Search This Blog

Monday, 22 December 2014

SADC arts councils could aid regional poverty reduction

By Andrew Mulenga

Southern Africa’s National Arts Councils can collectively play a leading role in building workable and conducive environments where cultural resources can be used for poverty eradication, job creation and significant contributions to national Gross Domestic Products.
This is an assessment springing from two days of robust debate and exchange of ideas at a colloquium entitled Artist Rights and Regional Cooperation in Southern Africa held in Cape Town, South Africa that brought together key players, cultural operators, creative practitioners and government officials from 8 Southern African countries early this month.

AN Secretary General Peter Rorvik observed that 
all stakeholders need to be involved at practitioner, 
public, private and civil society level - (Photo - Grant Williams)
The colloquium was organized by the Arterial Network’s (AN) South African chapter and the continental group’s Artwatch Africa (AWA) creative rights programme. Opening the series of closed door, as well as public sessions that focused on success stories and strategies to raise awareness on the status of the arts, culture and heritage sectors of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), AN Secretary General Peter Rorvik observed that all stakeholders need to be involved at practitioner, public, private and civil society level.

The first session of the colloquium, Cultural Ownership and Artist Rights Administration in Southern African brought to light some success stories from Malawi and Madagascar on artists and creative communities’ ability to benefit from the collection of royalties. Lightwell Kachimba from the Copyright Society of Malawi shared how his country’s musicians – with the aid of a UNESCO collaboration -- are not only benefiting financially from airplay on private and public radio stations but also on how the local music scene can boldly claim that it is in fact a “music industry” as it continuously contributes a growing margin towards the country’s GDP. Deidre Prins, an independent researcher and scholar explained how a community in Madagascar has managed to save an ancient and traditional dance, maintaining its traditional authenticity but also allowing it to adapt and merge with more recent and foreign genres.

In a session on cultural mobility Vis a Vis the mobility of artists and creative products, Daves Ghuza of Zimbabwe, Maswati Dludlu of Swaziland and Yvette Hardie of South Africa discussed the challenges that the sector faces and observed that it was only through lobbying governments on the importance for regional integration within the arts that the sector will be seen to be strengthened as a profitable force to reckon with.

A session entitled The Role of Arts Councils saw three country heads Elvas of the Mari National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, Stanley Dlamini from the Swaziland National Arts and Culture Council and Rosemary Mangope of the National Arts Council of South Africa discuss the role of arts councils in cultural policy development.

Unlike the Zambian situation where arts policy documents have been hanging in the balance of uncertainty, more so with the current political ambiguity in the country towards next month’s presidential by-elections, it was acknowledged that Zimbabwe and South Africa had made considerable progress towards renewing their existing policy documents with the aid of the councils as statutory agencies. While the panel discussed the many ways that arts councils can help support a favorable environment for creativity and development, it is during this session that SA’s Mangope urged artistes to refrain from being “the beggar”, declaring that although they had a right to entitlement, they should not always see themselves as being eligible for funding and assistance, instead they should prove their self-sustainability when they approach councils for funding.

Mangope urged artistes to refrain 
from being “the beggar”
Nevertheless, while overall the colloquium intended to identify only three common themes that would be redrafted as a problem statement, five key points would end up emerging from the discussions that will need “the formulation of concrete actions that can be put into process”:
The first was the SADC cultural desk “The colloquium strongly identified the need to resuscitate the SADC cultural desk as a significant step towards regional exchange in the fields of arts, culture and the creative industries. As Zimbabwe is the current chair of SADC it is proposed that AN Zimbabwe should play a leading role in the process to reinstate the Cultural Desk, and gather momentum before Botswana assumes the chair of the SADC in August 2015.”
The second was cultural exchanges, “The colloquium proposes enhanced focus on cultural exchanges between SADC countries. The reinstating of the SADC Cultural Desk is expected to accelerate and enrich this process. It is envisaged that SADC cultural festivals could also be reinstated.”

The third was revitalising AN National Chapters “While some AN chapters in the region are doing well, it is also recognised that others are not properly functional. In order to strengthen cooperation between countries we need to revitalise national chapters that are lagging behind. AN will explore a range of supportive measures through which the capacity and effectiveness of national chapters can be enhanced.”

