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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Critic urges minister to dissolve Zambia's National Arts Council

By Andrew Mulenga

Lechwe Art Trust secretary and outspoken art critic Roy Kausa has appealed to Tourism and Arts minister Sylvia Masebo to dissolve Zambia’s arts governing body, the National Art Council (NAC) with immediate effect if the arts in Zambia are going to make any meaningful progress.

Roy Kausa
In an interview at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka where he also serves as a consultant with the Twaya Art gallery, Kausa said the dissolving of the Mulenga Kapwepwe-led NAC was long overdue and that the current board has been detrimental to advancement in the sector.

“Government should dissolve NAC, r organise the department of cultural affairs and call for a stakeholders meeting, to see how it can help the creative sector become a more viable and self-sustaining. As soon as NAC is dissolved, the minister will appoint a new chairman, that means the affiliate members will likewise appoint new chairpersons, once this is done we will have a group of artists that know what they are doing” he said.

He said the board has over-stayed and it needs new people with a better direction because in its current state it is what he describes as “beyond redemption”.

“Im not saying I want a job, or I want to be chairman of NAC, I have a right as a creative practitioner and citizen to speak out when I’ve seen something wrong. Everyone at NAC is my friend; I know them personally and would not want to malign them”.

Kausa accused NAC of being suspiciously silent in the two months that the arts have been assigned a ministry that it can almost call its own.

“Why is NAC silent? Why haven’t they called for a stakeholders meeting when they are supposed to be the intermediaries between the artists and the minister. They have probably already misled the minister not to meet the artists. Im convinced they have told her that artists just make noise and will delay the budget process at a crucial time like this when parliament is open and the minister will table her budget soon”, he said.

He suggested that for the first time the new minister will be able to table how much resources artists need in the area of music, theatre and visual arts and if NAC is preparing a budget without consulting the artists it will mislead the minister and may even make her look bad in parliament.

“As much as she is the best person, do you think Honourable Masebo will be able to stand up and represent artists in parliament? No, because they are not helping her, it’s also highly likely that we (artists) will not be in the budget until next year because NAC is silent. NAC shouldn’t even pretend that they are working on a budget to give to the minister, this is already a wrong approach”, he said reaffirming that he has nothing personal against the chairperson Kapwepwe and the director Victor Makashi whom he said are both his friends.

This is not the first time the Kapwepwe-led board is coming under fire, in 2009 a group calling themselves Artists Alliance of Zambia which was formed to press for reforms in the NAC directed a petition over the election of Kapwepwe and Sankwe Kambole with

various individuals and associations such as National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia (NATAAZ), Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) firmly supporting the petition.

Nevertheless, Kausa also suggested that the ministry itself may need some further realignment if things were to improve with regards the arts and the creative sector in general.

“In fact, what the ministry needs right now is two permanent secretaries, one for tourism and one for the arts in order for things to work. Because as you may have noticed one part of the ministry, which is the arts, is lagging behind and is almost invisible” he said.

Kausa noted that it is not just NAC that is silent towards coming up with suggestions on how government can further support the arts, but that even the artists themselves appear to have gone silent after much euphoria upon announcing the ministry just over two months ago.

“I have been watching with disappointment the past few months. For such a long time as artists we have been in the wilderness, being thrown from one desert to another in the name of ministries, now this time around the Patriotic Front decides to give us a ministry and we appear not to know what to do with it”.

He observed that the first week the ministry was announced, artists were in the media celebrating that they have arrived in “the land of milk and honey”, but all of a sudden they have gone quiet

 “All the artists that were making noise and thanking government for the ministry are now silent. But I’m not surprised,  I know the reason why. It’s because they don’t know what to do; they think in their wisdom that government will come to the artists and tell them what to do. Just like NAC they are all waiting for government to come to them with a sack full of money for the artists use”, he said.

“Which government in the world would create a ministry for the artists and start giving them plans. The artists can’t see that government is waiting for the artists to give it a plan, a list of needs, a roadmap”.

