Art in Zambia 1: Tribute to Fackson Kulya. A brief and incomplete biography of Fakson Kulya, some reproductions of his work and some observations about his art.
Post by Gijsbert Witkamp
First published: 11 November 2011
Last update: 15 July 2015
In deciding what or who should be the first of this blog serie labelled “Art in Zambia” I choose Fackson Kulya. I have two reasons for this choice. One reason is personal and perhaps incidental. Fackson was the first Zambian artist I got to know in 1975 when I started my five year spell as full-time artist in Zambia. The other reason is neither personal nor incidental. Fackson, had he still lived, today would be well in his sixties. He died around the year 2000, probably somewhere in the Luanshya country side where his village was. He came from that area, a Lamba by tribe.
Fackson does not deserve to “disappear without a trace” out of the Zambian art scene.
The significance of Fackson Kulya as an artist is acknowledged by his inclusion in the ranks of artists with a dedicated page in the book “Art in Zambia” (2004) by Gabriel Ellison (extensively aided by the Book Publishing Committee of the National Zambia Visual Art Council).
He was a self-styled artist, a sculptor, graphic artist and painter. Most of his sculptures are in wood, but in 1975 he started out in bronze casting. His graphic career started in the same year when he, prompted by me, became one of the founding members of the Lusaka Artists Group. The following year Patrick Mweemba and David Chibwe joined and later on Style Kunda became a regular member. The members of the Lusaka Artists Group, in 1977 renamed the Zambia Artists Association, worked together at a studio at the Evelyn Hone College. The space had been made available by the College and the workshop was supported by the Art Centre Foundation.
The members, by working together in an accessible place became visible and known. The Lusaka art scene, in those days, was very small - we are talking about less then twenty people with a more than incidental professional productive involvement in the visual arts. The group, or its individual members, received smaller and larger commissions; working together helped to create a conducive and innovative atmosphere and a number of material problems (lack of art materials) were solved by processing locally available materials.
It was in this setting and period that Fackson could develop into a mature artist. He was commissioned to make a relief in wood depicting the eagle which is a symbol for Zambia on the Zambian flag.
He also was one of the artists who did the mural paintings at the Longacres market. Several collectors commissioned or bought medium sized wooden sculptures by him; usually done in mukwa; mostly about “traditional” themes of the mother and child type and executed in some sort of a conventional primitivism.
Sitting on a bad branch. Linocut by Fackson S. Kulya. 3/5. Size 12.5 x 23 cm. Not dated but probably made around 1988. In the collection of G. Witkamp. This side of Fakson is inspired by folklore, his sense of humour and the bizarre.
His more original work was graphic or in paint. In these media it was easier for him to allow his at times bizarre imagination to directly express itself in pictures that often were fantastic, humoristic and rooted in folklore. Fackson, other than his academically trained colleagues circulating in the higher strata of society, is best described as a folk artist. These were his roots and that was his way of life. The blessings and curses of formal art education bypassed him.
In the eighties he returned to Luanshya rural. Town life was too hard for him. He continued, however, to make art. By that time Lusaka had one permanent gallery. Its name was Mpapa Art Gallery. It at first was located at Chachacha Road and later moved to a fine location, at Mwilwa Road, in the Rhodes Park area.
In the Gallery storeroom, in 1991 and 1992, I found three paintings by Fackson, perhaps unsalable leftovers. Or deposited by him in search of a buyer. All of the same size, in the same medium and stylistically similar. I bought them and one part of this trilogy is represented below.
|He now is king. Acrylic paint (of a funny kind) on cotton cloth. 90 x 75 cm. The painting probably was made towards the end of 1991 and perhaps has been inspired by the presidential elections of that year which ushered in multiparty democracy.
Fackson surely was not a socialite. He is not remembered because of all the committees he was a member of, or because of his social networking skills. He was not a committee member and his social behaviour could be awkward. He was never nominated for any of the awards that presently are handed out by the National Arts Council. People like Fackson are not important enough, their lives are too far removed from the artistic in-crowd. He does not rank among the big names that dominate art in Zambia. But he was an original artist, making imagery his own way. He did not try to please or provoke, to be fashionable or unfashionable. He just made pictures as he liked it; the way musicians like Short Mazabuka, Green Mamba or Mashombe Blue Jeans make their music. Folk music of a syncretic kind, yet very Zambian. Fackson’s work is not contrived, it is honest and has locality. It has zambianess about it – something hard to describe but you can feel it, coming from the heart.
Note: More information about Fackson is in the ZamArt Blog series Zambia Art Chronicles, now published. In that article a personal version of our encounter. I also have written an article juxtaposing Fackson Kulya and Henry Tayali.
Feel free to add on to this post about Fakson Kulya. You can use the comment or e-mail options. If you have an image by him that you feel should be in the Zambian Virtual National Art Collection - sent in as a comment or e-mail attachment.