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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Kangolo’s bags, furniture and trinkets are tops

By Andrew Mulenga

When jeweller Spider Kangolo was retrenched from the gem company that employed him for several years he was devastated and thought it was the end of the world. But a close friend advised him to capitalise on his creativity and the skills he had acquired.

An assortment of baskets that sell for
anything between K25 (approx. US$3) and K45
However, instead of continuing as a jeweller, seeing he did not have the capital to set up that sort of business, he took to collecting discarded bottle tops, creating them into all sorts of things from earrings to furniture and 15 years down the line he has perfected this skill and has emerged into what is almost a one man manufacturing industry.

“I started in 1998 here in Lusaka this is after I came here from the Copperbelt. I was inspired by Quentin Allen who I used to work with on the Copperbelt when I was a jeweller. But for what I’m doing now first I started with making waste paper bins then I started making anything, hats, and chairs lamp shades”, says Kangolo who has just been on the phone with a client from Livingstone, a backpacker’s lodge that ordered 10 lounge chairs.

He explains that although he does not have any staff working for him, he has an apprentice that helps him puncture the bottle tops that are collected every Monday for small fee from a number of bars and restaurants with which he has an agreement

The bar stools are among
the most popular of his products
“All I use is soft wire, just different sizes depending on what I am making whether earrings or fruit bowls and so on. The designs are also my own, I sketch them first and take these to a welder who does my frames when I’m doing furniture like bar stools which are the most popular”, he says.

He explains that he sells the bar stools for K200 but some of his clients that get them on wholesale are known to sell them for about double the price but this does not bother him.
“Business like any other has its ups and downs but yes otherwise I’m used I am managing. In the crafts market September and October is quite bad, but by the end of this month and up to December it is good because people start buying gifts for Christmas and the end of year,” he explains.

“But I also want to expand into something big because I don’t think I can manage the orders alone if you look at what happened recently someone just approached me to do 40 chairs and I spend about 4 hours on one bar stool and every bar stool takes about 220 bottle tops, so it is a lot of work and sometimes I work around the clock,” says Kangolo.

Kangolo has not invented the use of bottle tops for use in crafts at all but he has taken it to another level making very high quality products and raising standards. Although this kind of craft is common in South Africa and Zimbabwe, he appears to be the only one doing it consistently and so skilfully in Zambia which is why he is getting commissions from as far as Livingstone. One can only hope he manages to expand his workshop and further train his apprentices so that his company can grow and he can probably employ more youths helping to contribute towards job creation and poverty reduction.

His earrings, pen holders, bar stools and basket handbags can all be purchased from selected craft outlets such as Ababa House on Addis Ababa Road, the Art Academy without Walls in the Lusaka showgrounds from where he sometimes operates or the Sunday market at Arcades, and since it is that time of the year, why not visit one of these places and surprise a friend, or loved one with something unusually Zambian. 

Kangolo - December is usually good
because people start buying gifts for Christmas

Monday, 14 December 2015

David Chibwe: painter, printmaker extraordinaire

By Andrew Mulenga

There are a few artists in Zambia that can boast the consistency of David Chibwe, a painter and printmaker that has been active on the Lusaka art scene for well over 40 years, surviving on nothing but the coaching and production of art alone.

Akalela dance,  acrylic on canvas,
by David Chibwe
As focused and uninterrupted as his illustrious career may appear, it started on a rather flippant note when in 1970 as a teenager he left his parents’ home in Lubumbashi, Congo where his father, a Zambian missionary lived for many years.

“When I left the Congo I never went to see my relatives in Zambia, it was an adventure I didn’t even have money for transport but my friend sponsored me. We arrived in Ndola and were supposed to catch a train to Lusaka, by then it was 1 kwacha 18 ngwee per passenger but we only had 2 kwacha,” he recalls.

Luckily Chibwe had a box of watercolours, then they stumbled upon Kingston’s, a popular  stationary shop at the time, seeing the array of brushes, tubes and paper, the excited youths decided to invest.

“I told my friend let’s use the little money we had, when I convinced him we bought assorted material, and went to sit in the park next to the museum, we sat on the benches and I started making small abstract paintings, it was just after new year we were very young and a bit hung-over from a late night,” he recollects wearing a mischievous smile.

David Chibwe working at his home
in Kaunda Square Stage 1, Lusaka, Zambia
“We sold my paintings for two kwacha each, then we went to Savoy Hotel, I sat outside and started making some more, my friend was doing the selling and we ended up making over 30 kwacha which was a lot of money, we were still in the New Year mood so we went to a bar called the Under Tavern at Broadway”.

Having had their fun, the lads eventually managed to catch the train. When he got to Lusaka, Chibwe was able to locate his sister’s friend in Kamwala who took him in. He wasted no time and started selling, his paintings in Madras and Long acres.
“I used to sell door-to-door, I made allot of money, but four months later I went back to Lubumbashi and stayed there for 6 months before coming back to Lusaka,” he says “But in 1972 I met Edwin Manda, a famous actor who was also in charge of running the National Dance Troupe under the Cultural Services Department. He used to take them all over the world to perform but when he saw my work he gave me a job too.”
It was Manda that offered him a place at the Kabwata Cultural Village alongside craftsmen but then he [Manda] thought that it was not the place for the ambitious young Chibwe, who after all had undergone some formal art training at the Athens Royal School Likasi in 1964, the Academies of Fine Arts in 1967 and Artistic Humanities Des Beaux Arts, Lubumbashi, 

Less than a dollar a day, acrylic
on canvas, David Chibwe
Democratic Republic of Congo in 1969. He was clearly a cut above the rest.
“When Henry Tayali came back from studies in Germany, Mr Manda introduced me. Also Mr Tayali told me that the cultural village was no place for me,” he says.
It is Tayali who introduced him to the Art Centre Foundation (ACF) at the Evelyn Hone College, where he started working with Patrick Mweemba and Fackson Kulya until they were joined by the Choma-based, Dutch artist Bert Witkamp, Style Kunda and the youngest member of the group Vincentio Phiri. In fact in its day, under the leadership of Cynthia Zukas MBE and the late Bente Lorenz, the ACF was so organized it would host discussions every Thursday where they would invite and engage non-artists and key members of society.