He said as a creative industry, there are many things that can be done, such as artists coming up with plans for making ceramics factories across the country, run by the artists in which they can design and create cups and plates to supply to shops and hotels and even for export to lessen the mass importation of these consumable creative products.

“All we would need in such a case is to bring in experts from china to help us build kilns and when we start making these plates and cups and we are in business, can you imagine how many jobs such a project would create for artists”

He said that there are many other areas where artists can go to government and lobby for funds. He said that musicians can ask the ministry for state of the art professional studios to start recording using live equipment as opposed to making music from what he termed as “backyard studios”, and in this way the quality of their music could reach a sound quality that can compete globally.

Kausa concluded by urging government with its new focus on the arts to take art training at academic level more seriously.

“Also if we can ask government as artists to stop beating about the bush and introduce a faculty for the arts at the University of Zambia. Of course I would like to commend the private (universities) institutions that have introduced art. It is a good thing. But I think we could be the only country in the world teaching art by long distance learning. For me, an art student meeting his lecturer only four times in a year, which means you will meet the lecture only 16 times then you get a degree is a joke.” Said Kausa.
His last remark was obviously in reference to the Zambia Open University, the only higher learning institution in Zambia offering a bachelor’s degree in fine arts-

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Njase Girls’ hidden artistic treasures

By Andrew Mulenga

An African Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into
Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the enthusiasm of the crowds
In Southern Province’s new provincial capital, Choma, are hidden artistic treasures whose value may probably not be appreciated as much as it should be by its custodians as well as people who have come in contact with it over the years.

The bible scene with Jesus at the well with the Samaritan
woman shows signs of damage and peeling of paint
Familiar, and accessible mostly to pupils that were educated at Njase Girls Secondary School, among them tourism and arts minister Sylvia Masebo, is a chapel that is decorated with life-sized wall paintings by late Zambian muralist and Christian painter Emmanuel Nsama that have majestically covered both sides of the interior for the past 42 years.

This painting of a doubting Thomas has been
severely exposed to corosion and severe sunlight
Only 29 years old at the time, Nsama was commissioned to paint eight large murals (paintings) depicting the life of Jesus Christ by a European missionary and the founder of the school which now belongs to the United Church of Zambia, just four years after the country’s independence upon returning from a two year advanced art programme at Sheridan College in Canada.

The chapel at Njase Girls Secondary School in Choma
As much as the murals belong to the Church and the school, the fact that the works are over 40 years old and Jesus is depicted as an African adds strength to the imagery in line with enculturation where Europeans and Africans may have found them as instruments of dialogue in a newly liberated Zambia giving the paintings a high degree of significance with regards the country’s cultural heritage.

Whether or not Nsama had the autonomy to depict African bible characters, in these works, he becomes an interpreter of Christianity allowing Africans to encounter the Gospel in their own culture as they look at images, not of European iconography, but something closer to home that makes Christianity not so foreign.

But in his work not only does Nsama attempt to enculture Christianity by depicting an African Jesus, he also made an attempt to bring the bible scenes to the modern-day, or the Zambia of the moment. A good example would be the proverbial scene from Mathews 21:1-11 of Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the enthusiasm of the crowds. While Nsama’s entire cast is African, Jesus is clad in a scarlet robe with a white cloth covering his head, typical of European iconography; a boy in the multitudes throwing palm leaves before Christ is dressed in modern European-style clothing and the woman next to him is dressed in chitenge fabric.

In one of the paintings, the woman from whom Jesus asked a drink of water at the well while travelling through Samaria in the book of John is also clad in chitenge waist and head wrap. She holds an African clay pot and drinking gourd in her hands looking more Zambian in appearance than a Samaritan of Jesus’ time. In the backdrop is what looks like savannah grass lands and a footpath leading up to a village with thatched huts, creating an idyllic African landscape.

