keep that baggage closed up, and how ultimately the damage inside is bound to come streaming out once that exterior is cracked. The worn exterior of a suitcase tells a story, but you have to look within the suitcase to try and understand what the story is really about.”
The Slave by Phanuel Marka Mabaso
Not too far from In-Transit is a torso in a seductively reclining position named Zipho, according to the artist, Roxanne Litchia. It is a portrait of a young Xhosa woman, who has recently given up her architecture studies to raise an unexpected child:  “Motherhood and pregnancy are two particulars things that are drawing my attention at the moment. On the one hand the most vulnerable members of our society, mothers are also seen as the pillar of strength within the community.”
An equally thought provoking sculpture is 'Knowledge is fragile', Like Father Like Son by Rossouw van Der Walt. With the beauty and precision of classical sculpture, van Der Walt says:  “This partial presentation of the figure sometimes presents the anxiety of entrapment; other times the incompleteness of solitude.
Then there is Phanuel Marka Mabaso’s donkey entitled 'The Slave' which is a blend of aluminium and concrete casting.
“From the time I was a child in my village of Jilongo, I’ve realised that people have exploited donkeys… generally without allowing them to rest. With this sculpture, we have a female donkey with its milk collected in a mug that indicates its use by traditional healers of the past to cure various ailments. My intention is to make people realize the value of donkeys in their environment.”
Of course there are many more captivating works of art in exhibition, but space would not allow mentioning all. Nevertheless, without all due respect, the artists are of exceptional talents and the works are first rate. But observing the work as a Zambian, what quickly comes in to thought is that back home, on a good day, the young generation of sculptures Charles Chambata, Nsofwa Bowa, Kilarenz Albert and the brothers Bisalom and Tom Phiri from the Roots of Expression Studios (ROXS) ensemble can give these PPC artists a run for their money. However, they are not as privileged to be motivated by meaningful initiatives such as the Young Concrete Sculpture Awards because the Zambian corporate community, that is; banks construction companies, mines and mobile phone companies enjoy an infinite ‘social responsibility holiday’ particularly where patronage of the arts are involved.
Nevertheless, ‘Reimagine concrete’ is currently showing at the Transformation Gallery, Albany History Museum in Grahamestown, South Africa and is part of the on-going National Arts Festival 2012 (Read more on the festival next week, only in your Saturday Post).

Thursday, 5 July 2012

My Choice introduces work by top Zambian artists at Manda Hill Mall

By Andrew Mulenga
Imported decorations that pass for art but lack in
taste due to their repetitive mass production and cheap
pricing such as these are popular in Zambian stores
Imported decor that passes for art but lacks in taste due to its repetitive, mass production and cheap pricing is increasingly popular in Zambian furniture stores. This goes for the entirely locally owned shops as well as the South African franchise chain stores.
However, My Choice, formerly known as a fashion boutique but now specialised in crystal ware, a small shop at Manda Hill Mall in Lusaka is making a difference by selling authentic paintings by some of the country’s top artists.
The store’s general manager Marjory Mumba’s passion for local art is what lead to the introduction of paintings a few weeks ago and the shop is already recording sales which she speculates will continue.
“I’m an art lover, but the first time I had this idea (of displaying local works) is after I bought some paintings from an exhibition organised by Danny Chiyesu an artist from Ndola and late Fr. Miha. I bought some works by Angela Kalunga for my house in Ndola,” says Mumba, who is also employed by the Bank of Zambia in Ndola.
Whats For Me, by Caleb Chisha
She says organising some works for display in the shop was made possible when she met the Visual Arts Council chairman Mulenga Chafilwa who has been trying to organise an exhibition at Manda Hill for some time now. Chafilwa later managed to select the works.
“Initially, I wanted to buy them and sell them off at a small profit, but for starters we are just selling them for a commission. I think by buying them off outright we will be helping support the artists’ livelihood directly, without having to make them wait a while”
She intends to dedicate a larger space, and entire wall that will display up to thirty works to serve as a provisional art gallery which she projects to be a potential crowd-puller, not only for tourists and collectors but, art lovers in general who cannot go to galleries but can come to the mall and view some art while they shop for other things.
“I’m sure you have noticed that we do not have much information on the individual artists. But very soon we will I intend to have mini biographies of each artist and maybe have their contacts available for customers who may want to connect with and commission individual artists,” she adds.
Despite her ‘day job’ with the bank, Mumba is a fully fledged entrepreneur and a partner in a stocks company, an information technology company and she also coordinates a group called ‘Chitemwiko Women’ whom she is mentoring in business.
Untitled, by Lutanda Mwamba
As such, Mumba is an experienced business woman and knows a good investment when she sees one. She says the contemporary art market in Zambia has huge potential for growth and that this is a fact that has been taken for granted for a long time now, prompting her to tap in to the niche.
“Currently I only have Lusaka-based artists in the shop but I intend to expose some Copperbelt artists too. There is a lot of good work on the Copoperbelt that is not getting the attention that it deserves” says Mumba.
Untitled, by Mulenga Mulenga
Nevertheless, it would be short sighted to assume that Mumba’s introduction of art into her shop is entirely market-driven rendering the works as mere merchandise. What she is doing, knowingly or not, is bringing art to a public that never visits gallery spaces. Far from becoming an outlet for tourist art, this space can prove to be an alternative platform for artists who are propelled by, and constrained by, the patronage they are given due to the human condition. It can provide a refreshing escape from the western or indeed global style gallery system of distribution which has literally failed to find footing under local conditions.
Furthermore, if Mumba manages to bring Copperbelt artists to her shop it will give them the much needed exposure in the capital that they hardly ever get from Lusaka venues such as the Henry Tayali Gallery, Alliance Francaise, Zebra Crossing Café, 37d Gallery or the Lusaka National Museum.
Nevertheless, the low-priced, mass-produced wall hangings that pass for art but lack in taste remain popular and continue to litter the walls of office buildings, guest houses and motels  including high-end hotels whose names it will be kind to save mention. 
My Choice managing director Marjory Mumba (left), 
has introduced genuine, one-off artworks by 
Zambian artists to her Manda Hill Mall store and is 
selling them alongside her imported glass ware