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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

New girl on the block is here to stay

By Andrew Mulenga

SarahChibombwe has barely emerged on to the art circuit, but in just three months her work has been shown in the Livingstone Art Gallery, the Henry Tayali Art Gallery, the Zebra Crossing Café at Ababa House in Lusaka and a Ladies Circle workshop.

Although the 26 year old is wary of the attitude among female artists of whom over the years the trend has been to quit art when they get married, become mothers, or simply lose support and inspiration. As misogynistic as that may sound one may be compelled to agree with Chibombwe, the female artist is indeed an endangered species.

Back to my roots, 2014, acrylic on canvas,
by Sarah Chibombwe
“A few people are probably waiting to see me quit seeing this has been the trend with most female artists… well this one here is no quitter. I was born an artist and I live it. It runs in my veins,” she says.
The artist is in fact a trained chef who has gone AWOL (Absent without Leave), temporarily abandoning her oven for an easel and her cooking sticks for paint brushes since graduating from the Fairview Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Lusaka last year where she studied Food Production.

She currently occupies a small cubicle at the Art Academy without Walls in the Lusaka show grounds where she is the only female artist that has taken up permanent residence there.

“I’m always asked how I manage to survive since I’m the only female permanently camped here, but it’s nothing new to me;from 2011 to 2012 I was the only girl on the football team at Fairview. I also play pool and have participated in several tournaments, you know it’s always played by men but right now the Lusaka City Council and the Mulungushi Service Club both want me to sign up to their teams, I haven’t yet made up my mind. In 2013 I was the only female sign-writer at Brush Works in Kitwe”.

She says her efforts to form a girls’ team at Fairview were futile; this disappointed her because at Njase Girls Secondary School in Choma she was a key player on the school team.
Actually, Njase was one of the places that would ignite her inspiration to one day pursue art professionally. There was no art class at the school but she was constantly exposed to Chapel murals, eight large paintings done by the late Emmanuel Nsama, whom she would later meet in Kitwe where she became his protégée, the same year she was nominated for a Mukuba Award.

Wrath of a Lion, 2014, acrylic on canvas,
by Sarah Chibombwe
Apart from Nsama, other influences have been Clement Mfuzi who advised her to join the Visual Arts Council when she was still in secondary school, and while at Fairview she was introduced to Adrian Ngoma who would then link her to former VAC chairman Mulenga Chafilwa who gave her the opportunity to exhibit in the Golden Jubilee exhibition at the Livingstone Art gallery’s inaugural show.But it was Caleb Chisha and the late Ignatius Sampa who continued to coach her in painting until she gained a reasonableamount of confidence.

But even in her untried career she has endured rejection and has used it to motivate herself. Last year she was approached by a media company to produce a football-related artwork, her final submission was not accepted, undeterred she is currently working on a commission of paintings from a mining company alongside other artists, thoroughly excited by the prospect she believes 2015 is looking good although the works in progress depict aspects of the mining industry her usual work relates to her mood of the day.

“I love bright colours because I am a jovial person. I never really have a story line I paint my feelings, but sometimes I just wake up and ask myself what mood am I in today then I go ahead and start painting accordingly, but that doesn’t mean I don’t paint about issues that concern me or provoke my thoughts,” she says.

Back to My Roots, a work that is currently hanging at the Henry Tayali Gallery in Lusaka has a visual charm that stands out in the exhibitionspace; among other things it reflects the artist’s stance against hair extensions with questionable origins that in recent times seem to be the pride of black African women or indeed women of African descent. Wearing these Peruvian, Indian and Brazilian hair wigs and extensions has to an extent become a status symbol rather than an enhancement of beauty, as of last year, it was reported that African women were spending a combined $7 billion on wigs and related products annually.

Sarah 'Chule' Chibombwe
One can only side with Chibombwe and hope that African women will outgrow their obsession with wigs as the Europeans did. In the era of Marie Antoinette white hair hats were considered very fashionable. The European hair hats are in fact the precursors of theunsightly apparel often adorned by the learned men and women of the Zambian legal system.