The work is presented with earnest simplicity, but the sheer scale of the paintings that were executed on two and a half metre wide wooden panels and screwed to the walls suggest the artist had spent countless, backbreaking hours that must have given him a sense of monastic vacation to get the job done.

There is a downside to the revelation of these outstanding specimens of African Christian art. All the eight murals are damaged, some more than others. Most of the damage seems to have occurred at the lower points of the murals due to continuous human contact. It is clear that over the 42 year period, pupils have been rubbing against them as well as playfully peeling the paint off, which is not surprising considering the school does not offer art as an examinable subject and the children also have the misfortune of being in a country whose art appreciation, even on the highest rungs of the social and academic ladders, is all but non-existent.

But the deterioration on some of the paintings is due to natural causes, such as possible leakages in the seams of the roof and the effect of direct sunlight from a broken window or two. It is also obvious that rain water seeps through forming algae on the surfaces of some of the paintings.

The paintings are aching for restoration. This however should be done by engaging professionals. Nsama, like other artists of his time maintained very high professional standards which is why the work has not faded until this day. In his day, academically trained artists used pigments, turpentine and linseed oil in the classical European manner. So it would make no sense to engage the many sign writers readily available in Choma to retouch instead of restore the treasurable images.

Strictly speaking, the Njase Girls chapel needs slight restoration as much as the paintings do. It would be nice to see the School and former pupils put their heads together and help raise some funds for such a project so that the building, as well as the paintings continues to be spiritually uplifting to pupils who will be passing through the school for many more years to come.

Nevertheless, fate seems to be on Njase’s side. Not only is the current minister in charge of the arts one of its academic products, but the recent elevation of the town as the provincial capital further raises the schools profile and according to media reports, K3.8 billion out of the K15 billion for construction of infrastructure by the government has already been released.

The town is also the home of the Choma Museum and Crafts Centre, (formerly a girls school itself)  that has proved popular among local and international visitors with its permanent display of the arts, crafts and culture of the Tonga people as well as the gigantic steel balls that were used in the construction of the Kariba dam. The museum has also been quite active displaying works by notable artists such as Bert Witkamp, Patrick Mweemba, Simon Chungu and Sylvia Mwando.
There is no harm in wishing that the murals at Njase become an extension on the itinerary of tourists and researchers as they visit the museum just about seven minutes’ drive away. Choma is only two hours outside Livingstone and it just might benefit from visitors to the United Nations World Tourism Organisations general assembly next year, who knows. The school celebrates its golden jubilee next year.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Soi on corruption, commercial sex and London 2012

By Andrew Mulenga

Kenya has continuously done itself and the continent proud over the years when it comes to producing runners, particularly at the Olympics.

Male spectators step closer for the rear view of a female weight lifter
This year however, the East African country exhibited one of its worst performances at the competitions inspiring 39-year old Nairobi artist Michael Soi to dedicate an entire series of paintings to the London 2012 games.
An all male crowd at a womens' beech volleyball tournament 

The poor performance was because there were issues with selection. Some, who did not deserve to go, went. We lost race after race and this disappointment is what brought about the argument,” says Soi when asked to elaborate. 
Although rib-tickling because of his light-hearted interpretation of urban life, his work is at times hard hitting and critical of Kenya’s politics and speaking out against corruption is among his favourite themes.

It’s gonna boil down to frustration in a country where people pay taxes and get nothing in return. Because of poor governance and the fact that graft is an impediment to social political and economic growth,” he says.

Recently, Ai Weiwei in China, Brett Murray in South Africa and Asim Travidi of India who was arrested this week are artists that have been in trouble for assuming a critical edge in their own countries. Asked for his opinion on such infringements against creative liberties, Soi’s answer is short.

I never think of it. If I do, I will never work. I will end up getting a nine to five job,” he says admitting that it is not easy to earn a living in art alone on the African continent, but that it can be done, since he is doing it. 
He says he has never been in trouble with the powers that be because the issues he raises have already been reported on in the press, from where he draws ideas.