 “We would just sit and talk about art, we even used to invite people like medical doctors and lawyers, so one doctor even gave us a contract to decorate the children’s wing at the University Teaching Hospital when we convinced him that art is therapeutic,” remembers the artist.

Dance to the rythm, acrylic on canvas,
by David Chibwe
Chibwe would later become a founder member of the Lusaka Artists Group which was operating under the Art Centre Foundation, but he explains the group was short lived because it was like having an organisation within an organisation.
He remembers the late 1970s and the early 1980s as being the golden age of art collection in Zambia; these are the days of the defunct Mpapa Gallery founded by Joan Piltcher with Heather Montgomery, Ruth Bush, Gwenda Chongwe and Zukas as board members.

“Mpapa Gallery were very strict and they did not just display anyone or anything, it is not like nowadays at the Visual Arts Council where the gallery is just showing anything,” he declares taking a swipe at the VAC run Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka show grounds.

“In the 80s there was also an Indian who came to the Evelyn Hone College, he is the one who thought of commercialising the artists workshop he thought we should do silk screen, so we went to Lumumba Road and from there we started printing seed bags for Zamseed, but this guy was also a drug dealer he ended up being arrested at Bombay airport and the project died,” he adds.

Market place, acrylic on canvas, by David Chibwe
From his tales in the 1980s he also suggests that when there was a change of government at the turn of the decade those who came into power were simply not interested in art and this was a serious downturn.

“When the new president and cabinet do not appreciate art then that’s the end, there are very few Zambian ministers or even businessmen that can buy a painting from you today, not even for K1, 000 (one thousand kwacha) when you tell them the price they say ah! Even prominent black buyers like Mr Kapotwe it is just because he worked with Mr Sardanis for a very long time”, he alleges.

Vendors, linocut, by David Chibwe
For the most part, Chibwe has had a very illustrious career, enjoying significant commissions over the years. His linocut prints and paintings have been collected all over the world. Perhaps in the evening of his career, he now intends to retire to a small holding in Chongwe where he will teach and produce art, known for knocking from door to door seeking funding for the project proposal intended for an art village he tends to build there. It is sad to note however, that something does not add up, at 66 he appears to be older than he should; he is clearly stretching himself to make ends meet as well as get his project going. One feels he could have done better for himself than wait until he is not getting any younger and visibly weary, but such is life. Unlike many western countries that have retirement packages for aging artists, this is far from being a reality in Zambia.

Nevertheless, Chibwe remains a maestro, one of the Zambian greats his rhythmic brushstrokes still blend perfectly with his musical subject matter as can be seen in the paintings Akalela Dance and Dance to the Rhythm. The soft colour palette and mildly blurred visual effects that lend the artist his signature style will continue to charm us for ages. He lives and works from his home in Kaunda Square stage 1. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

VAC presents ‘Custodians’, all-star end of year fundraiser

By Andrew Mulenga

The Custodians”, an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by top contemporary Zambian artists opens at 17:30 hrs on Friday 20th November at the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka Show Grounds.

The Visual Arts Council of Zambia (VAC) will be presenting a show that comprises a body of work staging multiple themes while cultivating an explicit relationship between the present and the past by pitting some of Zambia’s greats, living and deceased alongside works by a younger crop of artists with great promise, as part of a fundraiser. As such, VAC will be charging a K20 entrance fee for the opening event, which of course will be characterised by an open wine and snack bar.

Custodians, a group exhibition opens on
Friday this week. Photo by Andrew Mulenga
The exhibition marks an important and new step in proving that as a space, the Henry Tayali Gallery and visual arts centre plays a fundamental role in offering testimony that against many odds, the country indeed has a flourishing visual arts scene and committed artists who are worthy of support, a point that is critical as definite political will is at long last on the horizon, vis-à-vis support for the arts from government – if of course President Edgar Lungu’s recent remarks and visit to the gallery are anything to go by.

Just a year ago, VAC hosted a similar group exhibition entitled “Visibility (can you see us?)”, well that show’s title was self-explanatory, it was a call by the gallery co-ordinators beckoning private and public stakeholders in the visual arts, a call for support particularly of a financial nature, which has been dwindling over the years since the main foreign donor agencies and their government began tightened their budgets and shifting their aide focus for various reasons. The Custodians, nevertheless, is an equally important show, assuming now that VAC’s visibility has somewhat improved, it is really time for its members, paid-up and non-paid up to put their house in order.

Over the years, the institution has been blemished by infantile bickering and finger pointing with accusations of individuals feeling they “own” VAC more than the next member as well as claims favouritism and opposing camps within the ranks, all this must come to an end if the council is to move forward as a unified body.

Flashback - the main exhibition space in
the Henry Tayali Gallery and
visual art centre, Lusaka © VAC
When a call out is sent to all artists to pay up membership, they must all comply, when they are all called to an Annual General Meeting, they should all do likewise and attend. Someone wise once said strength is in numbers, can you imagine if every single Zambian visual artist were up to date on their annual subscriptions, the funds would definitely go a long way in paying the gallery staff as well as the building rentals to the show society for VAC, Lusaka. Currently VAC demands a small amount of K50 for individuals and K150 for institutional membership, these figures are almost a joke to any practicing Zambian artist regardless of the hard economic times, if anything VAC should consider increasing the fee to K150 for individuals and K1, 500 for institutions, if you do the maths there will be no more delayed salaries for art centre staff in Livingstone, Lusaka, Kitwe or Chipata. Also, if all the visual artists get actively involved in the council, they are bound to have a stronger voice and will be heard whenever they call for something. As for art students from the Zambia Open University and Evelyn Hone College, these institutions should make it mandatory for each and every student to be a paid up member – at a special students rate of course – school pupils and art clubs should be encouraged to join and told of the benefits of being affiliated to a professional body of artists.