The fourth was capacity building, “This links directly with the fore-going point. An evaluation will be undertaken to assess the needs in the respective countries and how best these can be addressed. One contribution to this process will be through various forms of capacity building. AN will seek funding support to accelerate the process.”

National Arts Council regional bodies, “The colloquium identified the need for greater cooperation between the National Arts Councils of the region, suggesting that a regional SADC structure of National Arts Councils will serve such a purpose. Whilst such a process should best be driven by National Arts Councils themselves, AN will play a facilitative role where required.”
AN is arguably the fastest growing network of creative practitioners on the African continent with a good number of success stories at chapter and continental level, having successfully introduced and hosted the African Creative Economy Conference four times. The network was launched in 2007 when delegates from 14 African countries met on Gorée Island, Senegal but it now has official national chapters in 40 countries, however, one can argue that it has perhaps grown too rapidly and may tend to demand too much in terms of perceived activity among individual country chapters.

It is high time that the network collectively took a few steps back to look at how difficult it is to run civil society bodies on the African continent, seeing there is no common pool of funding for each individual chapter, also Africa is not one country and each state is unique with its own policies and commitments towards the arts among other things. 

Also African boarders are not as seamless as Europe’s Schengen countries; take for instance the terribly embarrassing situation that occurred towards the run up to the African Creative Economy Conference in Rabat, Morocco last month. A good number of creative practitioners were unable to attend the conference because of the host country’s excruciatingly restrictive VISA procedures particularly towards fellow African states outside the Arab North. The prohibitive mobility situation appeared to be compounded by the country’s exaggerated Ebola fears; bear in mind this is around the period when the North African Kingdom disgracefully failed to confirm its hosting of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations subsequently attracting a two-tournament ban by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Sunday, 14 December 2014

What’s in a logo?

By Andrew Mulenga

Following the death of incumbent Zambian President Michael Chilufya Sata, the unprecedented presidential by-elections scheduled for 20 January 2015 are in full swing and it is during politically animated moments like this that the public is continuously bombarded with competing political party slogans, colours and branding.

Forum for Democracy and Development
Simple logic suggest that political parties operate on the premise of serving the people, but in order to do this they have to attract the multitudes and obviously when it comes to graphics it would not be advisable to do so by designing a sophisticated emblem that will confuse them, but this is not to say that what is on offer is any easier to read.

Nevertheless, it is also during times such as these when one really gets the opportunity to take a closer look at these party logos. Close scrutiny will show that the emblems of most of the country’s popular political groups (if not all of them) are extremely amateurish by design and execution.

They are obviously formulated in the minds of the political leaders and founders of the parties, individuals and perhaps groups whom possibly have no idea of graphic design but intend to encapsulate their vision in a symbol that can be easily recognised and printed on anything from posters, flags, t-shirts, caps, headed-paper and as seen in more recent times, condoms, as was the case in Rupiah Banda’s presidential failed campaign of 2011.

Movement for Multi-party Democracy
But without isolating any out or casting too much judgement on their aesthetics and of course with all due respect to their creativity, the designers that execute the final work on many of these emblems seem to break all the basic rules of logo design.

First, a logo should not lean too heavily on background colour to lessen the complication of reproduction such as printing in large quantities for black and white newspaper production. Second, the draughtsmanship on all them is pitiable to say the least. Third, a few of them are a little too wordy, with entire slogans and party agendas inserted in them.

Nevertheless, let us forget about judging the professional design of the logos or the creative abilities of those who created them. Let us just have some fun, let us play a game, just for jokes, whether you are a card or panga (machete) carrying member of any of the parties.

Let us look at the logos provided here, we obviously know to whom they belong, but do we all know what they mean or signify? In no particular order of preference or importance, one of them has an open palm set against a yellow backdrop as the main feature,; one has two people in a banana boat with a dove flying towards them, one has a hand with its index finger raise up, one has a valentine or perhaps a heart on the silhouette of an upper human torso, one has a hand bearing a torch whose flame is aglow with the national colours, one of them has its party initials set against the backdrop of the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender (LGBT) flag, or perhaps it is just an ordinary rainbow.