In his London 2012 paintings, Soi’s athletes are women with outrageously voluptuous bottoms performing while slobbering male spectators peer at them implying the games possess an element of perverted voyeurism. One painting shows a weight lifter from team USA, as she bends over to lift her barbells; the all-male, crowd appears to lean over for a closer view of her rear end. 
The Land Cruiser
I love the female form. I find it more interesting than the male. And yes, there was the aspect of voyeurism (at the Olympics). It’s always there no matter how people try to pretend. All the beach volleyball matches were packed and mostly with men,” he insinuates, declaring the games a pervert’s paradise. 
He may have a point. In the modern games, tight fitting sports costume leaves very little to the imagination, which might explain why even here in Lusaka it was not uncommon to walk into a sports bar during the Olympics to find male patrons glued to the screens watching games almost alien to this part of the continent such as beach volleyball, synchronized swimming and gymnastics of all things.

His work on night life suggests rampant sex tourism in Nairobi’s infamous Koinange Street where women with good professions and incomes hawk sex and brings out the aspect of underground red light districts mushrooming in Kenya’s major cities. He regularly depicts scenes of strip clubs, expatriates picking up ladies of the night and male police officers chasing or soliciting favours from skimpily clad women who will definitely end up in jail if they do not pay in kind.

He says the things people say during the day and what they do at night are totally different alluding to hypocrisy going on in a society that asserts itself to be religiously sound and morally upright, steeped in Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths.

Commercial sex work, money and alcohol are a big part of what a lot of African cities are. I just love to talk about it. People love to bury their heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. I love the strip club scenes because there are a lot of them coming up in Nairobi. I am more interested in the men who frequent these establishments than the topless women,” he says.
Typical works that display this are the self-explanatory The Land Cruiser, The Expatriates and China Loves Africa. The Land Cruiser shows constables fondling sex workers, The Expatriates shows Caucasian men eyeballing a stripper and China Loves Africa shows an Asian man clutching the breasts of two African women, while one of them clasps the man’s crotch in what looks like a painful grip. 
Soi has exhibited all over the world but insists his favourite place is Nairobi, because much of his work revolves around the city in which he was born and bred. He explains that his style (always acrylics and mixed media on canvas) deliberately employs a simple, flat perspective to be easily understood even by children, not that any parent would want their child to understand the depth of his mischievous subject matter.

Despite overseas, he is not too enthusiastic about the European or western commercial gallery system well known for hefty commission on artists’ work.
It needs to understand African art. It might work for western and southern Africa but we are waiting to see it work for eastern Africa,” he says.

Soi was a 2011 Sovereign Awards finalist; his works are also in permanent collections in the Casoria contemporary art museum, Napoli, Italy as well as the Standard Chartered Bank collection UK. His relentless assault on hypocrisy and gluttony from priests to corrupt politicians reaffirms artists as sharp tools in the arsenal of civil society.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Lusaka garage offers to mend KK’s car

