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Monday, 20 July 2015

How do the arts move you?

By Andrew Mulenga

You probably go to bed after watching a favourite television programme or a movie, doze off to a novel and then wake up unintentionally humming away to a popular tune playing on the radio, maybe you even glance at a painting, drawing or photograph hanging in your living room before you step out of the house.

Visitors to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown,
South Africa read some comments in response to the question
If so, you consume and enjoy the arts without even giving it a thought, everybody does one way or another. But have you ever really asked yourself how the arts make you feel; poetry , film, dance, music, sculpture or paintings. Do they make you feel anything at all; do they make you happy, sad, or annoyed do they even move you at all?

“How do the arts move you?” this is a question that was posed to visitors at the National Arts Festival 2015 in South Africa last week. As part of “#artmovesme” a community engagement campaign being conducted by Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), a none-profit company whose primary aim is to: “promote mutually beneficial and sustainable business-arts partnership that will benefit society as a whole.”

The question was placed on a large inter-active board that has captivating artwork by Zimbabwe-born artist Sindiso Nyoni. Roughly the length of a wall from a fairly sized room, it comes with three hanging felt markers enabling passers-by to respond to the question by scribbling something on the wall.

BASA CEO Michelle Constant
“This particular board is the third iteration last time we took it to Hollard (an insurance company) and business professional all filled it in. It’s all very interesting to see how different it is in a business space and at an arts festival; here at the festival they scribble all sorts of thinks including graffiti. Some write terrible things, some great things, all of which is fine,” explains BASA CEO Michelle Constant.

She explains that although the board has been displayed in business houses during her organisations meetings with them, this was the first time it was being presented to the general public. It was strategically placed at the 1820 Settlers monument building, the hub of activities during South Africa’s largest arts festival.  

“More broadly we just want to start seeing what people are saying and why they are saying it. The big question is how you argue the importance of sponsoring the arts to the business world. You see, BASA’s function is to leverage the relationship between business and arts but what we have seen in the past two years is that given the current economic climate where the Rand is dropping dramatically the challenge is that businesses are shutting down on their marketing budgets,” she says.

Felt pens were tied to the board so
passers-by can scribble how they
felt about the arts
“Given that at the moment, they currently give most of the money to the arts through marketing one of the challenges for us has been to shift what our log frame is, in the past we have always said ‘business loves the arts and therefore business gives money to the arts’ now what we have had to say is if we do certain activities and we show business the value of the arts then business will consider giving to the arts, so we thought about a social campaign that will get people talking about the arts and why they are valuable to them.”
But although BASA's purpose is to: “attract corporate sector support for the arts and culture, whether financial or in kind and to lift the profile of the arts and artists within South Africa.” Constant points out that her organisation has sprung beyond South African borders and she recently returned from two regional tours, one in Zambia and the other in Mozambique respectively.

“I just returned from Zambia, and one of the reasons we went there was to have a meeting with quite a good number of businesses. This was set up by the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC). We are lucky in South Africa there is support which may not exist in Zambia but this is a challenge that you can lose very quickly,” she says.

The board attracted a lot of graffiti but a
good number of responses tried to
address the question
“We did not talk about setting up an independent body, but how we can support other countries, how we can support Zambian businesses and how we can support Zambian government to think differently. All of that is just around lobbying and advocacy”.
In Zambia, through NAC, she met with mining companies and other business houses. She believes they were very excited and interested in getting involved and that the response was extremely positive.

Constant indicates that her organisation puts the challenge to businesses in South Africa telling them that when they stop funding the arts, South Africa it will become like any other country that does not fund the arts. People will forget why they do it, how to do it. She points out that BASA wants arts sponsorship to become a principled argument and that if the arts are not funded there simply will be no more arts.

“In Mozambique we were working mostly with government, working with how members of the Ministry of Culture think about the arts and activate around the arts, it was interesting and very positive,” she says.

“In Mozambique the conversation was also with individual government officials, asking them when they last went to see an arts event, is it a few days ago, weeks ago, did they go a year ago it’s disturbing sometimes to notice how far ago they went that’s why these boards are interesting”.

Detail - The board was design by
Zimbabwe-born artist Sindiso Nyoni
She observes that lobbying for the arts brings perception to the fore and the argument becomes a matter of principal, and the only way you can prove principal is by showing the sponsors how the arts impact so many people and this inter-active board is a perfect example.