On the other hand, returning to The Custodians it is gratifying to note that among the featured artists, the gallery co-ordinators decided to include the late Martin Phiri. Phiri is arguably the most unacknowledged contemporary Zambian artist of his generation, which is quite regrettable considering the artist’s legacy. Truth be told, without him there would be no VAC at all, it is Phiri whom as a young lecturer at Evelyn Hone College in his late twenties elbowed his way into a high-profile cultural policy meeting chaired by Lazarus Tembo, the late singer who was also a government minister overseeing Labour and Social services at the time. Phiri, who had just returned from China where he had obtained a BA Fine Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and was obviously inspired by the students uprising of that country, argued that the cultural policy that was being created lacked visual arts representation and demanded he be given a month to organize artists and create a nationwide, professional body. Along with three of his students, William Miko, Harry Kamboni and Agnes Buya Yombwe, they were able to pull off this immense task and mobilize close to 100 artists from all over the country to gather for a meeting at the Evelyn Hone College, this was the birth of VAC, mind you this was way before the e-mail and cell phone era. This is not to say Phiri has been entirely forgotten, of course the VAC offices in Chipata are named in his honour, but the man at least deserves a retrospective show to bring awareness to his contribution and work.

In any case, The Custodians is set to be an entertaining event, other artists featured in the show are Zenzele Chulu, Lombe Nsama, Adam Mwansa, Agnes Buya Yombwe, Chansa Chishimba, Charles Chambata, Danny Lwando, David Chibwe, Eddie Mumba, Mwamba Mulangala, Stary Mwaba, Sydney Siansangu, Nukwase Tembo, Patrick Mweemba, Patrick Mumba, Poto Kabwe Flinto Chandia, Gladys Kalichini, Lawrnence Yombwe, William Miko, Lutanda Mwamba, Raphael Mutulikwa, Vincentio Phiri, Mulenga Mulenga and Geoffrey Phiri. 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

What does the ‘Afrofuturism’ spirit mean to Zambia today?

By Andrew Mulenga

Athletes are always said to fly their nations flags high during the course of their endeavours, certainly the Zambia National Football team did so when they won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the Zambia National Polocrosse team did so when they reached the world cup finals this year, sprinter Sydney Siame did it with a good performance at the 2015 World Championships in Athletics in Beijing, and the Phiri’s Esther and Catherine – no relation – do it whenever they face an international opponent in the boxing ring.

Tribute to the Afronauts 2015, mixed media,
251 x 192 cm by Stary Mwaba
With due respect to these outstanding flag-carriers, it can be argued that only an artist has the ability to fly the national flag higher than them, well figuratively, an artist has the ability to place the flag on the moon or mars and this is exactly what Lusaka-based artist Stary Mwaba did -- while he was in attending a one-year residency through a grant by KfW Stiftung for the International Studio Programme at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin -- by creating work inspired by the late Zambian visionary Mukuka Nkoloso.
Berlin art critic and author, Kito Nedo gave a stimulating account of Mwaba’s work from his solo exhibition Life on Mars that was published in the high-profile contemporary German art magazine BE shortly after the exhibition in early 2015.  Life on Mars was the culmination of a series of exhibitions that started with a show at the Lusaka National Museum in 2014.

“With respect to the space race, a definite ‘grand narrative’ has become dominant in the west: in the 1950s and 60s, the Soviet Union and the USA competed to achieve the first manned flight into space. On 12th April 1961 the Russians won a successful propaganda victory at this stage with Yuri Gagarin. But that – as the assemblage-images and installations by Zambian artist Stary Mwaba indicate -- is only part of the story,” writes Nedo

“It is largely unknown in the west that Zambia was also part of the space race in the 60s: close to the capital city Lusaka there was a very ambitious space flight program led by Mukuka Nkoloso, a translator, teacher and independence fighter honoured today as the father of Afrofuturism.”

The Spaceship (D KALO-15), 2015
mixed media installation 235 x 130 x 120
cm by Stary Mwaba
Now, in case you were wondering, “Afrofuturism” is a term generally accepted to embody a literary and cultural aesthetic that gained ground among the African American creative community through the 1990s particularly made popular by artistes such as the jazz musician Sun Ra. In recent times popular groups like the Black Eyed Peas have been known to dabble in Afrofutristic nuances and imagery in their dress as well as music videos which often combine elements of science fiction with an “African” twist. Zimbabwean-born writer Panashe Chigumadzi describes Afrofuturism as “a cultural movement that increasingly reflects the current mood of optimism about the political and economic future of the continent. This, as I’ve discovered, is an important genre.” Anyway, on the African continent however, a good number of visual artists’ work has been labelled afrofutristic such as Wangechi Mutu and Cyrus Kabiru of Kenya, South African comic-book artist Loyiso Mkize and Zimbabwe-born Gerald Machona whose work Ndiri Afronaut (I am an afronaut) gained him international acclaim. But in any case it is interesting that the beginning of this movement should be attributed to Zambia and Nkoloso in particular as Nedo points out, after all Nkoloso did coin the term Afronaut which again Cristina de Middel a photographer and artist from the United Kingdom borrowed for her 2012 book The Afronauts, described as “a photobook about the short-lived Zambian space program in Southern Africa.”

Nevertheless, there is perhaps no such thing is claiming sole ownership of a philosophy but to a large extent Mwaba’s recent show was an attempt to reclaim not only Zambia’s positions in the space race but also the nation’s slot in inspiring contemporary African thought. That said, Nedo points out that archival images from the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy, which Nkoloso founded on a farm outside Lusaka, hugely inspired the Mwaba’s work, and he also asks a pertinent question of what Afrofuturism means to Zambia today.

“What does that past Afrofuturism spirit of departure mean to Zambia today? He is also interested in the aesthetic-political content of the Nkoloso programme: its assertion of African space travel conjures a powerful counter-image to the dominant colonial narrative, which sees Africa merely as a backward, chaotic, low-tech part of the world”, observes Nedo.

Title unknown, 2014 mixed media on canvas
170 x 129 cm by Stary Mwaba
“It is easy to view the academy as some kind of joke. But in the country that had declared its independence from the United Kingdom on 24th October 1964, such utopian efforts were part of post-colonial euphoria. The cradle of the Afronaut movement lay in Lusaka: today pioneering figures like Nkoloso still electrify artists with an Afrofuturism tendency”.