“As Africans we have borrowed too much from the west and I put dreadlocks on the girl in the painting because they are natural, when you look at today’s women, they look too artificial try to see her in the morning she is something else. The boots (Timberlands) represent my generation, the nakedness represents our origins from Adam and Eve and the locks like I said represent how natural we should be, we can incorporate all the three and not forget where we are coming from,” she explains.

Chibombwe herself wears naturally developed dreadlocks but says she is by no means a Rastafarian as may be assumed when one observes her often unkempt appearance.
“I’m here to work; I’m not here to attract anyone. I have locks because I have no time to go looking for weaves and doing my nails, but that doesn’t mean I have to be dirty but with the girls what comes first is always the hair,” explains the tomboy who claims to be enjoying an intimate relationship with a boyfriend who is currently employed with a popular inter-city bus company.

Nevertheless, of course it is still early days for the artist she joins the creative fold with such energy and will surely provide an entertaining contribution to the visual arts scene, she often signs her work as “Chule” which is the Nyanja word for frog as her name “Chibombwe” means “large frog” in her nativeIla and other Zambian languages.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

ZAOU exhibitions, are they deepening in character?

By Andrew Mulenga

Early this week, the Zambia Open University pulled down its second Fine Arts Degree Show at the Lusaka National Museum. Set up as both a step-by-step assessment as well as definitive presentation of work by BA students after four years of study, it had been on display since 19 December 2014.

Way of Life, 2014, mixed media, 85 x 55 cm by Tabitha Mvula
Anyone who has been observing the progression of the ZAOU art programme will attest that it has attracted a lot of first-timers, students who had never touched a brush, pencil or encountered live figure drawing before, which tally with institutions philosophy of “education without walls”.
The fact that Zambia’s first art degree course has not rejected individuals that may be perceived as lacking in any artistic talent has raised a lot of questions particularly among artists who graduated from Evelyn Hone College with art teachers diplomas and have been practicing for years. 

Certainly, the sceptics do have a point because what appears to be happening is that out of fear of relegation a good number of students are practicing teachers and educators arriving from the provinces in droves, eager to get that degree, the promotion and of course more money in their pockets as seems to be per custom when a civil servants upgrades academic qualifications.

Crowd, 2014, 35 x 34 acrylic on paper by Patrick Muyunda
This is not to say all the students lack in natural talent or the ones that is eager to learn have failed to do so. As much as the just ended show exposed some pitiful works that surely should have not seen the light of day, it might be suggested that the 4th Year’s Expo as it is called appears to be improving.

In comparison, where the 2013 show lacked in inventiveness, variety of technique, concepts and media the 2014 show lacked in draughtsmanship.

With the impeccable dexterity of Pakuya Mwale, Ellen Hitas, Felix Mvula, Steward Chileshe and Andrew Katembula to name a few the 2013 group set very high standards in the field of drawing. The group also had a seasoned batch of gallery-exposed artists in the name of Sylvia Mwando, Alex Nkazi, Oliver Sakanyi and Davis Sichinsambwe that also brought a highly articulate feel to the fold.

Figure drawing of a live model, charcoal on paper by  Caroline Miyoba
Nevertheless, the 2014 troupe showed a variety of techniques that included the now rare art of linocut printmaking. They were fortunate to be in residential school when Cynthia Zukas MBE of the Lechwe Trust donated her printing equipment to the ZAOU Media and Performing Arts department of Fine Arts and conducted training sessions alongside Wendy Doberainer the Canadian artist and lecturer that died later in the year.

Figure drawing, charcoal study, 42cm x  21cm by Celistino Mumpuka
A few of the 2014 students exhibited a very strong hand towards the discipline as can be seen in a work by Japhet Phiri entitled Mother Zambia, but although the work is well executed it somehow does not tally with its title, yes it is a mother and child image but what does that have to do with the term “Mother Zambia” itself. Titles should be well thought through, if not, one is better leaving it as an untitled work, there is always that option.

Celestino Mumpuka shows an excellent hand in a charcoal study of a female figure leaning on a table which for some reason is entitled Gravity, again another ambiguous title, or is the artist for some reason linking the term itself to the voluptuous features of the model.

