29 March, 2013

Choma Museum Art Gallery Electronic Newsletter 3

29 March 2013

The Choma Museum e-mail address is: chomamuseum@gmail.com. Mail to that address will be read by Mwimanji Chellah, executive director of the CMCC. Peggy Himoonde is in charge of the Art Gallery. For information about the forthcoming CM Art Gallery exhibitions you may also contact Bert Witkamp at zfactor@zamtel.zm. He also is the editor of this newsletter. The newsletter is published at the  Choma Museum Art Gallery website chomamuseumartgallery.weebly.com. It is small but keeps you updated as to what is happening in the gallery. And, of course, on the ZamArt Blog.
The exhibition was taken down end of February. It was the first time in a long time that the CMCC Art Gallery had put up a regular art exhibition. A number of organizational issues had to be put into place particularly as regards adequate staff attendance. No visitor records were kept. Sales amounted to about Kr 10,000 of which the institution retained its commission of 25%. The exhibition, all in all, was reasonable successful though it highlighted several issues needing improvement.

3         CURRENT EXHIBITION: WOMEN IN ART – art by or about women
Women at Work. Kalubi. Acrylic painting, 1991.
The exhibition as scheduled opened March 2nd and shall run till the end of May 2013. On display again is a mix of fine art and applied art or crafts – one advantage being that also visitors with little money can spend some. The number of recorded visitors to date is about 200 – a number that should rise in the future. This time the exhibition had been announced by the Lusaka Lowdown. The gallery should consider opening a face book page; something many art organisations in the region already have done. The exhibition was also published by this electronic newsletter, on the Art Gallery website and the Zamfactor website. Publicity therefore was much better than at the previous exhibition. Another improvement is the labelling which now is neatly printed and the introduction of the visitors’ record.

Nachisungu II. Lutanda, linocut, 1993.
The exhibition itself has a large variety of interesting work to show, in time ranging from the seventies to early this year; from first generation post Independence Zambian artists as Henry Tayali, David Chibwe, Patrick Mweemba, Stephen Kappata, Kalubi and Fackson Kulya to recent residents like Barbara Lechner; from crafts people dipping into the fine arts like Esnart Han’goma Mweemba to well established full time artists like Agnes Mbuya Yombwe, Lutanda Mwamba and Bert Witkamp. In addition to fine art you can also see beautiful jewelry and batiks as well as practical textiles by a Pemba women’s club or plastic baskets and hats made of recycled material by local Keep Choma Clean supporter. And of course, there is the permanent display of work by the Kalcho water colour artists.


Preparations continue for this major exhibition scheduled for 8 June-September 2013. On display: drawings (ink or pencil) and prints of Zambian artists and artists working in Zambia. With work by: David Chibwe, Fakson Kulya, William Miko, Lutanda Mwamba, Bert Witkamp, Patrick Mweemba, Esnart Meeemba, Cynthia Zukas, Agnes Yombwe, Jonathan Leya, Benjamin Mibenge, Henry Tayali, Aquila Simpasse and Godfrey Setti. Others interested may still join by contacting us by e-mail or phone. Work on display will be submitted by artists and private collections. Major concerns at the present: fund raising for opening, catalogue and other operating expenses, timely publicity, and inclusion in the list of places to visit during the UN TWO conference.


It is time to come up with a Practical Plan for the Choma Museum Art Gallery; a plan that has vision, is feasible, inspired and inspiring, of this time and age, puts the gallery on solid economic ground, and of course: MAKES ART WORK. Any ideas?

Note: You are welcome to notify art events for posting on the Choma Museum Art Gallery website or ZamArt Blog by using the e-mail addresses above.

28 March, 2013

HENRY TAYALI AND FACKSON KULYA: Academic and folk art in Zambia of the seventies and eighties

Internet publication by Gijsbert Witkamp

First published 17 April 2013.
Edited 15 July 2015, second part of text added 13 August 2016.

You can also access this text on http://zfactorart.com

Art in Zambia series no 4. Art in Zambia 1, 2 and 3 are about Fackson Kulya and Henry Tayali; two artists socially at opposing sides of the Zambian art scene of the seventies and eighties.  Today Henry’s artistic legacy is still alive and kept alive. In this issue an effort to juxtapose and link Zambia’s best known artist to an artist seemingly bound for oblivion – or is he not?!
At first sight a comparison between Henry Tayali and Fackson Kulya seems unjustifiable as there does not seem to be an appropriate plane for comparison.  Yes, there are common elements in their lives: both were Zambian artists, contemporaries (though Tayali was a bit older); and both were sculptors, painters and graphic artists. The differences, however, are much more striking. They lived in very different social worlds with few bridges in between.