Zambia fell out of the space race after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on 21 July 1969, this thwarted Nkolosos plan to get the 17-year-old Afronoaut Matha Mwambwa and two cats on the moon before the Russians and the Americans.

Still, a closer look at Mwaba’s featured work will show concur that the artist has once again managed to transform himself making him a hard act to follow. In Lusaka, he is largely know as a painter, but in Berlin he showed some collages, and three dimensional mixed media installations among them The Spaceship (D KALO 15) inspired by Nkoloso’s spaceship, what is perhaps most important is that Mwaba is an artist of a humble academic background, but he was able to marry his recent practical work with complex conceptual notions which worked well for the Berlin crowd that is more accustomed to this type of theory-based work.

But this along with many other of Mwaba’s successes over the years is in itself problematic. Because he has managed to penetrate the global arena with no training except the apprenticeship he underwent with the late Lutanda Mwamba in his formative years, he remains an internationally exposed, workshop-trained artist who fuels the notion that academic training is not a prerequisite for success in the art world. While this is true to Mwaba and many other artists around the world, the fact remains that academic training is undeniably necessary for an artist in today’s global art world, just because Mwaba has made it does not mean everyone else should take the same route. Academic qualifications are not only a safe thing to have as an artist but with the impending streamlining of the creative sector in Zambia, one can imagine those with ‘papers’ stand a better chance at receiving artists grants, getting jobs within the industry and so on. Academic training also opens the mind to analytical thinking which can become useful in informing an artist’s work to a higher level.

Mwaba is arguably the most successful artist of his generation and certainly one of the most influential, as early, as 2008 he was selling up to K100, 000 (K100 Million old currency) in single shows which was a record on Zambian soil, he was only 31 at the time, and from his studio space in Lusaka promising artists such as David Makala, Mapopa Manda, Montford Chinunda and his own brother Ng'andwe Mwaba of all passed through his apprenticeship. It can be speculated that inspired by Mwaba none in this group has indicated any interested in formal training beyond artists workshops, this is perhaps because they have been inspired by an artist who is enjoying a run of success without it. (For further reading on Mwaba’s 2014 show, see Mwaba’s ‘Going To Mars’ sends Cheshire children over the moon on 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The charming strokes of Zambian painter, Raphael Chilufya

By Andrew Mulenga

From the tender age of 10, Luanshya-born painter Raphael Chilufya’s restless imaginative spirit indicated that he was on a one way path to become an outstanding artist. Creativity was his itch and art was his scratch.

Swing (oil on canvas), by Raphael Chilufya
“I could not control myself when I was a young boy, I just had to draw with anything, on anything, the walls, the road, even in my school books, from the time I had access to pencils,” he says.

But he began to take art seriously while in grade four at Kansumbi Primary School except it was only two years later while in grade six that all his friends yelled out his name when a call for entries to an art competition was announced during assembly. He entered and eventually won this competition and never looked back.

“But really it was when I went to Roan Antelope Secondary School (RASS) which had a very strong art foundation that I was inspired, because I was introduced to new techniques and materials,” he says “When I finished school, I came to Lusaka immediately that was in 1985, my dad was retired and my mother a bread winner passed away. I was given a job by Mrs Musakanya and I had to manage her fleet of buses, but I wasn’t too happy.”
He was not happy because managing a transport business meant waking up at ungodly hours to be on the ground with the fleet as well as spending long hours at an accounts desk, managing figures; this meant he had not time to practice his true vocation.

Own Market (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
“I was glad to discover the Central African Correspondence College from Zimbabwe which allowed me distance learning, so I enrolled in a course and struggled to do art and work with buses as at the same time. Then Evelyn Hone College launched a two year graphic design course and I quit work and enrolled in 1992 because it demanded that I should be there full time,” he says.

Upon graduation in 1995 he joined the industry and worked for a string of printing houses and creative establishments among them Mojo Press, Piltcher Graphics and Moore Pottery, during this period the newly formed Zambia National Visual Arts Council (VAC) was in need of new members  Chilufya got involved in mobilizing recruitments through the Imiti Ikula (growing trees) project for younger members alongside notable artists such as  Geoffrey Phiri, current VAC vice-chairman  Zenzele Chulu, and current chairman  Mulenga Chafilwa as well as artist turned journalist Ms Diana Mulilo.

Middle of Nowhere (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
“Although I had a job, as the younger group at VAC, we couldn’t afford or find materials so we were usually helped by the likes of  Godfrey Setti,  William Miko and also s Zukas helped us with money because we used to sleep at the Henry Tayali gallery and vowed never to shut its doors like a police station,” he recalls.

Eventually their beloved workspace at the gallery was turned into a restaurant by new management and the  Imiti Ikula group also outgrew their alliance for independent careers in the visual arts, some joining teaching practice, others choosing their own personal space while  Chilufya decided to head south for inspiration. His venture took him to Mbabane, Swaziland where he successfully held shows at and Indingilizi Art & Craft Gallery.

Left Behind  (oil on canvas)
He moved on to South Africa where he was offered a contract with a black empowerment corporation in Limpopo but could not stay long because it demanded that he work for two years before he could come home to Zambia and marry his fiancé and settle with her there.  Chilufya retuned to Zambia from his foreign adventures after 2002, settled down married his fiancé and returned to practicing as an artist in Lusaka.

Describing himself as a “social environment observer”, he remains one of the country’s finest figurative oil painters of everyday life and his style can easily be identified by the hazy character of his brush strokes and soft palette which could probably be described in fine art terms as a cross between Scumbling and Sfumato.

He has been widely collected both locally and overseas, his works can be viewed or purchased from the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka show grounds or Twaya Art Gallery at Intercontinental Lusaka. 

(The print version of this article was first published in the August 2014 edition of Zambia’s Bulletin & Record magazine under the title The wandering artist as social environment observer).

Child (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilfya
Big Advice (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya
House Wife (oil on canvas) by Raphael Chilufya

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Flickers of hope for the arts in Zambia

By Andrew Mulenga

Shortly after President Edgar Lungu took office early this year, an inquiry was put forth in this column, under the headline “Is Edgar for the arts?”

