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Mulling Over Art

Life, which is the loosest translation of the Nyanja word “Umoyo”, an apt title for the ongoing exhibition that opened at the Henry Tayali Gallery last Friday has several visual morsels that are delightful to look at. The two-man show by schoolteachers based in the Eastern Province who are trying to break the mold from just being educators of art in their respective schools to wet their beaks in the contemporary art scene has several visual morsels that are delightful to look at.
Then what is it. Life, the everyday hustle and bustle of looking for a coin here and there. The woman selling tomatoes, the boy pushing a wheelbarrow ten times his weight, or is it the person on a cell phone sending a WhatsApp message? Dickson Phiri and Herbert Mwiba, the 2016 graduates from the Zambian Open University School of Fine Arts freeze everyday moments in an assortment of paintings and mixed media works.
Phiri who is a teacher at Kacholola Boarding School says at first, he was doing a degree just to get a promotion and pay rise but then his exposure at ZAOU made him decide that there is more to art than just being a teacher.

“I developed the desire to enter the mainstream contemporary art scene. In addition, I have to prove to my pupils that art is a serious career, that is why we also did a show with my pupils and they sold their work. As a teacher, I tell my pupils that you can also make money from art,” he says.
“When it comes to the subject matter, my work looks at the other side of the world, the so-called lower class. In terms of wealth creation, it is rare that I would read an article that explains how the working class contributes to the economy and society. My own mother just used to sell in a market, but she put me through school. So I want to remind people that these marketeers produce lawyers, doctors and engineers. They are the unsung heroes”
Phiri explains that it was not easy bringing the show to Lusaka because it was entirely self-sponsored.
“Luckily, my friend has a car, so we loaded our work in there. For now, we are not even sure how we are going to get back home. We do not even have high hopes on how or whether we are going to sell, but you see, art again is a business. It is not all just about passion.”
Moreover, Mwiba who is based in Petauke teaches at Visi Mumba, a new basic school in Nyimba where he is head of department, explains that the idea of coming to exhibit in Lusaka was inspired by the exposure that he had during the educational tours at ZAOU.
“In terms of my artwork, at Evelyn Hone I was a sculptor but then I decided to go mixed media and experiment, this is why I do not have a specific style. There are many things that I grapple with in my work, but also I am a civil servant, so even concerning the state of affairs around me, I limit or should I say censor myself. So I think that is where I have a problem, I tend to tone down,” he says.
While the exhibition started on quite a slow note, the curator Zenzele Chulu describes the opening as a resounding success.
“These are the first ZAOU graduates who are coming out of that shell of just being teachers, so as VAC we are quite honoured because it tells us that it is not all students who just get their degrees and go back to teaching. Herbert and Dickson have challenged the space and defied expectations. I am actually happy that this is an example to other graduates. These guys are so determined, it’s a positive sign,” he says.
“Also because of their educational background, I think they are able to articulate important issues, even just the handling of material, the way they treat it is also outstanding, even better than some artists whom we call mainstream. Look, it’s also important that the industry has some of these guys who have academic qualifications. We will be needing more qualified personnel like this, they are important voices, they will be art administrators, managers and so on, professionals who are much needed in the arts.”
Speaking of the arts sector at large, the just ended 2019 Arts Business Forum, organized by the National Arts Council at Government Complex in Lusaka, a three-day event was held between Wednesday and Friday. Although, it was not without its shortcomings in terms of a few missing stakeholders, such as representatives from the Ministry of Finance, some embarrassing stands as well as some unnecessary items on the programme – it did have its successful strong points. Chief among them was a collective concern about whether government was as serious as it would make us believe in terms of developing the arts as a profitable sector, which of course would mean streamlining the arts from the many line ministries by the implementation of the long awaited policy. Perhaps no one brought this out more strongly than Professor Dickson Mwansa of the Zambian Open University who rallied the attendants to remind President Edgar Lungu to spearhead the implementation of arts policy following the pledges that he has been making concerning the arts. He spoke during a session entitled “Educators Round Table: ‘Role of Education and Training in Developing the Arts & Creative Industry” chaired by State Council Mumba Kapumpa.
Meanwhile, National Arts Council Director, Adrian Manka Chimpindi best summed it up in his closing remarks at the end of the event when he highlighted the critical areas that were identified for urgent action in the creative sector. He recognised that there was need to consolidate systems in terms of the management, coordination and funding of the arts at policy level. The need for formal, regular and structured business and arts engagements. The need for planning and implementation to be informed by timely, relevant and evidence based research. Chimpindi acknowledged that there is a greater opportunity now for government to work towards a better enabling environment that quickens the pace of development of the creative sector.
The importance also of policy influence and engagement by the creative sector with government to fast track investment and growth of the creative industry in line with the Seventh National Development Plan (SNDP) and Vision 2030.
Another key area that was discussed was that of Copyright. Chaired by William Miko, Head of Department in Fine Arts at the Zambian Open University, featuring Thomas Mambo Mubita acting Director, Arts and Culture in the ministry of Tourism and Arts, the gospel artiste and comedian Abel Chungu who is current chairman of the Zambia Copyright Protection Society (ZAMCORPS), Kenneth Musamvu from the Patents and Company Registration Agency (PACRA) as well as Jasmine Kasoma an arts management administrator who oversees sub-Saharan Africa in her duties. Here too, the importance of streamlining the sector at policy level was emphasised. Miko, stressed the important role of the parliamentary budget committee and how artists should lobby it as a point of intervention./LM

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