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Monday, 30 March 2015

Every face tells a story

By Andrew Mulenga

He repeatedly cites a famous quote whose origins one would not even attempt to look into because it has been recited in song and in writing countless times, whoever said it first has long been forgotten: “Every face tells a story”.

Alec Lishandu, 52 a Mazabuka-based businessman and artist is thoroughly passionate with drawing faces in very fine detail while maintaining the value of pencil lines, texture and tone in order to distinguish a drawn image from a photographic one.

The faces he draws – mostly women -- are both the young and the old. For the young, he pays much emphasis to the eyes filling them with so much life you would expect the drawing to blink. For the old, he prefers subjects with wind-beaten brows and shrivelled skin to whose wrinkles he literally accords a certain beauty. Beauty that can perhaps relate to a quote by American author Clarence Day Jr.: “Age should not have its face lifted, but it should rather teach the world to admire wrinkles as the etchings of experience and the firm line of character.”

For now, Lishandu’s characters are distinctively of the Basarwa peoples of Botswana, a country in which he lived and worked as an art teacher for 8 years before he was inspired to return home after the late republican President Michael Sata visited that country in 2012 and famously cautioned Zambians living there that they should “return home and help develop the country” and that if they did not “…other foreign nationals will be employed to help develop the country because the process is not going to wait for anyone.”

“After I heard the president’s speech I realised that yes perhaps it was time for me return home and go and do my bit,” says the retired teacher cum contractor and lodge-owner. “In Botswana I taught in two schools over an 8 year period, I was supposed to return in 2014 but then I thought of just quitting and going back home, we are here developing a different country when there is a lot to do back home”.

Lishandu and wife Linda, a nurse in the Ministry of Community Development and Mother and Child Health in Mazabuka run two guest houses, Village Blues Lodge in Monze and Benoni Lodge in Mazabuka as well as Rockview Contractors and Dainfern Plaza, a new shopping complex in the heart of Mazabuka town.
Nevertheless, despite his career change, he cannot stay away from his pencils and uses them to escape the pressures of the world, like some kind of meditation.

“What has actually made me go back to art is that I have discovered it is a form of therapy, when I need something to calm me down. I even read online that art really is something I can resort to for inner peace. Even when I was in Botswana I used to use it when I am lonely, because my family remained here in Zambia during the whole period I was away,” he says.

But pencil drawings have not always been his preferred medium. When he decided to take art seriously, he was a sign writer, hired to paint on walls for clients, which is what landed him in college and eventually lead on to him getting employed abroad.

“There was a school, Lwengu International School in Monze owned by the Vlahakises, so I was lucky to be hired, and then Mr Vlahakis liked my work so much he asked whether I was able to teach at his school but then I didn’t have the qualifications so I was encouraged to enrol at the Evelyn Hone College in 1999,” he recalls “I graduated with an Art Teachers Diploma in 2003 and was offered a job by Nakambala Sugar they had a private school as well, but before I could take up the appointment I went for a visit to Botswana, I met a Zambian who had a school there and I was hired to do some work, it was seen by others and I was later offered a job. So I never came back from Botswana, in fact I never applied for a job it was like something from God”.

In actual fact, he never had it that easy. Before he went to college, he was retrenched from the Zambia Railways, from a job as an accounts clerk that he got as a school-leaver, shortly after completing school. It was the joblessness that made him fall back on his artistic skill.

“My late father also worked for the railways and my mother was just a house wife, when I started school in Kafue with the likes of Given Lubinda, I didn’t know I had the talent but when my father was transferred to Kabwe in 1977, I had an option at Highridge Secondary School of taking art or French, I went into art and even won a consolation prize for the Save The Rhino Campaign”

“Then in 1980 I went to Luangwa and I didn’t find art, there was Agricultural Science instead but I opted to sit for art even without a teacher and got a credit. After school in 1981 that is when I joined the railways, two years later, I started work from 1983 up to 1995 when I got retrenched during the liberalization of the economy by the Chiluba government. It was hard for me because I had just gotten married in 1991, luckily my wife was already a nurse, but still I was failing to make ends meet so I started freelance signwriting on a serious note and became very good at it,” he recalls.