United National Independence Party
Anyway, test yourself, how much do you know about the symbols in your party’s or the next parties logo? If you are on the bus, at home, work, in church or your favourite bar ask the person next to you how well they can interpret a party logo, chances are they cannot, which begs the question, do you really know what these political parties stand for if you do not know what their emblems represent?. Chances too, are that even the collective leadership of Zambia’s political parties cannot interpret their own logos, after all, a good number of them have been members of all parties in existence and may get things messed up along the way.

But also returning to the professional execution of these emblems or lack thereof, something is quite telling. If the logos seen here can pass for good design, it speaks volumes of the party’s care for aesthetically pleasing artwork which in turn suggests a considerable disregard for the visual arts and in turn does any of them really have a vision or passion for the arts beyond hidebound campaign songs. Meanwhile enjoy the guessing game with the logos.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Artists should embrace technology - Chiyesu

By Andrew Mulenga

He may be a graphic designer by profession, but Danny Chiyesu continues to juggle many hats which include those of an art teacher, photographer, painter, illustrator, arts administrator, music producer and magazine editor.

Kuomboka, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
But of late, he has taken a liking to what he calls “digital painting”, which is basically producing computer aided artworks that he at times paints from scratch or composes by manipulating the photographs that he has taken in and around Ndola on the Copperbelt where he lives and works.

Printed on paper or canvas and framed behind glass, the works depict snap shots of street scenes, children at play, traditional dances and ceremonies as well as village and township life.

The single point perspective he applies in the work Firewood Carriers for instance implies movement, a forward motion that sucks viewers into the image giving them the feeling that they are among this group of three women carrying firewood on their heads on a long rural road. This also applies to Memories of Nsobe that depicts a mother and child on a bicycle and a long winding dirt road in the middle of a forest. It references an area outside the city of Ndola where one of the country’s youngest privately owned safari sites was established as Nsobe Game Camp in 2001. Kuomboka, a rendition of the Nalikwanda, the Royal Barge of the Lozi People of Western Province is just a blurry series of smudges and sweeping brush strokes but it is instantly identifiable as the familiar vessel that ferries the Litunga (king) from his compound at Lealui in the floodplains of the Zambezi River to Limulunga on higher ground every year.

“Ever since I moved away from the light table (illuminated desk used for graphic design), dropped the Rotring ink pen, embraced the digital camera and computer, I have never looked back. I have always looked forward and want to move with time. Today I am able to illustrate my comic strip Lole for the Speakout magazine using CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator (software),” explains Chiyesu “I do some of my paintings using computer programmes such as Painter Classic and Adobe Photoshop. I have found digital painting fascinating and fun to do. As a method of creating an art object, it adapts traditional painting medium such as acrylic paint, oils, ink, watercolour, etc. and applies the pigment to traditional carriers, such as woven canvas cloth, paper, and polyester and so on”.

Firewood Carriers, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
Lole (pronounced Lol-ay), is a cartoon character that he developed for Speak Out a long running Catholic funded magazine, a monthly publication mainly targeted at school-going youths that focuses on the inculcation of wholesome lifestyles and spiritual values.

“Lole has been around since 1991. He comes from the name Lawrence. I developed him from my encounters with people I met on the streets”, he says of the popular character who is a staple on the magazines back page.

Chiyesu surely has an advantage of understanding the youthful mind-set because he taught art at Kansenshi Secondary School for close to a decade before he quit to join Mission Press as a full time Graphic Designer in 1999. Among his notable students at Kansenshi he counts Robert Kudlacs an architect now based in South Africa and Nsofwa Bowa the sculptor behind the David Livingstone statues at the Victoria Falls and the Livingston Museum.

But he too looked up to a few artists in his formative years namely Lawrence Yombwe, and his two art lecturers from the defunct Africa Literature Centre (ALC) in Mindolo, Kitwe the late Emmanuel Nsama the artist behind the 44-year old Njase Girls Christian murals in Choma and Aquila Simpasa the enigmatic and legendary artist to whom the original designs of the Freedom statue in Lusaka is attributed.