Very little was known about the president at the time be it his personal character or his plans for the country. As for the arts, the speculation was worse as to whether he would consider them like his predecessor and mentor Michael Sata whose legacy, the realignment of the Tourism and Arts Ministry and the Arts, Culture and Heritage Commission Bill was a huge step forward, that gave hope to notions of a legitimate creative sector with the trappings of a national budgetary allocation and job creation.

But in August, seven months down the line, the President appeared to give the arts a first flicker of hope during a trip to Botswana where the Zambia Daily Mail’s Steven Mvula reported that the president had observed that the Zambian art scene was sterile.

“Zambia is lagging behind in terms of arts and theatre. The creative industry can give our women and youths a decent living. NAC is no longer doing what it is supposed to be doing. That is my own assertion. But we will be sitting down with colleagues and ensure that bickering comes to an end. We will see to it that the issues that are making the Council not deliver are sorted out,” stated Mvula quoting the president’s response to a question while the head of state was addressing Zambian’s based in Botswana.

On Friday, 18th September, a month later, the president was making his official speech for the opening of the National Assembly in Parliament; of course politics being what they are, the speech was hauled over the coals by the opposition and critics, cited as empty and unworkable rhetoric in the midst of an ailing economy and the soaring cost of living that accompanies it. But surprisingly somewhere in this alleged drivel, he kept his word on looking into to the issue of the country’s shambolic state of the arts, giving the subject prominence, and likewise giving the artistic community another flicker of hope.

“The Minister responsible for Tourism and Arts will bring to this House the Arts, Culture and Heritage Bill aimed at harmonising institutional arrangements in arts, culture and heritage to reduce overheads and promote cost effectiveness,” read his speech in part.
In a segment where he announced that he had directed the Secretary to the Cabinet to ensure continuous improvement to institutionalised pubic services, President Lungu declared that arts, culture and heritage, despite having economic potential as sectors had either been “overlooked by policymakers or inadequately addressed with piecemeal or traditional approaches”, and that this had created challenges in coordination, planning and resource allocation.

“Consequently, opportunities have largely not been effectively utilised in not only creating a vibrant national identity, but also in tapping into a sector that can contribute meaningfully to our economic growth and major contributor to the job or career market,” read the speech.
The speech pointed out that his predecessor directed the Ministry of Tourism and Arts to establish a National Arts, Culture and Heritage Commission as a directive that was intended to accelerate the creative industry’s contribution to economic development.
“In this regard, the repeal of the National Arts Council of Zambia ACT, No. 31 of 1994, is fundamental to the successful implementation of the directive. I am happy to inform you Mr Speaker, and Honourable Members, that my government with the input of stakeholders in the creative industry, has worked hard to produce the draft culture and heritage bill which will be brought to your attention before the end of the year.

“This house has already supported the initial funding to create a national arts, culture and heritage commission as reflected in the 2015 budget in which an amount of K3, 500,000 was approved by this parliament for this purpose. The newly created commission will improve the coordination, administration and management of the arts, culture and heritage sector in this country” read the section of the speech under the title Arts, Culture and Heritage.
But a month after his speech in parliament, the president gave the arts a third flicker of hope when on 17 October he officially opened the National Art Exhibition at the Henry Tayali Gallery and signed the visitors book, in it, leaving remarks that tally with his parliamentary speech.

“Let’s create a living for our people out of their talents by making art an economic activity”, wrote President Lungu, stamped and dated “H.E. Mr. Edgar C. Lungu, President, and Republic of Zambia”.

Well, at long last, there finally seems to be quantifiable political will towards supporting the arts, complete with a presidential stamp of approval, the pursuit of this approval of which has been a hymn for the past decade in this column, giving a voice to the many individuals that have incessantly campaigned for this direction. No doubt there is jubilation particularly in the visual arts community as they have often felt the most neglected in terms of private or public sponsorship compared to their counterparts in music, film, fashion, theatre and the literary arts.

But as artistes across the creative field await the bill to be passed, it must be noted that government sanctioned support may bring along its own problems. If you look at all the three instances mentioned here Botswana, Parliament and the Henry Tayali Gallery, the President is talking livelihood vis-à-vis job creation and he is also talking figures, which means money, all of which are a sound recipe for greed. It can be argued that greed and not necessarily the lack of sanctioned support has been an impediment in Zambian arts administration at every level for a very long time where we individuals who have personalized the respective arts governing bodies that they oversee and have created miniature empires in them, these are individuals who do not see anything beyond the next workshop allowance or foreign conference that benefits no one but themselves. So instead of just a name change and reshuffling of these bodies into so-called commissions, there will be need for an absolute overhaul, or purge for lack of a better term.

Nevertheless, for the creative sector to be fully functional as a player in the country’s economy as seems to be the President’s vision, there will be need for infrastructure. Zambia has no national theatre, no national gallery, youth art centres for developing talent and the two major universities do not regard the arts as a field of academic study. Zambia has no gallerists, no curators, no arts agents and no arts scholars to critique the arts after all the arts are developed by professional and academic evaluation. The sector is going to need training and qualified staff if things are going to work, the sector will also need proper professional regulation where only registered artistes will be eligible for grants and opportunities to avoid a free-for-all, “sangwapo” situation that may defeat the indispensable purpose of professionalism.

It was written in this space just a couple of weeks ago that in Germany, the city of Berlin alone generates an annual income of over 700 million euro and has 6,600 employees, well this of course is not by accident, there are more than 400 galleries and over 2,600 active companies within the Berlin art world, so investment in infrastructure is inevitable. It was also mentioned that Art school graduates as well as individuals who work in the creative industries are eligible for a wide range of financial assistance from the German government and that merely the show of a university degree from an art school officially guaranteed you to be labelled a “professional” artist meaning artistic grants and scholarships be benefited from the state, applying for a government grant is the equivalent of applying for a job. Ultimately by so doing, the German government was enviably tackling a thread of unemployment. In Germany all arts funding is administered on two levels, municipal and state. This is because through research, it has been observed that local arts administrator know the interests of their communities better, they also know the quality and needs of the artists who live there. It should also be mentioned that most of Berlin’s art does not stay in the city or in Germany it is exported to the global art, London, New York, Paris and so on, similarly, the world’s major galleries have found a hunting ground for young talent in the city, which also attracts foreign young artists.