But like his teaching days, his sign-writing days are in the past and he sticks to pencil because it is less of a hassle in terms of cleanliness around the house, unlike inks and paints they are easy to put away, which he says also keeps his wife happy.

As for his subject matter he is still in a phase of depicting the iconic faces of the Basarwa people of Botswana.
“I was amused with their own delicate distinctions. Also if you bring a Xhosa from the Eastern Cape and a coloured (mixed heritage) person from the same place you will think they are one and the same but they are very different, it’s all in the detail. When I went to Botswana I wanted to learn about the local people’s way of life, especially that the government was attempting to integrate them into main stream society,” he explains.

“I really wanted to get close to the Basarwa, as they are truly called, they are not bushmen that terminology is derogatory, a serious insult, I wanted to learn what makes them stand out in terms of the rest of us Africans. But I could only access them through the annual Letlhafula Cultural Festival where people from all over Botswana come to perform their dances and show their cuisine at place called Botswanacraft its run by a white man who works in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism”.

Lishandu plans on showing his work in an exhibition soon, except he is challenged by the fact that in Mazabuka, lake many small Zambian towns, art is not taken seriously. Anyway, one can only hope he continues to be inspired by facial features and rich ethnic cultures and may perhaps bring his effort closer to home and start depicting the beautiful Tonga faces of the Gwembe Valley in the Southern Province and possibly he should start labelling his portraits to tell us what he reads in them. 

Alec Lishandu

Monday, 23 March 2015

Footprint in Lusaka’s Chalala, latest gallery on the circuit

By Andrew Mulenga

Show me the money, (mixed media with
Rhodesian pennies) by Onesmos Mpand
Little known Onesmos Mpande, 58 is a hard working yet obscure protagonist of the Zambian art scene, he currently has at least 50 paintings and sculptures on display at his Footprint Gallery situated in a new shopping complex he built after opting for early retirement years ago.

But what is fascinating about Mpande’s path as an artist is that he had never thought of it as a career, nevertheless it is as if now, after many years it has finally caught up with him in one whole creative outburst. He attempted Catholic priesthood, was trained in the Zambia National Service, had a career in Public Relations at the Bank of Zambia and has finally wound up as an artist and gallery owner, a passion and talent that has always been innate in him.

Jokingly, he can be likened to the Biblical Jonah of the Old Testament whom after attempting to run away from his calling, it finally caught up with him, cornered and having no choice at all, he ended up doing God’s will. Likewise for Mpande, after his many sojourns he has finally succumb to the will of art which one might add is not a bad thing, he is a very welcome and unique contribution to the Zambian art scene.

Tears have no colour,
(mixed media)
by Onesmos Mpande
Having had no formal training or direct influences he has developed an eclectic style making any signature hard to pinpoint, save for the scrap metal he constantly infuses in his paintings as can be seen in works such as Tears Have No Colour a very emotive painting with moody colours that depicts a crying face, he uses steel ball bearings for the tears. Equally there is Show Me The Money the money a signature piece that shows a figure behind steel gauze, the type that can be found on barbeques stands. The beady eyes of the subject are made from bicycle reflectors and give the impression of a burning desire, a lust for money whereas the subjects garment is made entirely of vintage, Rhodesian pennies the oldest being from 1937. An intense piece of work, it clearly evokes notions of greed, and the figure behind bars may reference a jail cell, the place where an unbridled lust for money may otherwise land you.
Mpande’s zeal has lead him into becoming a self-taught metal fabricator, using this newly acquired skill to craft complex scrap metal sculptures, never modifying the found pieces but selecting ones that will fit in  to his concept without alteration.