Photo 1. Tayali in 1977. Newspaper photo.
Tayali (1943-1987) was a well educated, academic artist who lead his professional life in association with the University of Zambia (UNZA) as lecturer and resident artist. He was accommodated by UNZA at Handsworth Court; a pleasant housing complex for university staff adjacent to the university grounds. He, though born Zambian, had spent as a child many years in what at that time was Southern Rhodesia where he went to secondary school in Bulawayo. It was, for an African, quite a feat in the colonial days to access and complete secondary school. This accomplishment alone destined him to become a member of the first generation post independence African élite. The same feat also is a testimony of the foresight, perseverance and ambition of his father who lived to give Henry and his siblings the education that opened up the doors to social advancement and professional achievement. Tayali commenced his academic education by studying at the then prestigious Makarere University in Uganda where he obtained a B.A. in Fine Arts in 1971. Two years later he was accepted at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art in what then was West Germany. He was the first African student to receive a German study grant at that institution. During three years he studied graphic arts and sculpture. Tayali thus had a good share of multi-cultural exposure, an excellent education and knew the international art world.

When he settled in Zambia in 1975 he was from the start accepted as a major, if not the main indigenous Zambian artist. He was welcomed socially by the artistic élite of the day in a scene dominated by people of European background and the new African elite, an élite that in many ways had adopted a western lifestyle including appreciation of fine art. These artists and art lovers, African or European, were happy to accept Henry in their midst in a leading role as he was socially and culturally one of them and was a genuine, productive artist and native to Zambia.
Henry not only belonged to the first generation indigenous post independence élite, he belonged to a considerably smaller group within this class; that of professional people who not only were well educated and had senior positions in society, but also were competent and dedicated. He from time to time had commissions, sometimes major ones; and his paintings and graphics sold nationally and internationally.

Photo 2. Fackson in 1975. Newspaper photo.
Fackson (born around 1945, died around 1990) also lived for some time at Handsworth Court; not in a main house but in a servant’s quarter - made available to him by a sympathetic and sympathizing expatriate British lecturer. He was a self taught artist, an autodidact, born somewhere in Luanshya rural, a Lamba by tribe. He must have had some formal education as he could speak, read and write in English; but definitely not much if anything beyond primary school. Fackson has never been outside of Zambia, and most of Zambia remained unknown to him. He did not like town life much and in the eighties returned to his village near Luanshya. He lived there till he died. He was a villager at heart. In the village you are poor with your fellow villagers. In town you are poor because there are rich people; and you depend on these rich people to buy your art.

Fackson and Henry commenced their professional career almost at the same time, but by then, in 1974-75, Tayali had seven years of academic training behind him while Fackson was learning “on-the-go.”  What UNZA was to Tayali – an enabling, inspiring environment – was the Lusaka Artist group (LAG, later the Zambian Artists Association) to Fackson. In the workshop at the Evelyn Hone College – made available by the College on request of the Art Centre Foundation (ACF, a government sponsored body that was to promote the visual arts) he met and worked with friends. He now had company in an environment conducive to make art work. Here, from 1976 to 1980, he did quite a bit of his learning; especially how to make lino cuts, use a printing press, make oil paint, prepare for exhibitions, become part of a social network and learn to deal with the uppa mwamba; the elite, the people who supportwed hum, ignored him or had contempt for him. The small group of Zambian artists at the AFC/LAG studio workshop were all in the same position: no or little formal education in art, newcomers to the scene trying to make a living out of art in an environment that had little facilities or support for artists, and belonged to the lower strata of society, that of the so-called common folk; labelled "the masses" in the political ideology of the day: people with low incomes mostly living in the compounds (townships) spread out over what at the time was the periphery of Lusaka. At the workshop he must have met Tayali a few times, but there was no communication. Tayali, in his own and in Fackson’s perception as well, belonged to the uppa mwamba, the people on top; with the others including Fackson below in the social hierarchy; stereo-typically poor, dirty, uneducated and preferably voiceless. Kulya never had the security of a stable income and struggled for money all his life. Neither did he have the privilege of holding respected positions in society. Once in a while he was commissioned to make sculptures, but he mostly depended on ad hoc sales by personal contacts, by hawking, during exhibitions usually organised by the Lusaka Artist group (later the Zambia Artists Association), at the studio at “The College” and in the eighties through Mpapa Art Gallery - at the time Zambia’s only art gallery.