Tabitha Mvula’s painting Way of Life appears to evoke a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel situation with a pathway that starts from a foreground that references parched, unfertile land and narrows up to what appears to be a doorway of ethereal light, to the left of the path appear four poles, probably support for the pilgrim that traverses this route. Somewhere in between the poles the artist has torn the canvas, again a reference to tension. Whether it is autobiographical or just a plain metaphor on hope, along with Crowd a colourful abstract by Patrick Muyunda it was one of the strongest paintings of the exhibition.

Daniel Mutonga’s work displayed a very strong presence with its childlike honesty and disregard for anatomical proportion, his haphazard composition and indifference towards the rules of perspective too give him a compelling depth of character. But as naïve as his paintings and drawings may be, his subject matter is serious, if not at times forbidding as was seen in Judgement of a witch that depicts a rural witch cleansing or Composa, a series of drawings that tell the story of the brutal killings of innocent civilians by Zambia National Service officers in Chongwe just outside Lusaka in 2013.

In this group Caroline Miyobe is one of the artists whose studio, gallery and general artistic experience and exposure prior to her four years of study also shone through, anchoring the display professionally. 

Nonetheless, apart from the familiar disciplines of painting and drawing, interaction with ZAOU students shows that they are gaining a high level of aptitude with regards theoretical discourse in the arts and perusal through some their writing also shows a very strong input towards academic dialogue in the visual arts of Zambia.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Farewell 2014

By Andrew Mulenga

2014 turned out to be one of the most eventful years on the Zambian art scene particularly because it was plagued by the deaths of artists young and old.

Baba Jakeh Chande died  aged 42 in Helsinki, Finland
It saw the passing of Finland-based conceptual artist and sculptor Baba Jakeh Chande who died in March aged 42 after being diagnosed with a cancerous growth on the liver in a Helsinki hospital, this was followed by the death of one of his mentors and founder of Rockston Studio Lutanda Mwamba who succumbed to meningitis and Malaria at the age of 48 in Lusaka barely two months later.

Death struck again just about two months later, claiming the sculptor Nobbie Tsokalida of Desai compound in Lusaka at the age of 70. Tsokalida is remembered for his sculptures in the lands highest courts.  

October however would be perhaps the hardest hitting with the deaths of Ignatius Sampa, one of the country’s most promising young painters was killed by a hit and run vehicle in Lusaka in the early hours of Saturday 1 November, he was 23 years old and in an unrelated incidence, Canadian artist Wendy Dobereiner was found dead in an apparent suicide at her Lusaka residence on Sunday, she was 62. 

Lutanda Mwamba died aged 48 after 
succumbing to malaria and meningitis
The two disturbing deaths evoked deep reflection on the sheer futility of life. The first of a young man with incredible promise the second of an extrovert, jovial and full of life, the last person one could expect would be responsible for taking their own life. 

All these artists made significant contributions to the Zambian art scene which will remember for posterity.

Nevertheless, 2014 was not all gloom and doom, it did not pass without encouraging high points such as a few artists gaining global mileage particularly Lawrence Chikwa and Stary Mwaba showing in a prestigious exhibition and attending a residency in Germany respectfully.
On the local front young artists like Ngandu Mwaba and Caleb Chisha were brave enough to test choppy waters and hold their first solo exhibitions in Lusaka.

September brought the graduation of the first BA Fine arts students on Zambian soil by the Zambia Open University, a month later the year saw the opening of the Livingstone Art Gallery as part of the country’s Independence Day jubilee.

Generally, 2014 was vibrant with consistent shows at Alliance Francaise, 37d Gallery, Zebra Crossing Cafe, the Lusaka National Museum, the Livingston Art Gallery and the Henry Tayali Gallery in Lusaka.

Crowning the end of the year was the election of a new executive in the National Visual Arts Council of Zambia (VAC). Mathew Mudenda from the Copperbelt was elected the new Chairman whereas acclaimed sculptor Eddie Mumba took up the position of vice-chairman. 

Nobbie Tsokalida passed away at 70 in Lusaka   
Igntaius Sampa was knocked down by a hit 
and run vehicle and died at the age of 23