Search This Blog

Monday, 31 August 2015

Catch a glimpse of Kirby’s ‘Movements’

By Andrew Mulenga

Dancer, oil on canvas by Emily Kirby
Movements, a solo exhibition of recent works by Madrid-based painter Emily Kirby is currently on display at the Zebra Crossings Café, Ababa House, Lusaka. Scheduled to run until 16 September, the artist returns to Zambia with a familiar energy while she continues to explore notions of movement and momentum as the exhibition title indicates.

The Zambian-born artist who has lived and worked in London for many years recently left the city opting for a Spanish base and she seems to be thoroughly enjoying it, but as usual, she makes her – almost – annual trip to visit her parents in Lusaka as well as draw inspiration and gather more material to inform her work.

“I am really excited by the art scene in Madrid. It’s extremely rich historically whilst having a strong emerging contemporary scene as well. It will take time to make new contacts and present myself, but I have already had a lot of interest and I am looking to do a show next year,” says the 2012 Ngoma Awards Zambian Visual Artist in Diaspora winner.

Three Impala, oil on canvas
by Emily Kirby
“I’m lucky that I have built an international network of people that follow my work so I feel free to move anywhere with good travel connections. I am living in a very diverse and vibrant neighbourhood with a large studio space near the Plaza Mayor, it’s a very romantic lifestyle with great weather and friendly people. With London just two hours away it’s perfect.”

Once again her work features charming renderings of wildlife in full motion such as Three Impala in which she portrays a prancing group of young antelope at play. In works like Hippos, she reduces the portrayal of two brawling hippos to an impulsive blur, their wide open mouths being perhaps the only recognizable features in the composition. Kirby also enjoys celebrating the human form in her work, in her poster piece Dancer it should be noticed that the figure of the subject and its movement are more important than the facial details too. It is paintings like these that reaffirm her slot as queen of the fleeting moment. But if there are any significant changes to the artist’s work, it is her palette, while it is still as vibrant as ever, her shades appear a bit chalkier than that of the works she showed in the same venue during the exhibition entitled “Africa Revisited”in 2012, and at the moment, she has firmly settled for oils.  

Time to Fly, oil on canvas by Emily Kirby
“Having worked in acrylics for three years I started to feel limited by the medium. Oils are so flexible you can experiment with many different methods of applying them. It’s exciting and I feel like I’m constantly learning more often by mistakes. The colour is rich as well,” she explains.
Despite the incursion of new media in today’s global art world such as photography, video and installation art, Kirby indicates that painting is making a comeback and she enjoys finding new painters that are challenging the theory that “painting is dead”.

Hippos, oil on canvas by Emily Kirby
“I also think it is important to ask where the line is drawn between what a painting is. It’s multi-media in itself. I also think that referencing art history and applying it to modern concerns and in a contemporary environment will always be refreshing,” she says. 
Giving her work some theoretical framework, she also indicates that art in general, and not only painting can be used as a therapeutic element with regards the fast pace of modern living.

Kirby - art has the ability to be a
catalyst for positive action
“In a world that is increasingly suffering from mankind’s apathy, I believe if we can be more energized by the beauty that is all around us, and feel inspired, even empowered to take more responsibility, there will be an acceleration of movement in the right direction,” points out Kirby “Art can’t pretend to make direct changes in the world, however, I continue to hope it has the ability to capture our imagination and be a catalyst for positive action.”

Born into a family of Lusaka-based artists in the early 1980s, Kirby holds a 2004 BTEC in Fine Art from Brighton City College in England and has exhibited in several group shows in London, Suffolk, Bristol, Surrey in the in England as well as Prague in the Czech Republic and Dubai in the Middle East. An avid travel aficionado, she has journeyed much of East Africa and also spent some time in Malawi and the Omo Valley in Ethiopia.
Movements her fourth solo at Ababa House’s Zebra Crossing Café along Lusaka’s Addis Ababa Drive opened on Thursday this week.  