Tayali and Kulya both were hard working, dedicated artists, and indeed, art is the plane that links these two very different human beings. So let’s have a look at their art.

Tayali, over time, developed styles ranging from realistic, to free figurative rendering to non-representational. His first work, when he started art as a talented schoolboy in the sixties, was figurative and fairly realistic; with an expressionistic touch. His best known work of that period is the large painting Destiny, now in the collection of the Lechwe Trust.

Photo 3. Bull. Scrap metal sculpture by Tayali. 
Reproduced from Art in Zambia.
In his mature life this “figurative realism,” or “realistic figuration,” was limited to his sculptural work.

Photo 4. The other side of the Bar. Woodcut by Tayali, 1982.
A typical example of Tayali’s style in woodcut. The main figures stand out clearly against the background. The background  is composed of supporting dynamic patterns and structures.

Out of this youthful realistic rendering of scenes either real or imaginary a much freer style evolved characteristic of most of his graphic art. Tayali presumably developed it during his studies in Düsseldorf as this is the style in which most of his post academic graphic work is executed. This work takes off from realistic topics or scenes (i.e., a woman carrying firewood, women gossiping, queuing for food, men drinking in bars &c.) which are executed in his characteristic dynamic style in which the purpose is not to render the subject realistically but to create an expression of it in which the act of imagery construction at least is as important as the reference to an actual reality. These prints, woodcuts, have clearly outlined main characters that stand out against a background which is made up of free patterns and structures as cut by the gouges and which ideally support the central subject.
Photo 5. Huts.  Henry Tayali, 1974. Probably a silk screen print.
A good example of his evolution towards abstraction.

His painting evolved to a form of abstract art or near abstract art, often by super imposing layers of brushstrokes rather than working in planes, sometimes taking off from very basic imagery as shown in photo 5. In this painted silk screen print we can discover “real elements,” such as faces, a tree trunk and hut like structures. The relation between pictorial imagery and “the real thing” is not one of visual and visible similarity. What matters in this kind of work is the way of rendition: how layers of different, superimposed structures combine to create an image the “meaning” of which is contained in itself and not by the reference to a specific concrete event or situation. “Meaning” here is mostly “emotional expression.” In a way one might conceive of his paintings as an abstraction of his graphic style in which the structures and patterns made by gouges now are transformed into brush strokes. Tayali felt his abstract paintings to be highly emotionally charged – a perception not necessarily shared by an observer of these works.

The emergence and development of these styles is related to the environments in which Tayali lived in his formative years. Tayali, at secondary school in colonial Southern Rhodesia, painted the kind of pictures which could be appreciated by his teachers and supporters: it showed talent in a way that they could understand. Tayali, at university and the art academy in the seventies, was exposed to Western art traditions and was influenced by modern and contemporary Western art. His graphic style of figurative expressionism painlessly fits in the pre World War II Western graphic tradition. He applied this style to African/Zambian subject matter (daily life scenes of so-called ordinary people) and in this sense his graphic art combined African and Western elements. The dominant post W.W. II art fashion was abstract art, in particularly a variety labelled abstract expressionism. This strand aimed at “expression” without reference to a visually recognisable reality and at best had only rudimentary figuration in it. The expression had to arise from the “imagery” itself; an imagery that was its own subject matter. Tayali picked this up while studying and moulded it his own way. This kind of abstract art, in the seventies, in the Western world was passé, a thing of the past still practiced of course by recognized masters and pioneers, but not by the next generation of artistic innovators. It was, however, new to Zambia.

Fackson Kulya’s artistic development does not show such diversity and variety. He evolved right from the beginning a singular figurative style which drew its inspiration and subject matter out of daily life, folklore and his own fantasy. The extremes within this style hovered between realistic representation of realistic scenes (such as shown below in the lino cut In school) and imagery of fantastic scenes often inspired by folklore or his own at times bizarre imagination; the latter being dominant.

Photo 6. In school. Kulya. 1980, lino cut.
Photo 7. The Drunkard. 1980, gouache.
In school shows Fackson’s variety of realism, The Drunkard his bizarre humour. Note how the body of the drinker and the pot from which he drinks his traditional beer have amalgamated into one structure, situated in an almost surrealistic setting.

