28 May 2010

Zambia: Lechwe's Art Showcased

AS the rest of the continent celebrated this year's Africa Freedom Day on May 25, hundreds of Lusaka residents have been visiting the Lusaka National Museum to see a rare collection of Zambian contemporary art.

More than 200 works of art ranging from ceramics, drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures by some of this country's painters and sculptors are displayed in the ground floor of the museum.

This is the second time in five years that the Lechwe Trust is showcasing its collection to the public through the Lusaka National Museum. Since it opened to the public three months ago, on March 25 the exhibition has been visited by the diplomats, Government officials, school, children and a cross section of people in Lusaka.

And speaking during the official opening, Finance Bank Zambia Limited chairperson Jacob Mwanza who was guest of honour commended the Lechwe Trust for collecting art works from a cross section of Zambian artists in the last 25 years for posterity.

And people who have been to the Lusaka National Museum will agree with Dr Mwanza because some of the paintings depict the situations not strange to the ordinary Zambian. For instance, Poto Kabwe's paintings entitled, "I will Buy You Sweets" illustrates a pot-bellied sugar daddy inviting school girls to his red car, aportrayal of some of the social problems this country is facing.

And Victor Makashi'sintriguing masquerades in this exhibition have been popular by those who love art works depicting Zambian traditional dance. Many of the art works remind many of the different situations Zambia has gone through.

Some of the art pieces in this exhibition date back many years before Zambia's independence.

And the Lechwe Trust chairperson, Cynthia Zukas emphasised that the Lechwe was a charitable organisation which was established in 1986 to foster the development of the visual arts in Zambia.

Mrs Zukas pointed out that it was not an easy task to purchase art works, but with the help of her committee members such as Dr Roger Chongwe, David Phiri, Bente Lorenz, Carol Aslin, William Bwalya Miko, Mulenga Chafilwa and Liseli Bull whom she consults before a piece of art is brought, Lechwe Trust has such a wide and comprehensive collection of contemporary art in Zambia.

This exhibition was curated by Miko who had transformed the gigantic open ground floor of the Lusaka National Museum into partitions and spaces to benefit the time at which some of the art works were created by the artists.

Prominent among artists on display is Zambia's most foremost artist, Henry Tayali whose painting, "The Destiny" which he painted at the age of 17 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from 1960-5 is not just an eye catcher, but an historical art work.

Standing 58cm by 89cm this middle-sized painting in gouache on paper, was first bought from the artist by the son of the then Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Tim Gibbs in 1966 when Tayali decided to come back home to Zambia.

Interestingly, soon after Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, Tayali went back to Zimbabwe to persuade the Gibbs family to buy back his painting, although this family refused him to buy it back, they allowed Tayali to borrow it for exhibitions. And this was the beginning of negotiations to buy back this great piece of art to Zambia.

Tayali's now famous painting was exhibited in Bulawayo, London and Paris before it was exhibited at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1989. Mrs Zukas held protracted negotiations and the Tayali painting was purchased and brought back to Zambia to be part of this collection.

And among those who have visited this exhibition since it opened two months ago was the Speaker of the National Assembly of Zambia, Amusaa Mwanamwambwa who described the Lechwe Trust art collection as a single capsule containing the diversity of the different aspects of life and culture of the Zambians and beyond.

Mr Mwanamwambwa urged the Zambian people to turn up in their great numbers to see this exhibition.

He said, "As I toured this exhibition, memories of the different phases, such as economic, social and culture Zambia has gone through started coming back. Some paintings here remind me how the city of Lusaka looked in the 60's.

Henry Mulenga's painting of the Lusaka Railway Station is a good example of how clean the city of Lusaka was in the 60's and the 70's. In these exhibition artists such as Geoffrey Phiri make serious commentaries on the dumping of garbage in Lusaka, including the area behind our parliament.

And while the paintings and drawings by Godfrey Setti depicting the various traditional dances in Zambia have been a crowd puller. Stephen Kapatta's paintings depicting the life in this country during the colonial days have also been very popular, especially those who were born just before and after Zambia's independence.

However, the Lechwe Trust is proud to announce that this year their dream has come true, when the Almer May Cemetery Restoration Trust in Lusaka has offered a piece of land in Lusaka's Lagos Road to Lechwe Trust to build its art gallery.

At the moment the Lechwe Trust is looking for funds to build an art gallery, to include offices, studio spaces for artists, storeroom, coffee shop and a sculpture gardens.

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