Monday, 24 August 2015

Young Zambian fashion designers, creative time bomb

By Andrew Mulenga

(Photos: Vince Banda, R & G)

Zambians love fashion that is why it is no surprise that the escalating shopping mall culture has come along with the invasion of – mainly South African – fashion outlets such as Mr. Price, Exact, Foschini, Identity, Mud Boutique, Truworths, Uzzi and Woolworths.

But even in the shanty towns too, on every corner there are boutiques selling reasonably priced – mostly Asian-made clothing items. In some high density areas like Lusaka’s Kalingalinga, one can safely say, the compound’s little fashion shops outnumber the public taps that supply clean and reliable water.

New York-based style expert Natalie Joos (second from left)
shares a light moment with her Fashion Master Class
in Lusaka, Zambia
Anyway, not the whole of Zambia’s fashion scene is dominated by foreign-made clothes and accessories, there appears to be a fashion underground of sorts with locally made products and the purveyors of these products are a group of vibrant young designers, many of whom are not trained at all, seeing there are no fashion design schools in the country. What is even more exciting is the subversive nature of these youth, they reject foreign made products opting to create their own. Most start small, buy Salaula (used clothes) for personal use, make alterations to the clothes and the styles end up catching on with family, friends and before you know it, what started as an effort to look different emerges into a 10-client fashion label.

This is why Tau Foundation a newly launched Zambian none-profit outfit that aims at fostering educational initiatives in the arts and creative industry alongside the Zambia Fashion Council, an organisation focusing on promoting fashion talent recently flew in New York-based style expert and fashion consultant Natalie Joos to conduct a two-day Fashion Masterclass.

Debbie Chuma - As Zambians we
have potential to grow the emerging
industry if we unite and work together
According to Tau Foundations co-founder Gloria Huwiler, the workshop targeted local stakeholders in fashion including designers, stylists, models and photographers, it provided a comprehensive overview of the fashion industry, with a focus on styling, fashion publications, the new role of social media in fashion marketing and the skills sets needed to grow a brand for the fashion market.

“It was a really beautiful experience to see the impact of an international perspective on our young creatives through this workshop. The inspiration taken will no doubt contribute towards the creation of sustainable industries in the creative fields, and give a platform for the endless unexplored potential and talent that exists here.  We look forward to creating more opportunities like this in the future” says Huwiler who is co-founder of Tau Foundation along with Adaobi Mwanamwambwa. Huwiler, is a stage and screen actress who lives anywhere between the US, UK and Zambia, not new to arts initiatives, she successfully toured an exhibition of contemporary Zambian art in Hollywood and the New York art scene whereas Mwanamwambwa is on the verge of launching a company that manufactures hand-made safari boots and sandals, she already has potential customers from as far as California waiting in line, so the two are a very driven and focused team.

Nandi Ngwenya models a dress by
Mushamba Margaret Phiri of Musha Designs,
note the sophisticated strapless detail
Nevertheless, giving an insight into the Zambian fashion scene, Huwiler explains that the main clients of the young designers that attended the workshop are middle class Zambians and foreign nationals interested not only in supporting local talent but cultivating and expressing an African and Zambian identity.

“They appeal to a more educated, and patriotic crowd who prefer a unique expression of who they are and where they are from. They (the products) are however luxury items, individually crafted and therefore not always accessible to everyone,” she adds.
“Their work has a specific niche and clientele. They aren't necessarily making everyday clothes, most do not have a production team but make bespoke items for clients. It is good to note that South African chains, like Woolworths for instance welcome the collaboration with local designers, where their own items are used and altered, customized providing a unique and local take on their pieces.”

She indicates that the workshop was enthusiastically attended by various established and emerging local talent, and that Joos’ extensive experience in various sectors of the industry as journalist, stylist, photographer, casting director and style influencer provided a broad set of knowledge for the participants. Having collaborated with various brands among them Hugo Boss, Chloe and Roca Wear, Joos provided interactive and visual exercises and examples of international campaigns to encourage and improve the quality of local shoots.”