By Andrew Mulenga
Nixon Katungu, Managing Director of Mkwaka Motors, a Lusaka based commercial garage has pledged to restore the ramshackle Land Rover that first republican president Dr Kenneth Kaunda used during Zambia’s liberation struggle.
Responding to an article headlined, “Please mend KK’s car” (Saturday Post August 12, 2012), Katungu, 41, says he is willing and able to restore the vehicle to its original condition in 90 days at his garage in the light industrial area and bare all the costs.
The Land Rover is at Dr. Kaunda’s former residence, Chilenje House 394, a national monument off Chilumbulu Road, one of Lusaka’s few and highly underpublicized tourist attractions.
“After reading an article in the paper about the Land Rover I sat down and thought as a young Zambian and concerned citizen something can be done, I can make a difference instead of pointing fingers at someone else,” says Katungu who declares the office of the Vice President, Head Office and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security among his major clients “I thought its better I take it upon myself to help preserve my history instead of sit and think that someone else can do it. There are people who fought for us to be free; I too can do something for my country”.
Katungu asserts that his garage can restore the vehicle back to its original condition competing with overseas standards and that his workshop has not only the experience but the expertise to do so.
“There is what we call ‘cut and join’  in our field, we look at the damaged part, cut it off, then if we can’t get the materials to build it we look for an old vehicle and replace it… if you look at the Land Rover, it’s the old type, it has rivets, and you can simply untie them” he says “I’m looking at 90 days, because the roof needs a lot of work to be done, we are looking at new tyres, restoring the engine and servicing it so that it can be in running condition. If the engine is beyond redemption, we can just clean it up and give it a coat of paint and basically do the suspension as well”.
Nevertheless, as admirable as Katungu’s zeal and patriotism might be, they are simply not enough to mend the Land Rover. He first has to convince the authorities, who in this case are the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC). He has already met with the NHCC Director – Lusaka Region as well as the Public Relations officer with whom he visited the site to assess the vehicle.
On August 20, he even put it in writing and addressed the letter regarding the restoration of the Land Rover to the NHCC Executive Director and is still waiting for a response, he is however confident that he will get one.
A wise thing would be for the NHCC to just be honest and let Katungu know whether conducting such an undertaking is within his jurisdiction or it has to be handled by ‘authorised’ restoration experts, or indeed they can tell him whether at all they even think it is necessary to mend the Land Rover in the first place.
In July, retired museums director Sibanyama Mudenda proclaimed there is no need to keep the car in its current state.
 “The car is a historical artefact they have to restore it. It’s like the Chilenje house itself, you cannot leave it to deteriorate in the name of keeping the house the way it was when KK and family used to occupy it” he said.
Similarly, in an interview with The Post’s Edwin Mbulo an NHCC employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity challenging the commission to restore the vehicle “Employee challenges NHCC to restore KK’s Land Rover” (Sunday Post, August 12, 2012) concurred that there was no need for the neglect.
“It is so sad that with Zambia’s Golden Jubilee drawing nearer, we have heritage sites of high significance being neglected especially that which bears KK’s image,” said the source.
The source also alluded that the commission made a lot of money from the Victoria Falls and could not fail to work on the vehicle.
“We know that the car was burnt during the riots against KK’s reign but that was an act of arson and conservation of heritage artefacts says there must be restoration of such after the damage. Even paintings that get damaged get restored and there is nothing like leave the damage to tell the story. The story of the Rover is over the liberation of Zambia and not UNIP reign and riots against KK”.
Mbulo’s source added that apart from the Land Rover, the Railway Museum in Livingstone had been neglected despite over K500 million being spent to rehabilitate it.
“The exhibition is nowhere and the wall fence is half done. With the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) assembly coming, it will be a disgrace to take tourists to the historic site which tells the story of the railways in Southern Africa and Mulobezi,” the source told Mbulo.
For his story, Mbulo contacted NHCC east, central director Kagosi Mwamulowe who claimed the current state of the Land Rover tells a story of the time the country was gripped with the riots of the 1990s and must be left that way.
“Its current state tells the story of political riots and the struggle for independence; it is an anti-climax. But let me read the story first and understand the arguments being advanced. I will get back to you,” said Mwamulowe.
From the look of things, Mwamulowe still has not read the said article because he has not yet gotten back to Mbulo, likewise his Executive Director in Lusaka still has not responded to Katungu’s proposal to mend the Land Rover, obviously matters of national heritage take much time, thought, consultation and deliberation to respond to.