“Look, for the board here at the festival, these are not just grown-ups, these are also children, these are children that are having the opportunity to see the arts. With a board like this, it is the first time we have accessed the youth and society so it is very important to us, the findings are exciting,” she adds.

“As much as sponsoring the arts is serious, art is also play, so we like to keep it playful and do not mind the playful responses. Someone has wrote ‘Art is like a blunt pencil, I do not see the point’, well the fact that they have given it such an artistic metaphor is as good enough response, again it asks what is the point of art, or where is the point in producing or sponsoring the arts”.

After the festival, Constant and team’s next stop is the Reserve Bank of South Africa where BASA will be working around the banks extensive art collection and its relation to the staff. The team will be exploring how the bank gets its staff to engage in that collection and talk about it and how it impacts them generally.

Nevertheless, NAC must be commended in making an effort to draw upon the insight and expertise of BASA to engage the Zambian business community and attempt to remind it of the importance of the arts to society as well as appeal to the generosity of companies through their social responsibility programmes. BASA has the experience, it was founded in 1997 as a joint initiative between the (then) Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (now the Department of Arts and Culture) and the private sector, and it has peer agencies in the UK and Australia and has over 160 corporate members. Its aim is to promote mutually beneficial, equitable, and sustainable business arts partnerships that will over the long term, benefit the broader community.

But truth be told, the root cause in the lack of patronage of the arts in Zambia is far deeper than corporate houses, NAC might want to push further and the best way to nip the problem in the bud is to engage government officials directly, something similar to how BASA engaged Mozambique.

What would be really interesting is to have a scribbling board in the foyer during a session of parliament in Zambia. To ask Zambian MPs to write down what the arts really mean to them, how they are moved by the arts, when did any single one of them attend a play, a poetry session, visit an art exhibition or buy at least a piece of handicraft without mumbling. Yes a few of them do enjoy live music and are well known to have exceptional dance skills as has been exhibited in the press particularly when popular artistes from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo visit Zambia. But what do the arts really mean to a top Zambian government official? Are members of parliament aware that funding the arts as a sector is a direct move towards poverty alleviation and job creation? , tasks that are supposedly held to be among the roles of an MP.

Even now, as law makers none of them appear to be intent on quickening the process of enacting the draft “Arts, Culture and Heritage Commission Bill” as things stand the bill is still gathering dust somewhere, so perhaps the arts do not really mean much to them. Maybe the arts are a pencil whose point Zambian MPs and government officials cannot see. As of Tuesday this week, Zambian parliamentarians ruling and opposition alike are focusing on a pay rise for themselves. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Conquering the world from Kalulushi with colour

By Andrew Mulenga

Fourteen kilometres outside of Kitwe, the little town of Kalulushi is more known for the Chibuluma copper and cobalt mine, its heartbeat. But perhaps it is more famous in sporting circles being the home of some of Zambia’s oldest sporting clubs, Chibuluma Rugby Club and Kalulushi Modern Stars FC. The latter being the formative club for football legend Gibby Mbasela and CAF 2012 champion and BBC's African Footballer of the Year 2012, Christopher Katongo.

Mother and child study, pencil and
charcoal on paper, by Sakanya Banda
This off-the-grid mining town is hardly a place that one would expect to be on Zambia’s visual arts circuit having no conventional art materials, art and crafts markets, galleries or patrons and being occupied mostly by miners, it is hard to imagine a painter can actually live and work there surviving on art alone.

Sakanya Banda, however, appears to have defied these odds. Born in Kasempa, North Western, Zambia in 1969, he moved to Kalulushi as boy and has lived there ever since except for a four year stint as a freelance artist in South Africa between 2001 and 2005.
Like most Zambians of his generation, Banda grew up making his own toys particularly clay models and cars made of wire, usually nicked from damaged fences. His skill was above his peers and he shortly began experimenting with the drawing of wildlife and nature from memory as he spent his early years near Kafue National Park before the shift to Kalulushi.

“The distance to school was a two-hour walk and sometimes I never used to go because it was unbearable to walk a long distance for five days more especially in cold seasons and considering that shoes were not known, in short we used to walk bare foot. At times we would encounter big animals like rhino and elephants on the way to school, but that never prevented me from completing my primary school,” he points out that this was nothing compared to the 72km from his home village Kamakechi to the nearest district Kasempa which would take 19 hours on foot.