Some of the vibrant young participants that attended
the two-day Fashion Master Class in Lusaka
Huwiler says the workshop attendees left with an incredible sense of the vision and potential for growth as well as a newfound commitment to developing the industry as a coordinated and integrated collective, sentiments echoed by upcoming fashion designer and founder of design label Debbie Chu, Deborah Chuma.

“The Natalie Joos Master Class was so profound, educative and very fun. I personally learnt a lot from her about the fashion industry. As Zambians we have potential to grow the emerging industry if we unite and work together. This industry is worth a lot of money and as she (Joos) shared in one of her classes its worth more than $1.2 trillion as a global industry. If we work together we can tap into that as a country. There is a fire and burning talent in the young creatives of Zambia,” adds the 23-year-old. Joos herself describes Chuma as being very talented and having “great promise” dedicating an entire article to her entitled Debbie’s World on the blog Tales of endearment. Inspired by her late mother, Chuma’s dream is to sponsor herself to a world class fashion school abroad, make it big and one day provide employment for other young Zambians.

Joos takes a group photo, she is wearing a locally
designed outfit by Musha Designs
Another young Lusaka-based designer Christian Syafunko, described the workshop as an eye opening experience and that until this point, he assumed a stylists job was always personally tailored to the end user client.

“After the workshop I realised how helpful a stylist would be for interpretation of a range. I also understood the value of social media a little better,” he says

And Claudio Pasquini a student says: “It was a mind opening experience having Natalie teach us and guide us where to go and what to do next for the Zambian fashion industry. Natalie really helped me think a little more about the social impact such as Instagram, blogs, websites etc... I absolutely enjoyed it.”

“The art of fashion knows no boundaries Natalie Joos who's a stylist from the U.S. coming here and wearing my designs shows that the world of fashion knows no language, it bridges the gap between Zambian designer’s models photographers from different places. I learned that we could make an industry just like the one in US by working together. I was so excited that the face of Jimmy Choo could also wear my clothes, that is the Art of fashion,” adds local designer Mushamba Margaret Phiri.
In addition to the Fashion Masterclass in Lusaka, Joos carried out a workshop and training sessions through the Tau Foundation and Sun International with local seamstresses in Livingstone.

Tau co-founder Gloria Huwiler (l) with designer
Mushamba Margaret Phiri
According to Hewiler, the pilot project will continue to focus on the Woman’s Community Centre in Livingstone Victoria Falls to produce goods with recycled materials that have the potential for local sale and export. By providing woman with sustainable skills sets and developing small scale entrepreneurship so the women can provide for their families and improve their lives.
Joos is already back in New York but from the experiences she shares on her blog, you can tell that the countries vibrancy particularly that of the people she mingled with left a lasting impression on her.

She observes that: “There’s a lot of work to be done in Zambia, but if everyone pulls together and keeps the fire going, Zambia’s fashion talent will be on the map soon”.

Joos particularly commented that that what was missing is a platform for the young designers to show off their work and collaborate. The lack of fashion education was another issue in that only one college has a fashion class. There is also need for a fashion magazine, as well as a need for trained people.

She was pleased however that The Fashion Council, a private outfit, has identified these problems and is now trying to lobby government to create infrastructure for all the creatives to work together and sustain a self-sufficient fashion industry. Joos also indicates that she had a word with Minister of Tourism and Arts, Jean Kapata at an evening reception and encouraged her to look into the plight of fashion as a creative industry to which she implies the minister responded positively.

It would surely be exciting to see the Zambian fashion industry as small as it is, being fully supported by some government initiative as there certainly is no doubt that the young people involved in it are literally self-employed meaning they are supplementing governments direct responsibility of job creation and youth empowerment. Also would it not be nice to see Zambian made clothes on the international fashion runways of Milan, Paris, New York and London?

Meanwhile, if you are looking at getting yourself quality local fashion merchandise, designed and created by the young Zambian designers featured in this article, visit VALA, the go-to shop for local fashion at Foxdale Court, Zambezi Road, Roma, Lusaka.