Of course the German model might sound like a very foreign, first-world and extravagant example but it is testimony that investing in the arts, both through infrastructure and education can provide fruitful results.

Unquestionably, the placing of infrastructure and the restructuring of higher education to make the sector viable may be a long term project, but as soon as government policy falls in to place to fund the arts, the first and most straightforward things to do is launch annual international arts fairs and invite the world to participate, this would not only help showcase Zambia to the world – which also seems to be the presidents concern – but it will also fill hotels, guest houses, sell out car hire companies and fill the pockets of the tour guides instantaneously.

It has been done before and can be done again, all that was required was the political will. Indeed, Zambia may not have the expertise at the moment but neither did it have the expertise when it held the International Art Exhibition or National Exhibition of Art and Culture in 1964. As highlighted recently, coming from a restrictive academic system towards locals, as a new nation, Zambia did not yet have academically trained artists or curators in, so Frank McEwen from the Rhodes National Gallery in Salisbury, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was brought in to put up the display. Modern art giants like Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and Henry Moore were his personal friends and he often shipped their work to Rhodesia for temporary display, so bringing such a character in was no mean achievement.

Of course 50 years down the line we do have capable Zambians that have been doing and are still doing an outstanding work under the circumstances, but the ability to hang paintings in a gallery does not make one a curator, one does not just wake up and label themselves a curator as much as one does not wake up and say I am a chef, a doctor, an accountant or a pilot. Unfortunately the job demands a lot of things like the scholarly formulation of artistic themes and the meticulous selection of work not to mention the publishing of opinion shaping exhibition catalogues that can be presented as scholarly literature at any international art symposium, museum, gallery or in a university library. The problem is that as Zambians we have the habit of betraying the truth by not admitting when we do not know what we are doing.

In 2013, again as published in this column, Angola was in a similar position as Zambia is today, virtually unchartered territory on the global art scene, eager to introduce itself the Angolan Government through the Ministry of Culture hired Stefano Rabolli Pansera, an Italian curator to work with a local team and sponsored a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which is considered the Olympics or World Cup of contemporary art. The Angola pavilion was in the Cini Palace alongside the heavyweights, Germany, France and Denmark to name a few. Much to the world’s amazement, Angola stole the show and was honoured with the coveted Golden Lion Award for the best pavilion, making it the first sub-Saharan country to do so defying the odds against some very stiff competition. The Angolan artist Edson Chagas who was featured in the space used it as a launching pad and is now booked all year round at international galleries, art fairs and museums, flying his country’s flag high.

If Angola can do it, so can Zambia. Zimbabwe too has been in attendance for the past three years spearheaded by Chief Curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Raphael Chikukwa who is just next door for consultation. If Zambia is to re-launch herself to the world through arts and culture, Venice 2017 will be a good starting point, there is ample time to prepare, and answering that February question, perhaps President Lungu is for the arts, but in the words of Dennis Liwewe, “let's wait and see!” 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The artist as political commentator

By Andrew Mulenga

(This story was first published in The Bulletin & Record Magazine - Zambia in 2014)

Not all visual artists are stimulated by notions of beauty or inspired to mind-numbingly repeat in pictures what their patrons and viewers would want to lap up.

Donchi Kubeba, 2013 (mixed media)
by Mapopa Manda
Some function on another plane, informing their art production with the inequalities and prohibitions that can be made visible by observing the daily lives of the electorate in comparison to that of the rulers they vote into power.

In Zambia, this type of artist is rare; often taking the trouble-free stance of keeping away from politics, our artists tend to restrict their focus to delicate social commentary which can easily go unnoticed if not explained by the creators themselves.

Perhaps a wise position considering they are always scouring for public patronage hoping of being subsidized by government someday, so it is sensible to avoid biting the fingers before they feed you, whether this day will come or not .

Nevertheless, there is a young rabblerousing Lusaka artist, Mr Mapopa Manda who has cast his fears to the wind and speaks his creative mind with regards his views on politics to the extent that a few times his works have been rejected in exhibitions for being too politically charged and his favourite subject is no other than the president.

“My themes are based on current affairs in line with politics. We cannot all be painting market and village scenes just because this is what the Martin Phiri’s and Henry Tayali’s (two of the founding fathers of contemporary Zambian art) used to do” says Mr Manda who believes his commentary stands for something. “It took me almost two years to discover my rhythm. I’ve developed a mock newspaper style,” he says.

Independence 2013 (mixed media)
by Mapopa Manda
The mock newspapers resemble front pages. He uses a combination of paint and collage, cutting out actual newspaper editorials, text or headlines and sticking them on to the canvases.

He uses The Times of Zambia because he believes it represents Zambia’s political history, whereas he links The Post to controversy and the Daily Mail everyday issues.

He often depicted Zambia’s late President Michael Sata clad in military uniform with grim facial features that project him as a no nonsense authoritarian. Manda intends to push his creativity to the limits and interrogate issues such as the “90 days” election promises.
 “I want to be extradited at some point through my work and I don’t restrict my commentary to Zambia, I have done a version of The Spear after the painting by the South African artist”, he says in reference to a controversial painting by Cape Town based Brett Murray that depicted the South African president Jacob Zuma bearing all. In his version however Zuma covers himself with a newspaper that has a picture of The Spear.
But Mr Manda does not restricted his troublemaking to the canvas. He is known for causing a ruckus during art meetings and workshops where he speaks his mind.

Plot 1, 2012 (acrylic, collage on canvas)
by Mapopa Manda
“I have a problem with arts administrative bodies, I feel like we have been recycling leaders who do not know a thing about art. The National Arts Council has been a failure, an organisation can’t be run by the same people for 10 years,” he points out “The same thing applies to the Zambia Visual Arts Council (VAC), I think we need new leadership, young and energetic guys like me. VAC doesn’t have direction, even in the past all the leaders have only been there to spearhead their own interests that’s according to my own informal research it’s time for young people to rule”.