From the fields, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
 In fact it was the days that he would miss school that he would practice on his art. It is when he enrolled in Grade 10 at Kalulushi secondary school that he would later be advised by one teacher to take up art as a subject but the self-confident young artist rejected the advice claiming: “if it (art) is in me it will still come out”. Surely he did continue to draw and paint and after completing grade 12 he enrolled at the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation (MEF) which at the time was providing training in Pottery and Ceramics. At the height of its popularity, the now embattled MEF boasted The Dag Hammarskjold Memorial Library that was considered among the best on the African continent attracting students from as far as Canada and India.

On a trip, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
“I still have memories of my days at MEF the place is more like a home for me because that is where I gained this knowledge. I used to borrow books on art from the library and get ideas of some great artists like Picasso and Kandinsky and learn the way they approached art, he says.

“I still feel I am very far and I am constantly searching and buying books on art because I want to compete with the greatest modern artists like Andy Thomas. I love the simplicity in the way he does his works,” he says.

Have you heard, oil on canvas, Sakanya Banda
But it is rather odd that Banda would single out an artist like Thomas for inspiration, because apart from their choice of material, oil on canvas, it is hard to find any other comparisons. The 58-year-old American chooses rodeo and cowboy portrayals, historic scenes of his country’s civil war as well as the portraiture of some of his iconic compatriots mostly former presidents, and although his subjects have an animated immediacy, his choice of colours is very subdued, almost reptilian and unenthusiastic. In comparison, Banda’s work is too versatile to isolate from its broad subject matter to his choice of lush colours. As for his style, to cut a long story short, the artist seems to effortlessly blur the line between realistic and abstract painting. Whereas his subject matter, again encompasses anything from wildlife to small crowd scenes and still life.

Pounding, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
In much of his abstract work, he prefers to employ flat, two-dimensional picture planes and at times reduces the human form to renderings as minimal as a single, hard edged brush stroke making it hard to believe that this is the same person who makes detailed pencil drawings. But not all his pencil and charcoal works are purely representational as can be seen in an untitled mother and child study that is an inventive throng of arcs and crescents and appears to evoke a blend of African tribal sculpture and early Christian iconography.
Speaking of Christianity, Banda stresses that positive thinking and his religious beliefs are a driving force in the production of his work.

Wildlife painting is Banda's first love
“You should be in a good mood and listening to good music like Gospel, Praise and Worship, like I do.  I find it very difficult to paint without music or at least the radio on,” he explains he enjoys working long hours when fully inspired, particularly when he has all his favourite material in front of him.

“I like this medium because of its slow drying time which allows me to work on a painting sometimes for 3 weeks which involves blending. I have found oil to be the best medium for me though I work with acrylics and water colours as well.”

Selling, oil on canvas, by Sakanya Banda
Banda insists his career is a journey and he is enjoying every step. He joined the Zambia National Visual Arts Council in 1998, and the same year he submitted his first abstract painting Lost Child in the National Exhibition at the Henry Tayali Gallery, it was purchased by the Norwegian Embassy.

Based in the small mining town of Kaululushi,
Sakanya Banda sells his work internationally
A year later, a late friend called Joe Henry organized an exhibition for him at Model Arts and Niland Gallery in Ireland, it sold out in less than a week. He has also participated in numerous other group exhibitions such as the Cat on the Moon Art Gallery also in Ireland, and Articles and Frames Art Gallery in Pretoria, South Africa. In 2013 Professor Mel Coffee and Professor Chike Anyaegbunam both of Kentucky University of Journalism organized an exhibition of his works at Gallery Hope in Lexington Kentucky, USA.

Locally he has also enjoyed commissions at the Hotel Edinburgh and Arabian Nites in Kitwe. His largest market however still remains USA, UK, and South Africa. Just as he refused to be forced into art class as a pupil, he refuses to leave Kalulushi insisting that he wants to stand firmly rooted on his home ground. Perhaps his attitude rings true to his local football team Kalulushi Modern Stars FC nicknamed “Stubborn Kalulushi” because since its establishment in 1962 it has been a giant killer, known to hardly ever lose home matches, similarly, Banda appears to be conquering the world from this obscure little mining town, and one can only hope he keeps up the creative spirit.