Partners for both Tau Foundations workshops were Budget Stores, Leopards Hills Memorial Park, Latitude 15, The Royal Livingstone, R & G events, Pilatus, Akasuba, Nkwashi, Technet, Shreeji investments, African Grey, Melissa Supermarket, Woolworths. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Ngoma, Sakanyi get eclectic at the Tayali

By Andrew Mulenga

Ten years to the day, Adrian Ngoma and Oliver Sakanyi return to the Henry Tayali Gallery in Lusaka for a collaboration. A decade ago, the duo exhibited alongside a group of friends in perhaps the last in a series of shows entitle Artists across the Zambezi.

Sleeping Beauty by Adrian Ngoma
While working as expatriate school teachers in Botswana, they would gather works by local (Tswana) and international colleagues, ferry them across the Zambezi into Zambia and exhibit them at the Henry Tayali Gallery in the Lusaka showgrounds. Held annually, these shows used to include a colourfully diverse range of artists such as Obed Mokhulani of Botswana, Indian-born Anita Bhattacharya and Krishna Kaberi, Kwesi Bovell of Guyana as well as fellow Zambians, Emmanuel Muntanga, Malumo Sibuku and Francis Mwanag’ombe.

Happy Children by Oliver Sakanyi
Nevertheless, their Botswana days are over and Ngoma and Sakanyi’s two-man show entitled Eclectic that is scheduled to feature Tourism and Arts Minister Jean Kapata as guest of honour, opens on Friday 21 August and is expected to run until 4 September.

According to the exhibition statement the artists: “wish to express images of their life experiences and share their visual memories with you in different styles as the theme suggests”. Between the two of them, the artists will have about 40 past and recent works on display, however, Ngoma is likely to have fewer pieces in the show due to his preference for diptychs (double-panel paintings) and large format canvases. Although the exhibition statement indicates that the artists will be showcasing images from life experience, themes concerning African masks and musical instruments should be expected in Ngoma’s work as can be seen in the Cultural iconology series of paintings. There is no telling, however, if some visuals from the anti-poaching paintings he produced last year will creep in. He was recently commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for its International Wildlife Trade Campaign, an on-going, one year sensitization project aimed at combating poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife commodities.

Cultural Iconology by Adrian Ngoma
From Sakanyi, viewers should expect small crowd scenes of women and children among other things. Works such as Happy Children that depicts youngsters engaged in song and dance may be a direct reference to his daily life as he is an Art and Music Teacher at Trident Prep and Sentinel School, Solwezi. An avid acoustic guitarist, he has also been involved in several musical performances and recordings, some of them involving his learners. Before taking up his Solwezi posting, he taught IGCSE Art and Design at Lusaka International Community School (LICS). Like Ngoma, Sakanyi holds an Art Teacher’s Diploma from Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce except he recently graduated from Zambian Open University with a BA in fine art.

Sakanyi and Ngoma have both worked with the Visual Art Council (VAC) in the capacities of National Secretary and National Treasurer, respectively.

Women on the move by Oliver Sakanyi
Meanwhile, in case you missed the opening, or you have not yet been to see Prescription: Nature an exhibition of wildlife paintings by Katerina Ring and Lyn Taylor, it is still on display at Zebra Crossing Café, that cosy little restaurant along Lusaka’s Addis Ababa Drive and if by some miraculous reason you find yourself in the atrium of the American Embassy in Lusaka after the 20 August you stand a chance of enjoying some select works from The Lechwe Trust Collection of Contemporary Zambian Art that will be on temporary display there. While the comprehensive collection itself comprises close to 300 paintings, prints, ceramics and sculptures by Zambian greats like Akwila Simpasa, Martin Phiri, Godfrey Setti, Shadreck Simukanga, Friday Tembo and Henry Tayali, surely just a handful will be nominated for the display.