He does not mind the criticism and censorship he has faced by fellow artists and proclaims one day he will make it big, if not in Zambia then abroad, citing the adage that prophets are never appreciated in their own land.

Lusaka-based artist,
Mapopa Manda
”I have even been labelled a trouble maker, but I don’t mind. I will be a star someday, yes in fact I believe artists belong on the red carpet too, I want to be a celebrity artist,” he adds, which is not unachievable. Artists do get to achieve celebrity status such as the high flying American artists Andy Warhol or Jean-Michel Basquiat, the latter even having dated the singer Madonna at the height of her popularity. Locally we had artists such as Akwila Simpasa whom when outside Zambia mingled with the likes of rock stars Jimmy Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Eddie Grant.

It is still early days in the career of the 31 year old, but Mr Manda is full of energy and coupled with a prolific work ethic these are winning formulas, along with his astute political eye, the art scene is yet to see the best of him.

He has not been formally trained as an artist although he underwent some apprenticeship with the prominent Zambian painter Stary Mwaba. He  has been creative since a tender age but was inspired to take up art after watching the biographical movies Vincent and Theo and The Agony and the Ecstasy about the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh and the Italian renaissance master Michelangelo respectively. - ENDS

Monday, 26 October 2015

50 years of contemporary Zambian art: an interview with veteran painter, Vincent Maonde

By Andrew Mulenga

Because the field of the contemporary art in Zambia is still fairly young, seeing it only spans about 5 decades, the age of the nation itself, we are fortunate to still have a few of the field’s masters still working and walking among us.

Women in Songwe, 2013, oil on canvas
by Vincent Maonde
One of them is the Livingstone-based painter Mr Vincent Maonde, outstanding among many painters of his generation for his cheerful works of unadulterated rural life with picture-perfect compositions with delicately -coloured landscapes peopled by women at a riverside or children at play are both charming in their humanity and intense in their fundamental simplicity.

The 68 year old enjoyed a distinguished career with the museum’s board covering well over 40 years, now retired; he spends his days under the shade of a mango tree at the house he managed to purchase as sitting tenant.

But as they say, an artist never truly retires, so Mr Maonde does not actually sit wasting the hours away, he is always busy painting while also tending to a small vegetable garden besides which he tends to a patch of maize that he meticulously irrigates all year round. 
Recently, Mr Maonde was happy to share stories of his upbringing both on the Copperbelt and in Lusaka under the repressive British colonial regime and beyond. He also shared his views on art in Zambia from the 1950s until the present.

He explains that he developed a passion for depicting life in a rural setting because he had never experienced village life until he was employed by the museum as a keeper of anthropology and was able to travel around the remotest places in Zambia.

Golden Valley of Jewellery, 2013,
oil on Canvas by Vincent Maonde
“I was born in those round huts in Kabwata in 1947 (not 1949 as stated in the book Art in Zambia), the ones you now call cultural village. When I finished my standard six that’s the time when we had transition and they were trying to integrate blacks into white schools,” explains the portly father-figure known for his outstanding generosity among the younger generation of artists with whom he unintentionally assumes a godfather status, credited for founding the Southern Province Visual Arts Council which he often bankrolled from his own pocket.

“You know we now had a coalition government some went to Kabulonga Boys, I went to Prince Philip which is now Kamwala Secondary School. That time they only had whites colours and Indians. I was the only black from Matero and I was put in form one learning Latin and French because I was very bright”.

Even though Mr Maonde was selected from Matero to attend the then prestigious Prince Philip, his venture into schooling took a somewhat jokey start while living with his older sister in Kitwe on the Copperbelt.

“I started school in 1953. We were sitting with my older brother, bored, we had nothing to do so we just said I think lets go and start school so we went to Saint Francis, it was just a thatched classroom, my brother was picked but I was left out, still there were more than 150 pupils and the teacher didn’t even know who is who, so I could still attend,” he says letting out a hearty billow of laughter.

He recalls that teachers those days were very cruel and when he was whipped with a sjambock (whip made of animal hide) he quit school out of fear because it was the most severe pain that had even been afflicted on him. He however continued lessons by means of the homework that his brother would return with.

“In Kamitondo we discovered another school. I used to play with this naughty Bemba boy called Chilufya we always used to climb the nchenja tree that provided shade for an outdoor classroom. The pupils never knew until one day Chilufya dropped some fruits on the teacher,” he explains. The teacher called the boys down, Mr Maonde froze stiff remembering his last whipping, and the other boy took flight and never returned.

Washing Day, 2013, oil on canvas by Vincent Maonde
“The teacher didn’t beat me. Instead I was asked if I want to start school when I agreed, I was given free books and pencils, but my sister at home never knew until they summoned her as my guardian when I passed number one. At the time I didn’t even know my sir name so I used my brother in laws, Banda. So I started out as Vincent Banda,” he says bursting into another explosion of laughter.

“My sister at this point was very excited, they even bought me uniforms and I was the smartest because she would personally comb my hair, it was strait because my grandfather was Portuguese “.

But later, in 1958, Mr Maonde would return to his parents in Lusaka, whom had now moved to Matero from the tiny servant’s quarters they occupied behind a large house near St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Rhodes Park where his father served a white family as a cook. Of his visits to this home, he recollects very nice meals that they were privileged to have while the majority black Zambians in the townships faced hardships. He also remembers the days being full of incidence.

“Those days (in the late 1950s) you had to cross the yard of the muzungu (white person) at owner’s risk, all of them had these huge dogs; it is as if they were trained just to bite blacks. Also when we were walking around mu mayadi (the suburbs), the white boys would shoot at us with pellet guns, we used to fight back with catapults, there was so much hatred,” he recalls.

He however remembers his European teachers as being very kind, they used personal resources to buy him 6 white shirts, a school blazer, straw hat, socks and shoes that were too expensive for his father to afford even on a cooks wages although the position attracted the highest pay among house staff.