His series of masks and faces such as the piece Nigerian conman do not only serve as wall hangings but can have security cameras concealed within them, he intends to market these in business houses. Each sculpture is unique and complicated in its own right but the towering Manshunkulumbwe worrior head on a steak is perhaps the most complex, it anchors the artists deep-seated passion for antiquity. One of the works key features is the head of a warrior with a peculiar hairstyle that appears like an inverted funnel. According to the artist the Ila and Tonga would use this hairstyle in the military to identify each others positions before engaging the enemy, it was called Isusu. Something akin to the towering locks of David Hinds, frontman for the Reggae band Steel Pulse, Isusu were constructed from the hairs of the warriors’ wives.

Nigerian conman, (painted scrap metal)
by Onesmos Mpande
Nevertheless, the artist is now keen on gaining recognition but is worried that he is not getting as many viewers as he would to his gallery which is off the ring road in Chalala, he may have to place a sizeable billboard along the roadside. He is however enjoying some visits from school going children who organize themselves to come and see the works. Although this is only the beginning of his gallery, it is far from the beginning of his journey as an artist.
“I started painting way back in 1984, just for fun while working for the bank of Zambia, but I especially used to paint just to decorate my flat and my friends would encourage me even though they wanted to get my work for free,” he says.

“Those days I never used to miss an exhibition that took place at the Mpapa Gallery that used to be in town somewhere near Kulima Tower Bus Station towards the end of 1984 I even managed to exhibit a single work there and it sold.”

He recalls that his true passion for art developed when he was just a child in primary school but he could not develop it further due to changing schools among other things. His father was a police officer who lived in Lilayi, Kasama, Mpika, Nakonde, Mbala and Livingstone where Mpande was born.

Three wise hourses, (mixed media)
by Onesmos Mpande
“I remember just after independence, all the classes were encouraged to do art, I was at Chiwanda primary school in Isoka by then, but later I went to Lubushi Seminary in 1971 until 1975 even the current bishop mpundu we were together, we used to play football together,” he recalls.

“But then remember that is when ZNS was introduced so I ended up in Solwezi at Kamitonte where I did my 20 months military training, then my agriculture I did in Kitwe and all hope of becoming an artist evaporated. Then I ended up joining the BOZ as a Clerk in 1978, I worked for the exchange control department for 7 years”.

He was later transferred to the Protocal Section to work on an in-house magazine called Zambanker but they had no journalists and he was picked by the bank alongside a colleague David Kalumba to undergo training at the Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe. They became the banks first PR officers later followed by politician Kabinga Pande.

But it was not until in 2005 when he successfully applied for early retirement that he took to his brushes and welding machine. 10 years down the line his works are on permanent display at Footprint Gallery. Although he currently works from his home in Makeni, he is building studio space just behind his shopping complex in Chalala. Apart from his own work, the artist’s son Wezi also exhibits there, he shows great promise too having executed a very mature abstract painting entitled Eruption when he was about 9 years old in 2011. 
First black pope, (acrylic on canvas)
by Onesmos Mpande
A large sculpture by Mpande takes
centre stage in his gallery
Eruption, 2011 by Wezi Mpande
Footprint Gallery is situated inside
Rockfield Shuffle Mall in Lusaka's Chalala owned

Untitled, (acrylic on canvas)
by Onesmos Mpande

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Is Great East Road home of ugly art?

By Andrew Mulenga

Sweden is said to boast the world’s longest art gallery, reporting for BBC Travel, Lola Akinmade Åkerström writes: “Running 110km underground in Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (subway) is the world’s longest art exhibition, with paintings, sculptures, mosaics and installations created by 150 artists since the 1950s in more than 90 of the city’s 100 stations.”

A huge statue of a chicken along Great East Road
This brings to mind a key component of Zambia’s transport system which – with due respect to the artists -- also boasts a fair share of art that passengers can gaze upon as they use it for their daily commuting, this is the Lusaka’s Great East Road.