Furthermore, if you happen to be in the tourist capital today, the 7th Insaka International Artists Workshop, will be launching its open day at the Livingstone Art Gallery on Sichango Road, behind Livingstone Showgrounds. The show is basically a display from an annual art camp that brings together artists at various career levels from across the globe to participate in experimental works, debate and networking. This year’s event has attracted participants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Singapore, Greece, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe and of course host country Zambia. The public display runs until 21 August so you only have one week to see it on weekends, the gallery operates from 10:00 hours - 17:00 hours.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Kausa talks Mulemena and cultural heritage

By Andrew Mulenga

Responding to last week’s article on satire and artistic freedom, Zambian arts and culture critic Roy Kausa says freedoms of various artistic disciplines in Zambia are compounded by several issues that include the lack of self-esteem by local artistes in the first instance, and secondly the lack of a serious arts education.

Mulemena’s tunes introduced the Kaonde Manchancha
and Shonongo traditional rhythms albeit in
slightly Westernized variations
“It is a fact that in last 51 years, this country’s arts education curriculum from primary school right up to tertiary level has been a total disaster for lack of a better term. And as a result, nobody in this country ever regards the arts as a serious player in the economic development of Zambia,” he says.

Kausa, whom for over 30 years has been well known in the visual arts circles for his caustic reviews in publications such as The Zambia Daily Mail and more recently the Bulletin & Record Magazine argues that Zambia’s citizens do not appreciate art because of lack of art education during their time in school and tend to ignore the situations brought to “light” by the artistes in music, drama and in visual arts.

“But who is really to blame? If my memory serves me right, the advent of Christianity in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) is entirely to blame for the non-development of a serious arts education. As a small boy living at Mukinge Mission in Kasempa I remember how the missionaries from the London Mission now Evangelical Church in Zambia terrorized villages during weekends, warning them against doing evil things such as drumming and traditional dancing,” he recalls.
He points out that to play any traditional instruments in homes was considered a punishable taboo by these missionaries.
“I also remember how the late Emmanuel Mulemena who was my teacher in Sub-A (Grade 1) at Kikoka Mabwe Primary School during the late 1950’s struggled to teach us traditional music with his close friend Noah Chanda because of strict rules from the then Northern Rhodesia government and the church against promotion of traditional and cultural activities in our villages,” he says.

According to Kausa, it did not take long before Mulemena was hounded out of the school by church authorities because of his passion for traditional folklore and music.

“I vividly remember how Mulemena would take the whole class to Munkinge hill at weekends to help us learn songs he composed from the various Kaonde folklore. He left Kasempa for Lusaka and because he had gathered enough material in traditional Kaonde folklore, music and dance from rural Kasempa, Mulemena's music quickly received attention from the Zambian public when later he joined the Zambia Broadcasting Services,” he says.

He claims that in the 1970s Mulemena’s music took the country airwaves by storm because it was totally different from that of Isaac Mapiki and Alick Nkhata whose compositions mainly depicted urban life. Mulemena’s tunes introduced the Kaonde Manchancha and Shonongo traditional rhythms albeit in a slightly westernized variations. Before his death in 1982, Mulemena was one of Zambia's most popular musicians and vocalists. Among his greatest hits are the songs Mukwenda Mukunanga, Kwi Lamba Ekwesu, Bakaseya Nibani and Amalume. The life of Mulemena and other Zambian music greats is well documented in the book Zambian Music Legends by Leonard Koloko.

“And soon other musicians such as Charles Muyamwa and others also joined Mulemena to promote traditional tunes from the different parts of Zambia. Time for Music on television which came every Friday evening was very popular in the mid 60’s to early 70’s. At that time Lusaka and the Copperbelt boasted of live music which saw the birth of such bands like the Tinkles, The Ataguns, The Earth Quakes, the Lusaka Beatles to mention but a few,” he adds.

Kausa - the current crop of musicians
lack a strong tradition of cultural education
Kausa suggests the story today is totally different in that the current crop of musicians lack a strong tradition of cultural education. But also observes that this may not entirely be their fault because there are no books in Zambia which depict the different cultural aspects of country’s life. This is further compounded by the lack of sufficient cultural centres or museums where young people can go and learn their past and history.