Memories of Nsobe, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
“I went to ALC because I felt the training I had at Evelyn Hone College was not enough and it was strictly for teaching. Soon after Graduation in 1989, I was offered a job as assistant editor and artist for Speakout. While at ALC we were taught graphic design, photography (shooting and developing), print-making and painting,” explains the artist who holds two diplomas from the mentioned institutions “I emerged Best Student of the 1990-91 intake. The late Bishop Dennis de Jong paid for my studies at ALC but its Lawrence Yombwe a former student of the ALC encouraged me to enrol there, I met him at Evelyn Hone College. By the way, I was in the same class with his wife Aggie together with William Miko”.
He laments the closure of ALC describing it as a sad development for the nation in general and Copperbelt province in particular highlighting the fact that the school attracted students from as far as Canada and India through the World Council of Churches.
“My experience with Mr Nsama was great because it opened my art eyes more than ever...the man was humble and patient, he taught with passion, he led by example, he brought his own works to class for us to see. My painting with oil paint improved i began painting freely. I also enjoyed his print making tuitions,” he recalls of his years at ALC “We did silk screen printing, lino printing, block printing, tie and dye. We enjoyed his stories too, particularly his experiences in Canada. Mr Nsama remained my inspiration even after graduation. We would also meet during the National Arts Council meetings and workshops in Kitwe and Ndola. I was lucky to have met Akwila despite his mental status... he showed us a few tricks here and there.”

Chiyesu is also a co-founder of the Mukuba Arts Awards on the copperbelt, which was helped set into motion by the late art patron and outspoken champion of equal opportunity Father Miha Drevenšek, however, the awards have been facing challenges of late.

Tomatoe Vendors, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
“Mukuba Awards are still on but we could not hold them last year due to lack of funds. Father’s (Miha) demise was a blow to the organization. Sponsors were hard to come by. They range from Mining & hiring companies, mobile phone providers, individual businessmen and NGOs involved in HIV/AIDS. Mission Press has played a big role too,” he says “Father Miha loved the arts so much that he dedicated his life to it. I started the Mukuba Awards alongside my fellow visual artist Davis Sichinsambwe. We told Father about the idea of hosting our own Copperbelt art awards, he was over the moon, and he loved the concept. He wasted no time and looked for sponsors from his friends in Europe. By the way Father died hours after helping organize Rabecca Malope’s show in 2011 in Ndola.”
Nevertheless, as much as the art scene in Ndola is thriving, Chiyesu explains that more needs to be done in terms of support structures for the artists.

“Slowly many people are becoming aware of art than ever before, I can say so far so good but we could do better. We rarely hold exhibitions, ever since the Ndola City Council re-possessed the Village Green amphitheatre, we have had less exhibitions. We depend on other places such as the Savoy and Mukuba Hotels, the International Trade Fair and Castle Lodge. But it is also very tough you rarely get new customers to buy your art,”

Dream Truckers, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
“Shops selling art materials are urgently needed from paper, canvas, paints to brushes. We need art literature. We also need decentralization. Art should not only be centred on Lusaka. The Copperbelt just like many other provinces deserves to have art centres and exhibition galleries built, we also need more art schools and our young artists lack exposure as well.”

For sure, over the years, Ndola has been the home to a good number of prominent artists such as Adam Mwansa, Lawrence Yombwe, Friday Tembo, William Miko, Hughes Mwansa, Tom Mbumba, Jones Muna, Angela Kalunga and the more recent crop of Caleb Chisha and Emmanuel Chibaye proving that the city does have a pulsating spirit of creativity and an art gallery or centre like Chiyesu suggests should be well positioned.

Nevertheless, since 1988, the 48-year-old artist has exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Ndola, Kitwe, Lusaka and Livingstone. His work is featured in the Bank of Zambia, Lechwe Art Trust and the Villa Lucia collections.
As a graphic designer he has also been commissioned to design several logos including those of the Mulungushi University, the Northern Technical College (NORTEC), MARKS Motorways, Aquavita Mineral Water, Ndola Lime Company ltd and the Patents and Companies Registration Agency – Zambia (PACRA). He has also been running a registered art agency called Digital Majik since 2008.

Chiyesu lives the full life of a graphic designer, because by definition, a graphic designer is an art director, interface designer, web designer, layout designer, illustrator, painter, logo designer, photographer and visual journalist all in one. He urges fellow artists, particularly those in signage and outdoor advertising not to shy away from technology.

Danny Chiyesu