When I met Fakson in 1975 he was busy experimenting with bronze casting but he soon gave that up – the failure rate was too high and these small bronzes were expensive to make. He did continue to sculpt in wood. Wood sculpting was, however, a technique where his lack of formal and informal education in that medium showed: many of his sculptures have technical flaws such as poor varnish or poor finish in general. Generally I like his graphic art, drawings and paintings better. These media proved a better vessel for his fantastic imagery, the stories he told in pictures. All of this work appears to be not-premeditated; the imagery was drawn or cut spontaneously, in the spur of the moment; it hence never appears to be contrived, and indeed at times naif in its oblivion of aesthetic rules and regulation of the formal world of Academic Art. All of this work genuinely is folk art; art made by a folk artist and presenting folk life, lore, subjects, fantasies and themes.

Fackson, lacking the exposure that Henry had, could not but draw his inspiration from what he experienced in his own life and from what he created by his own fantasy. Fackson’s art is local and folksy; Henry’s work is academic and international.

In Henry’s work, however, there is a strong reference to “the life of the people,” and in particular to its hardships and misery. Certainly this was, in the Kaunda days with its socialist/humanist policies, the politically correct thing to do. Tayali made images about people whose life was familiar to him but which he no longer shared; an almost inevitable result of successfully climbing the social ladder and thereby distancing himself socially and physically of the common folk.

Fackson was a man of the people, Tayali was not. Henry was, or had become, an observing outsider. This difference is reflected in the manner both artists present people. Fackson did not portray the so-called common folk as poor, down trodden, ugly or miserable. He portrayed them as human beings in a fantastic, humorous, bizarre and imaginative world. Look at the reproductions below below.
Photo 8. Rushing out of the bush....... Lino cut, 1988
Photo 9. Sitting a bad branch. Lino cut, 1988
Photo’s 8 and 9 illustrate Fackson’s at times bizarre imagination. Both linocuts are made around 1988, about a year after Tayali’s death. The title of the lino cut on Photo 8 is “Rushing out of the bush with the nose in the hand but that big I saw it.” The print of photo 9 is titled “Sitting on a bad branch.” The prints, from the point of view of conventional “academic” composition, are uninteresting, and the print of photo 8 at art school would be a failure in that regard. The deliberate arrangement of visual elements into an interesting, intriguing, balanced structure is absent; instead we see what could be called a spontaneous visual narrative. What redeems the prints is originality, humour and locality. They are Zambian prints by a Zambian artist; original because the imagery could only have arisen in Fackson’s mind and one (no 8) is funny, even incorporating a pun on the I – eye. The imagery does not picture the human being in its degrading or pitiful aspect. The men in the pictures are men in a story in fantasy land; an intriguing place where anything is possible - unlike in practical reality where only money buys you food, education, health care and generally a comfortable life. Money does not, however, according to a famous band “buy you love.” Neither, I would say, does it buy you artistic fantasy, imagination or talent. Fackson, poor as he was, had these rich artistic gifts.

As a note to the above I would say that often the aspect of “composition” is low keyed in Fackson’s work. Fackson’s two dimensional work is visually structured by its unfolding narrative, not by superimposed compositional regulation or aesthetics. “Composition” also is not an aspect of outstanding interest in Tayali’s graphic work, but his prints do not confront you with the lack of it.

Fackson’s deficient formal education and exposure in Fine Art indeed had fortuitous side effects. It preserved his originality and prevented him from adopting styles not his own. There is, indeed, a great divide between Fackson’s bizarre, humorous, fantastic, figurative imagery and Henry’s emotionally charged brush strokes which are mostly so charged for only Tayali himself. One trouble with abstract art is that you have to be very, very good to make interesting, lasting work; or you must be truly original thus making your work last by its originality; and of course the best is to have both qualities. Tayali was not a pioneer of abstract expressionism. He joined an ongoing and established style/movement – at its post avant garde stage. His role in it is local or localised, not global. His abstract fathers, artists such as Willem de Koning and Jackson Pollock in the USA or Karel Appel and the Cobra movement in Western Europe, had done the pioneering work of a movement whose very foundations left very little space for future innovative development in the same style. Post World War II “abstract art” in the “expressionistic vein simply was the realisation of one of the theoretically possible extremes in Art; and once it was done, that was it.

Fackson’s lack of exposure, his very provincialism, kept him out of this global artistic extravaganza. A picture, to him, was not an element of an artistic discourse or an exploration of logical possibilities in art production. A picture, to him has a story to tell, often actually was a visual story; and in that sense is the opposite of abstract art which by its very exclusion of figurative association had no story to tell other than the sensation of its perception; and such sensation  fundamentally is non-verbal.