If you live in the Avondale, Chelstone, or PHI areas and use it to commute to the city centre, or if perhaps you are visiting Zambia for the first time and are being driven from the airport to the many hotels in the heart of the metropolis, the first one you will see a huge statue of a Chicken.

Although it is clearly of questionable artistic merit, this structure is a hit among pre-schoolers, and perhaps for good reason, because toddlers may liken it to something they can make in an art class. One can argue it resembles a papier-mâché project a 5-year-old would produce in an art club. Also the chicken has the character of a cartoon which might be the reason why it is popular among toddlers.

An Eagle at the Munali roundabout
Anyway, the sculpture was put up by a business as a guide or beacon to guide its clients to its whereabouts so in that regard it is serving its purpose spot on.

Further down the road is another intersection, popularly known as the Munali Roundabout, this one too is adorned with a huge bird. Although smaller in comparison, this particular one is supposed to represent an eagle, Zambia’s national bird so fondly mentioned in the national anthem: “like a noble eagle in its flight”.

That line alone suggests that an eagle is graceful in flight and one can therefore argue that its strongest attribute is perhaps the span of its wings. But the metal eagle at Munali appears to have an awkwardly short wingspan and equally undersized legs that give it the appearance of a crow.

A water fountain at the Manda Hill
footbridge along Great East Road
Beyond the Munali round about one notices a concentration of drilling and exploration companies, at least five on each side, on their wall fences are paintings of Ashok Leyland drilling lorries, the type built in India. As much as these companies deserve a pat on the back for hiring sign-writers, the hired artists appear to be outdoing themselves on who can produce the least accurate and most ugly rendition of a drilling lorry.

Finally, as you approach the Manda Hill foot bridge you will notice, there is a horrendous water feature made of cement which is technically I collection of geometric shapes placed one on top of the other. I turns out this particular piece was placed there as an advertisement for anyone who might consider commissioning a similar structure.

This art is in public spaces, one wonders whether the civic authorities that approve them have any eye for art at all.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Talented dropout torn between art and piecework

By Andrew Mulenga

Life is like a candle, colour pencil
on paper by William Kazoka
In 2008, while he was in grade 11 at the age of 18, William Kazoka was forced to drop out of school because his unemployed parents were no longer able to fund his education.
Passionate about art, and possessing prodigious talent, he sought refuge in making drawings as a form of escapism whenever he was not busy doing every manner of odd job that would come his way.

Professional art materials do not come cheap, so the Lilanda-based youth would rely on coloured pencils, ball-point pens and salvaged A4-size paper.
“My parents used to be supportive, but not anymore, art started out as a hobby to me but when I turned 15 people used to tell me I was very good and kept encouraging me. Whenever my dad saw me drawing he was always upset and told me to concentrate on my school, even though I had to drop out”, he says

Detail of an unfinished Pieta, after
Michelangelo by William Kazoka
“I stopped drawing for a while, but then a friend of mine, Hendrix told me of the Arts Academy Without Walls (AAWW) here in the Lusaka show grounds last year so that’s when I started coming here to get inspired, there are a lot of young artists here that are helpful some of them even help me with materials whenever they have enough to spare, but even for them it is not easy”.

He has not been able to take up permanent space at the AAWW because some of the more experienced artists have also occupied the space for a longer period have been asking the upcoming ones for rentals that should be paid three months in advance. This is a serious challenge because most young artists are unable to pay the K50 membership fee to the Visual Arts Council (VAC) itself.

“Also it’s not easy for me to continue drawing or painting, I always have to find some piecework so I do a lot of walking around. I would be very happy to go back to school, even in grade 11 where I left, I don’t mind, I just do not have the support,” says the artist who turns 25 this year.

African woman, colour pencil
on paper by William Kazoka
He is the first born among 5, and sadly only two of his younger siblings are in school because his parents challenging financial situation does not appear to be improving.
But then again his depressing situation does not reflect in his work, which occasionally contains a vibrant outburst of colours. When not imitating European masters like Michelangelo, his subject matter varies from portraits of African women to ethereal concepts; one such example is a colour drawing he calls Life Is like a Candle.

