17 August, 2013


Text and internet publication: Bert Witkamp.
Posted: date 17 August 2013
Last update: 15 July 2015

Art in Zambia series no 5: The Graphic Art Exhibition of the Choma Museum.

In this text by Bert Witkamp some notes on the genesis of artistic printmaking at the occasion of the August – October 2013 “Graphic Art of Zambia” exhibition at the Art Gallery of the Choma Museum. The exhibition is a joint production of Zamfactor Ltd. and the Choma Museum. The text is based on the notes in the leaflet accompanying the exhibition; now illustrated in this post.

You can see artists and work on show at the Choma Museum Art Gallery Web site: http://chomamuseumartgallery.weebly.com by clicking on the current exhibition tab. An expanded version of this text is at the zamfactor website http://www.zfactorart.com/graphic-art-of-zambia.html


There are several types of graphic artists: printmakers, draughtsman, commercial designers, book illustrators and others involved in industrial printing. These notes are confined to graphic art as fine, hand printed art. The development of hand printed art is the main focus of this exhibition, supplemented by graphic work which is not printed but drawn.

          Zambia’s history of printed art is young and starts just before Independence with the arrival of Cynthia Zukas in what at that time still was Northern Rhodesia. Born in the Republic of South Africa she obtained a BA in the Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. At this exhibition you see five of her prints. She developed a naturalistic style, choosing subjects and themes out of her surroundings.

"We want clean water," Etching by Cynthia Zukas.

Mrs Zukas has been supporting the arts in Zambia in many capacities: privately, as a member of the Art Centre Foundation, co-director of Mpapa Art Gallery, Chairlady of the Lechwe Trust and in many more functions. She made her etching press available to graphic artists - we’ll come back to that when discussing the Lusaka Artists Group. In this exhibition we stress her pioneering contribution to printmaking in Zambia.

          The second major formative influence was by Henry Tayali (1943 - 1987). He was a painter, graphic artist and sculptor. Tayali was one of the small number of indigenous Zambians privileged to academic education in the arts upon Zambian Independence in 1964; of these he enrolled at the best schools and was one of the very few who passionately continued to be productive in art after his academic studies. He obtained in 1975 a master’s degree in fine art at the well known Dűsseldorf Art Academy, the school where he learned most of  his graphics. Tayali mostly made woodcuts, but also worked in lino and did several designs in silk screen. Much of his work is in a robust, expressive style in which the dominant figures clearly stand out against a sketchy back ground made up of patterns of gouged out lines that support the sense and feeling of the subject.

Woodcut by Tayali with dancing figures.

He also experimented with a more abstract manner of graphic image formation. In such work figurative elements are not more than clues in an all over visual scene made up of colour blots and linear structures that seek to be expressive of emotion rather than of observable reality. This near-abstract work is mostly done in silkscreen.

          The third party shaping Zambia’s advent into graphics are the members of the Lusaka Artist Group (as of 1977 renamed Zambia Artists Group or ZAG). The group was brought together by Bert Witkamp, also writer of this article, during 1975 and 1976. Bert had arrived in Zambia in 1975 from the Netherlands, had a background in painting, monumental design and graphic art, and was looking for fellow artists to work with. The first of these was Fakson Kulya, followed by Patrick Mweemba and David Chibwe. The group was assisted in 1976 by the Art Centre Foundation which facilitated a classroom/studio at the Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka. Cynthia Zukas made her etching press available and the result was a very substantial production of graphic art, mostly lino cuts. Lino cutting was new to these artists and it took some time before each developed his own style in a consistent manner. Kulya’s work often is of a narrative nature, drawing its inspiration out of folk culture in at times bizarre or humorous figurative imagery.

"Sitting on a bad Branch." Lino cut by Fakson Kulya.

Chibwe’s graphic work mostly is about daily life in the village or urban compound.

"Children at the Front Yard." Lino cut by David Chibwe.

Also Mweemba’s prints often present images of daily life of so-called common folk.

"After the Shot." Lino cut by Patrick Mweemba. 

Mweemba developed his own variety of colour printing. Witkamp’s work during 1975-1985 mostly is an attempt to combine Western and African figurative elements into his imagery.

"Plus Minus." Lino cut by Bert Witkamp

          The collapse of the Zambia Artists Group in 1981 and the subsequent closure of the studio at the Evelyn Hone College did not spell the end of a prolific Zambian graphic art production. The (former) ZAG members continued to make prints,  so did Tayali, Zukas and Macromalis. New artists entered the graphic scene. Lutanda Mwamba from the very beginning was a great lino cut artist and soon moved on to become Zambia’s outstanding silk screen designer and printer.

"Nachisungu." Silkscreen by Lutanda.

He works in colour. A good number of his designs show a great sense of composition, spatial arrangement and atmosphere.  Other artists followed. Jonathan Leya is a talented graphic designer, who, however, mostly does commercial work.

Combs in lino cut by Jonathan Leya.
Agnes Buya Yombwe developed an attractive, personal and original personal style.

"A Working Woman." Lino cut by Agnes Buya

Patrick Mumba, Adam Mwansa and Clement Mfuzi also are mature graphic artists that have developed a style of their own.

"Gender." Silkscreen print by Patrick Mumbwa.

And there are others and more to come. Graphic art now is well established in the spectre of Zambian visual arts as you can see at this exhibition.

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