“However, the birth of the University of Zambia (UNZA) in 1966 was not a blessing but brought misery and destruction and sent the Zambian Arts to the grave. The lack of introducing a faculty of literature and arts at the university then situated near the Central Hospital, now University Teaching Hospital saw the once vibrant cultural movement in this country start to deteriorate and soon nose-dived and completely failed up to this day,” he charges.
Kausa commends the privately owned Zambian Open University (ZAOU) for introducing and arts faculty but insists that the arts would have been taken more seriously if government sponsored UNZA introduced degree courses in the various arts disciplines.

“Although the scenario is extremely depressing, it is not too late, to turn around things, by government to investing in the arts development at the university level. It is because of the absence of a serious art movement, that our local artistes in Zambia behave like party cadres used by the various political parties as objects of gaze,” he says.
He observes that while the formation of the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC) was with good intentions, it has overstayed and needs a total restructuring and a new lease of life by government’s quick intervention.
“NAC has also been a great pain in the flesh of artistic development in Zambia because it does not seem to add value to the artistes let alone the government coffers. For how long is NAC and its various affiliates such as Visual Arts Council and Zambia Association of Musicians going to depend on government to spoon feed some sections of the artistes in this country,” says Kausa who is also Lechwe Art Trust secretary and manager at Twaya Art Gallery, Intercontinental Hotel Lusaka.

“I therefore urge the Zambian media to help government to formulate a programme to resuscitate the “vibrant, rich traditional and cultural manifestations through the various arts disciplines from its grave and once in the history of Zambia start adding value to the economic basket, by bringing foreign exchange to this country like the case with artists in Nigeria, South Africa to name but a few who contribute heavily to economic baskets of their countries.”
Kausa suggests there is also a need to turn around, and develop a new concept to open a new door for the arts to thrive and to be appreciated by the Zambian public. Stating the government, private sector and politicians should embark on a campaign to bring back a curriculum in this country's education to teach subjects based on Zambian traditions and languages at university level. 

Monday, 3 August 2015

Satire, censorship and press freedom

By Andrew Mulenga

Sitting in the front row at a stand-up comedy show and listening to an artiste bluntly chastise and poke fun at a sitting president by mention of name, all in the pretext of satire can be nothing short of an unsettling if not alarming experience for a Zambian.

A cartoon that depicts censorship by
Bruce Mackinnon, Canada was on display at NAF 2015
Under Zambia’s shimmering veneer of 50 years of peace and harmony lies a dense layer of obscured censorship. Political bandwidth does not provide much leverage. Apart from social media and a few phone-in programmes citizens, journalists and artistes alike enjoy very limited freedoms and platforms on which to air their views fairly without getting a heavy knock on the door.

South Africa on the other hand – despite its many problems – seems to be doing something right in terms of freedom of expression and artistic liberties, so much that of late, the country’s biggest creative export appears to be comedians of a satirical nature. Soon, Trevor Noah will be the new host of the top American TV programme The Daily Show and his colleague David Kibuuka will be joining him as one of the writers. Funny man Loyiso Gola co-creator of the satirical news television series Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola on e.TV, has joined the Australian satire The Weekly Show as a correspondent, the comedian and puppeteer Conrad Koch and his rabblerousing puppet Chester Missing – the first puppet to win a court case -- will be attending Just for Laughs, the world's largest international comedy event with fellow comedian Jason Goliath.

Gola and Koch headlined their country’s just ended National Arts Festival 2015 (NAF 2015) in Grahamstown to sell out shows and frenzied crowds that were possessed with an unfulfillable craving for laughter. But even though they make people laugh for a living, these comedians are a ridiculously intelligent lot whose grasp of current affairs and world events can perhaps surpass even the most adept international journalists and seeing them live on stage one can tell that the work is not scripted for them because they continuously ad-lib and improvise depending on the venue and the mood of the crowd.