Media not exposing positive, artistic side of Africa - expert

By Andrew Mulenga
Prune Helfter-Noah
Paris-based cultural activist, dancer and marketing expert Prune Helfter-Noah says the so-called developed world is ignorant of Africa’s rich and diverse culture because the media simply does not report enough on it and that this situation is the biggest injustice of our times.
“Traveling, reading, watching documentaries, talking to people, I’ve come to realize that there is a whole economic and political reality of Africa that people like me, living in the rich world, are totally ignorant of, not because they knowingly decide to do so, but because this reality is simply not reported in the media nor taught at school,” says Prune who was Promotions Manager at the French Embassy in Japan (Office of Tourism) organizing workshops for French companies and regional tourism offices in Japan from 2003 to 2005, a country in which she lived for 10 years.
 “To me, this situation is both the biggest injustice of our times and the least heard of. Altogether, Ive encountered many artists from Africa and the diaspora, be it in the field of visual or performing arts, who have an extremely creative way to reflect, through the weapon of art on this reality.”
It is this perceived anomaly that prompted her to establish the HOUSE OF AFRICAN ART (HAA!), a Japanese non-profit organization officially recognized in 2011 that intends to showcase the work of African contemporary artists in Japan. The project is currently seeking sponsors, private and public, from Japan and abroad, to open an exhibition and performance space in Tokyo.
“We want to be the bridge that makes possible a large network of organizations sharing the same interest, present a variety of African arts to Japan, to come together and build the first ‘African Cultural Embassy’ in the world,” she says “We will be mainly showcasing living artists from the continent and the diaspora, but also innovative projects put together by Japanese artists inspired by Africa. I am thinking, for example, of the clothes designer Yoshinari Nishio or the choreographer Kota Yamazaki.”
She says in Japan, more than in Europe, Africa is an unknown continent, mostly because of the geographical distance between them. And while some sporadic events are organized to help Japanese people familiarize themselves with African cultures they sometimes tend to focus too much on the so-called uniqueness and exoticness of Africa, and thus reinforce the general public prejudice about the continent.
“The idea of creating a modern and original art space came from the realization that, to be best heard in all their truth, African voices needed to tell their stories with their own words, and what better medium than art to do so?,” she explains “I think shedding light on the positive forces of Africa is vital if we are to change the image of a continent plagued with war and famine that the media have created. I also believe artists enjoy a little bit more freedom than scholars or journalists when it comes to putting into question the dominant discourse about the roots of the current socio-economic situation of many African countries.”
She adds that next year, the 5th edition of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) will be in session and it is the best place to lobby governments to support the arts.
“It (TICAD) was designed as a diplomatic platform for Japan to discuss economic issues with her African partners. Culture does not belong, as such, to the agenda of this meeting, so our objective is to advocate for a change in the agenda setting, so that TICAD can be used as a forum between Japan and African head of states to discuss the creation of an African Cultural Centre in Japan.”
Prune emphasises that Governments should not only support the arts because of the revenue expected by a dynamic creative sector, but also because investing on building the ‘soft power’ of a country can bring a long lasting return on investment, as is best exemplified by the US case, but also, to a lesser extent, by India or Japan in Asia, or Nigeria and South Africa in Africa.
“The artistic sector has multi-fold potentialities as it is not only a political weapon, but also a tool for people from different backgrounds and cultures to connect, and of course a source of revenue for an individual, a community, a country,” she says, also advising the Zambian government not to squander the opportunity of co-hosting next years United Nations World Tourism Organisations.
“It is really important to think in advance of the type of tourism you want to promote, and the kind of image of your country you want to send to the world. And deciding what cultural policy you want to lead should also be a major element of this branding of the country,” says Prune. Apart from being a dancer with Ohashi Kakuya and Dancers (Contemporary Dance Company) in Tokyo, she is also has a hand in fashion and academia. She is Executive Director for Realitism, a multi-sector holding company with a turnover of €3M that handles the Strategic and operational management of Olympia Le-Tan Luxury Bags and Clothes as well as production and sale of art by French and African artists. In 2005, she was also Market Study Coordinator for Louis Vuitton (Luxury Brand) in Paris and Tokyo. She taught Economy and Politics of the European Union at the French Institute in Kyoto in 1999 and 2000 and Relations between France and African countries at Keio University (Shonan Fujisawa Campus), in Tokyo in 2011.