The work evokes a very deep mind's eye, revealing in the artist’s talent an air of mysterious genius, certainly an outstanding piece of work, for someone who has never studied art professionally, let alone undergone any form of apprenticeship Kazoka shows great promise.

Unfortunately, there is no telling the fate of this young talent whose future appears to be enveloped in uncertainty. Although he remains hopeful of one day returning to school to complete grade 12 and subsequently take up art at the Evelyn Hone College, for now his destiny remains wedged in the daily routine of searching for any available odd job, relegating his art practice and outstanding gift to indecision. 

Upcoming artist William Kazoka from
Lusaka's Lilanda township

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Trio set to entertain in Show without a Name

By Andrew Mulenga

Three of Lusaka’s most gifted young artists have ganged up for what is likely to be one of the most exciting exhibitions of the year. Owen Shikabeta, David Makala and Mulenga Mulenga are adding finishing touches for their forthcoming exhibition Show without a Name which is scheduled for Thursday March 5 at the Ababa House Zebra Crossing Café along Addis Ababa Drive in Lusaka.

(L-R) Owen Milyoni Shikabeta,
Mulenga J Mulenga and David Doubt Makala
The combined energy and vitality of this trio should be enough to get any art lover excited, and individually they are all unpredictable constantly shifting styles, themes and media, so there is no telling what to expect, and to add a pinch of enigma to the show is the catchy title.

Shikabeta is a self-taught artist who is literally soldering a name for himself by becoming the next big thing in scrap metal art in Zambia and hopefully beyond. Although the 28 year old is known for creating meticulous sculptures of musical instruments, he is also recognised for piecing together souring figurines that ironically mimic his own towering physical stature. In fact, he was one of the key artists that put together Anti Retro Viral Man, a 2010 statue created entirely of scrap metal that stands outside the Lusaka National Museum and was welded together by the Dr Jack Menke-led Art 4 Art initiative.

Loose II, mixed media, by David Makala
Makala, the unassuming mastermind of the show is known for experimentation and this habit perhaps reached its peak last year during the exhibition entitled Metamorphosis held at the select 37d Gallery alongside Natasha Evans in Lusaka late last year. The 31 year old dishevelled mixed-media painter is always full of surprises so there is no telling whether he will reference his formative years with VAC’s August Studio workshops, the Art Academy without Walls, Kachere Art Studios, and Roots of Expression Studios or perhaps he will bring out something new altogether. Nevertheless, excitement is abounding and Makala never fails to entertain.

Mulenga is the youngest but this and the fact that she is the last mentioned and the only lady in the trio by no means makes her the least. Imagine her as Wonderwoman in The Justice League or the Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four; she packs as deadly a punch as her teammates.

At the Evelyn Hone College she majored in sculpture but the artist remains one of the most consistent pictorial and abstract painters of her generation, best known for themes that reference youth and early childhood. But besides her shift from sculpture to painting, the 27 year old often dabbles in new media, experimenting with video, sound and performance so again there is no telling what she will bring to the table for Show without a Name.

Shikabeta explores notions of abandoned habits and lost
talent by referencing hypothetically extinct species
“All I can tell you is that although we will celebrate our passed influences, we will be stepping outside our usual [creative] borders, exploring new territories”, warns Mulenga.
The exhibition opening event will run from 17:30hrs to 20:00hrs and all artists will be on site to mingle with the visitors; scrumptious finger food will be served free while refreshments will be available from the restaurant’s cash bar. If you miss next week’s opening, the work will be on display until April 8.

Meanwhile, in case you missed the opening of the live performance and painting Omission / Unit 43 by Vincentio Phiri and Dutchman Camiel van Lenteren at East Park Mall along Lusaka’s Great East Road, it runs until March 27.