An excerpt from the South African constitution
concerning the arts and freedom of expression was
placed on the cover of this years National Arts Festival
Their ability to take complex political issues and break them down to morsels of humour is phenomenal. During his show at the 1820 settler’s monument for instance, it was hilarious to hear Koch, a young white South African ridicule the venue as a statue to colonialism, apologize for apartheid and Sarah Baartman, ask when the sitting president Jacob Zuma was “going to pay back the money”, give an ode to Nelson Mandela, liken his own dressing to the rock group the Parlotones and comment on the countrywide load shedding – yes, load shedding is not unique to Zambia – in one hour.

In fact the face of Koch’s puppet, Chester Missing graced the cover of the NAF 2015 programme magazine alongside a likeness of veteran satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys who was credited in the publication as an artiste who “continues to expose the hypocrisies of the fat cats that exploit South Africa’s complex and conflicted democracy” and “His astute satire has exposed the bones of apartheid dinosaurs”. Also taking a place of importance on the cover of the publication was an excerpt from Section 16 of the South African constitution that encompasses the rights of the artist and others stating in part: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes - freedom of the press and other media; freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.”

Pilato's song Alungu Anabwera recently landed
him in trouble on the charge that it was
likely to cause a breach of peace
Also, among its many art exhibitions this year, NAF 2015, in collaboration with High Commission of Canada presented Freedom of Expression in Broad Strokes which featured award-winning editorial cartoons aimed at encouraging visitors to think about “the complexity of freedom of expression and what it means to them.” The display’s foreword pointed out that: “This exhibition shows how the clever cartoonist often uses humour or a nuanced message to escape the direct attention of the censor”, it also rightfully stated that “editorial cartoonists remain a pillar of a free press”.

Assembled by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, the exhibition, featuring winners of the international cartoon competition since 2001 has been shown around the world and its South African stop over featured internationally acclaimed South African cartoonist Joseph Zapiro who is well known for stirring controversy that has often landed him in trouble with the authorities.

NAF 2015 also holds a public lecture series called Think Fest as part of its main events and speaking in a session entitled Satire and Parody: The Legal Protections and Restrictions prominent South African media lawyer Dario Milo told a packed auditorium at Rhodes University, one of the festival venues, that although South African artistes are protected constitutionally, there still are loopholes for intimidation, he cited an example where award-winning cartoonist Jonathan Zapiro was sued by Zuma for R 5 Million (approx. K3 Million) for the “Justice rape cartoon” that was published in the Sunday Times. He indicated that Zuma had used a tactic of suing and “letting it lie” without prosecuting the claim in the courts. A strategy Milo said was meant to let the matter “hang over the media and intimidate” Milo however indicated that Zuma may have been afraid of facing the Sunday Times lawyer. After Zuma abandoned the case and paid legal costs he also withdrew 14 other defamation cases he had against the media, making it a victory for press freedom. Milo also guaranteed the audience, many of whom were artistes that the freedom of creative expression that artistes enjoyed in South Africa was not possible in many other countries particularly across the continent.

Like many South African satirists, Conrad Koch does not spare
sitting president Jacob Zuma. He is pictured here on stage at the
just ended National Arts festival in South Africa -
Photo CuePix-Tamani Chithambo
His words could never have rang so true because as he spoke, a couple of borders away in Zambia, recording artiste Pilato – Chama Fumba – had a court case concerning a song that allegedly defamed the sitting president, Edgar Lungu entitled “Alungu Anabwela”.  On 13 July Pilato was however set free after the state dropped the case in which he was charged with the offence of conduct likely to cause a breach of peace. The lyrical content apparently parodied the Head of State as a rags-to-riches drunk who had forgotten how he got to where he is. Pilato is not new to political satire, last year his song “One Day Naba Kateka” which loosely translates “One Day With the president (leader)”, also created a stir, it was released when the late Michael Sata was sitting president, and in the song, the artiste imagines all the questions he would as the president if the two were to meet. Most of the questions were centred on a perceived neglect of the electorate and general public after the 2011 elections.