His return to Lusaka would also trigger seriousness in his art. He was quickly identified and encouraged by his art teachers at Prince Philip, whom he says were British and educated even up to Master’s Degree level in Fine Art. It was not too long before he also caught the eye of artist and philanthropist Mrs. Cynthia Zukas MBE.

Market Place, 2013, oil on canvas by Vincent Maonde
“In Zambia the beginning of art started with white settlers, and I joined the Lusaka Art Society when I was very young. Mrs Zukas, I have known her from my childhood, that’s why I questioned her one day this woman how old is she? Because when was in form two she still used to look the way she looks today,” he says “I used to run an art club at Matero Welfare Centre, they would come with the husband and pick me up in the evening and also we used to meet at the Evelyn Hone College that time there were no blacks so they were trying to recruit us, that’s when I met Henry Tayali he was already painting on canvas at the time”

With the Lusaka Arts Society, he would go on painting excursions along the Kafue River, where they would work from nature. They were never bothered by passers-by because blacks were still afraid of whites; but he was already used to them from school. This was just a year before independence and a considerable number of Europeans that could not cope with integration had started to leave the country.

Nevertheless, Zambia was soon independent and a few years later Mr Maonde would complete his Form 5 (Grade 12 equivalent) and subsequently become one of the first black students at the Evelyn Hone College enrolling in 1970 and graduating with a diploma in art in 1973. The permanent job in the museums however did not hinder his progress as a professional artist and he begun to exhibit widely in far flung places such as Gothenburg, Sweden in 1977 and Toronto, Canada in 1979. In 1982 he even secured a 3-year stint to upgrade his academic qualifications at the Rage Gate School of Art & Design.

Mr Maonde says one of the most memorable moments in his art career is when he was commissioned to illustrate a children’s book by a wealthy American family that would later invite him to New York for a holiday and exhibition.

From The River, 2013, oil on canvas by Vincent Maonde
“I just received a call in my office at the museum asking me to come for a holiday. About a week later Zambia Airways called me that they have a ticket for me,” he recalls “I remember when I got to New York they were waiting for me in a convertible Cadillac, it was like a dream, they took me any place I mentioned, I think it was sometime in 1993 I can’t remember but I will have to check my passport. I met the CBS television network president, the director of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the largest art museum in the US. I went to Chinatown, they even flew me to Niagara Falls in their private jet, when I came back they gave me another assignment and paid me very, very well”.

But looking back at the general state of the visual arts in Zambia over the past 50 years, he observes that, the field has never been taken seriously.

“In Zambia we have a very big problem all the governments that come in have been full of lip-service, look you can’t have a country that does not have a national art gallery, just look at Zimbabwe next door, that’s why they have made progress in art because they have several,” he argues indicating that the efforts of opening a national gallery here in Zambia this month is somewhat a tall story particularly in the manner that it has been handled.
In fact the National Gallery of Zimbabwe “is a state owned non-profit making organization that was established by an Act of Parliament in 1953 and falls under the Ministry of Education, Sports, Art and Culture, to promote and preserve visual art in the country through continuous acquisition and conservation of artworks in the permanent collection and other various activities”.

Fisher Boys, 2013, oil on canvas, by Vincent Maonde
The gallery has a full-time director as well as curator. The curator oversees the gallery exhibitions while the director is a link between the ministry and the Board of Trustees that also includes the mayor of Harare and if they have been running like this for 55 years, they must be doing something right which has seen the opening of two regional branches The National Gallery in Bulawayo and he National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Mutare just 15 years ago.

“This thing they have built without any consultation with artists and now they are saying you run it? Artists don’t run galleries, to run an art gallery is a profession on its own. So now artists will have to look for money to pay for electricity, water and so on where are they going to get this money,” he charges.

“I was very happy when I heard government has given National Arts Council (NAC) K2.5 Billion (old currency) because they will do something. But they were just here every week, secretly, you know getting these allowances and doing nothing, we have a big problem,” he says insinuating a hint of mismanagement “The planning has been done from Lusaka, look when government gives you K2.5 billion you have to make sure you finish the whole project within that, government won’t have money to continue giving you they have bigger things to do like build roads and hospitals”.

He says it would be sad if NAC has misappropriated the funds allocated to the gallery and are now expecting the Visual Arts Council Livingstone Branch to run it on empty coffers. He only got to see the team from Lusaka when they needed him to help locate the plots demarcation beacons into the former Livingstone show grounds.

Untitled, 2013, oil on canvas by Vincent Maonde
“We advised them that there is nowhere in the world where artists run galleries that’s why in the beginning the Henry Tayali gallery was run by a board and had employees, I don’t know how it’s done now,” he says.

While he maintains that the arts have failed to flourish because of the lack of significant political will, he feels Zambians in general have always looked down upon the visual arts as a field for failures and that even parents will discourage their children against taking up art professionally.

“We don’t have a strong base you can call a movement because there is also no strong policy, our works are always bought by foreigners, I’ve only sold works to two black Zambians and they are women,” he reveals “You cannot rule out poverty, there is so much poverty in this country look I raised 15 children (including extended family) in this house I thought when I retire I will be free but it’s not the case, most artists paint to sell, they can’t express themselves artistically. If someone paints some giraffes and sells everyone else will start painting giraffes, but there are very good artists quite a lot of them”.

He suggests there is a need of total re-education for Zambians on the importance of art as a career path and subsequently a means of job creation and this can only start with firm government policy.

Meanwhile, Mr Maonde continues to produce magnificent paintings from underneath his mango trees, his collectors mainly American tourists are still smitten by the idyllic rural themed landscapes and village scenes he sells by means of the displays in the Livingstone National Museum and Squires Restaurant at the Zambezi Sun Hotel

Many artists at various stages in their careers have passed under his mentorship and tutelage during his time as the Chairman for VAC Livingstone such as Firoz Patel, Clare Mateke, Bernard Kopeka and his son Alumedi Maonde. Under his leadership VAC Livingstone was consolidated into one of the most organized branches in the country beating Lusaka in membership figures. 

(First published in The Bulletin & Record Magazine Dec/Jan 2015 edition)