Prior to his acquittal, Pilato may have been described as a local artiste, but the Copperbelt-based performer was immediately propelled into international stardom not because his local language song was an international hit, but because the intimidation and infringement of his artistic rights – if at all he has any – made worldwide headlines. All of a sudden he began receiving calls for appearances and discussions including people as important as the United States ambassador to Zambia Eric Schultz who invited him for a one-on-one to discuss the importance of human rights and freedom of expression. So all eyes were on the case and no doubt this is what prompted the state to just drop it, avoid embarrassment and save the courts from a waste of time.

Your daily newspaper is an easy target, a cartoon
by Habib Haddad, France shown at the NAF 2015
Clearly, unlike their South African counterparts, Zambian artistes do not really have anything to protect them constitutionally. The pending draft “Arts, Culture and Heritage Commission Bill” may suggest a line or two that will look into the plight of creative freedoms but as things stand, entertainers can engage in political satire at their own risk. This is why Zambian comedians, singers, actors and painters have assumed an aura of cowardice in their work, and rightfully so, is martyrdom really worth it? The prospect of jail is very real and nobody surely wants to go there, certainly not Zambian jails, like those in many other African countries they are remnants of colonialism and have never been improved on or expanded, so they are overcrowded and the probabilities of disease and sexual violation too are not a joke if the stories from ex-convicts are anything to go by. So there can really be no blame for Zambia’s creative community for shying away from their duty to artistically criticize government’s shortcomings on behalf of the general citizenry.

Of course there have been some vocal artistes but they are just a handful, notable ones are late PK Chishala, his song Common Man that bemoaned the rising cost of living was banned from Radio in the 1980s, in the 1990s 2wices Tomato Balunda (Tomato prices are up) received the same treatment, in the 2000s a young duo called Impi -- Jordan Sinkala Kedrick Kafula -- released corruption-bashing hits Bantalamisoka and Ba Sakalanyonga that beckoned leaders to stop thieving. In one incidence the duo narrowly escaped with their lives when attacked by members of a political party, top Zambian dancehall artiste Petersen Zagaze – real name Mukubesa Mundia – is also known for prodding politicians with eye-opening lyrics although his strong messages are often lost in his creativity and people end up dancing instead of listening to the sense that he is voicing. When it comes to the comedians, well they appear to have found a comfort zone in satirizing low hanging fruit like prostitution. As for the visual artists, only cartoonists such as this newspaper’s resident gagman Choklet Roy Kazembe or the uncompromisingly direct Kiss Brian Abrahams have managed to stand their satirical ground politically, and sitting presidents have never been spared.

As for press freedom, for fear of intimidation, Zambian journalists, just like the artistes have been reduced to the point of mediocrity, except for them, the prospect of jail is perhaps greater. In his 20-something-years career in the media, the award-winning editor of this newspaper Fred M’membe has been in and out of jail several times under different governments and it is just last week on Friday that he was released on bail after spending a night in custody. M’membe and reporter Mukosha Funga were granted a K60, 000 bail by a Lusaka Magistrates Court in a case in which they had been charged for a story the paper ran on April 17 which indicated that the Anti-Corruption Commission Director General had written to Lungu informing him that presidential aide Kaizer Zulu was being investigated for a US$ 1 million bribe from a Chinese contractor in order for him to fix an appointment with the President. The state objected the bail application but Magistrate Humphrey Chitalu dismissed this noting it was ill conceived. The case has been adjourned to August, 17 for mention.

Nevertheless, when it comes to being the mouthpiece of the general public, journalists and artistes are cut from the same cloth. Both Zambia’s media, and creative practitioners should therefore find ways in which they can work together and mobilize for the urgent repeal or amendment of very old restrictive laws against freedom of expression, many that are colonial by-products, in order for them to go about their duties with less restrain. Of course they do not live in a vacuum and a few may tend to align themselves to certain agendas on behalf of politicians, but surely, there should be a few good professionals out there that are equal to the challenge, picket parliament, sing songs write stories, help make a change.