In the eighties, if you had asked anyone in the inner Lusaka art circle: “Who is the better artist, Tayali or Kulya?” chances would have been that even amongst the artistic in-crowd some would have asked “Kulya – who is that?” For most the answer would have been, without hesitation: “Tayali of course.” And they would have considered the question ridiculous and out of place.

What I have tried to tell you in this text is that it is not that simple; and if it is not that simple the question might be wrong. Perhaps the question should be something like: “What are the outstanding, lasting qualities of the art work of these two artists?” (That is how it is done in science: if the question is too general for a sensible answer, split it up in manageable components). At that level of detail, I hope to have shown, Fackson had qualities that mattered which Tayali did not have; and surely, the reverse is also true. So true that we can leave Fackson entirely out of the picture? That, in my judgement, is carrying things too far. Fackson’s work has something Tayali did not have: It had locality, it was Zambian; not just because it was made in Zambia by a Zambian artist, but because it connects to traditional culture and oral traditions in particular; his imagery is made the way stories, riddles or songs are made. In so doing he presented the so-called common (wo)man as a person of interest, even of marvel and not, as so often in Tayali, as a being which at best deserves sympathy by its misery; living in squalor, struggling for survival. Two complementary artists indeed, and of each you can say that “the same thing that makes you rich makes you poor.” Kulya as his station in life enabled him to make genuine imagery about folk life and culture but excluded him from obtaining the social skills and education necessary to function in the higher strata of society – and make a lasting name for himself by himself. Tayali, whose very international training and exposure lead him to make art that was international and provided him with the means to socially be a leading figure, a member of the uppa mwamba and an achiever, by these very same privileges lost touch with the life of the common folk who in his work mostly are depicted as inferior beings.
Photo 10. Untitled. Woodcut, 1979.
The print depicts gossiping women: compassion with the wretched of the earth or projected prejudice of black inferiority? Or none of that – just a picture, iconic indeed, of the malice of gossip?

You may ask whether his choice of daily life scenes as subjects is motivated by compassion for the cause of the “wretched of the earth,” or that his true commitment simply is in the art of imagery construction. I believe the latter to be true, but not to the exclusion of a social commitment.
Here then we find the plane where both artists are equal: each one lived to make art as art; not as ideology, not as realistic representation of real scenes or unrealistic representation of real scenes, but principally because of the value of the artistic imagery as it is by itself.

About the author:
The author is a cultural anthropologist and artist who has worked in Zambia during 1975 – 1980 and as of 1988 till the present. He has published on The Net about Art in Zambia and art material technology.

Bibliography and references
Barde, Bob (1980). "Henry Tayali: Zambian Printmaker". African Arts (UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center) Vol 13 (3): p. 82.
Ellison, Gabriel (supported by the Book Committee of the Visual Arts Council of Zambia) (2004). Art in Zambia. Lusaka: Book World Publishers.
Leyten, Harrie and Paul Faber (1980). moderne kunst in Afrika. Amsterdam, Tropen Museum
Wikipedia. (2013). Henry Tayali. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Tayali
Witkamp, Gijsbert (2015). The Lusaka Artists Group.
Zaucha, Grazyna (1996). Zambia: identities in print. Gallery, no 8, pp.11-13.

08 March, 2013

HENRY TAYALI – a post scriptum

Text by Gijsbert Witkamp
Art in Zambia series 3: Encounters with Henry Tayali.
First posted: 3 March 2013
Updated: 15 July 2015

Photo 1. Tayali in a 1977 Zambian newspaper in which a development plan for the arts is discussed. At the time 34 years old he was determined to be Zambia’s leading artist both in art production and art organisation.

Henry Tayali lived from 1943 to 1987. He was born in Serenje, Zambia, but spent most of his school years in Bulawayo where his father worked. His artistic talent was spotted and appreciated at the secondary school he attended. Soon after his return to Zambia – just Independent and still wealthy – he received a government grant for his academic pursuit of the arts. Government at the time, under leadership of president Kenneth Kaunda, supported thousands of talented Zambians to study abroad so as to create the intellectual and professional force that was to develop Zambia into a modern functioning nation-state. Tayali’s initial academic art education was in Makerere University at Kampala, Uganda, from 1967 to 1971, where he obtained a B.A. Makarere University at that time had a flourishing art department and until the rise of Idi Amin was an African University of good standing. From 1973 to 1975 he continued in Germany at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. He got his masters supported by a German grant. He was a graphic artist, sculptor and painter. Most of his graphic art is done in the typical Tayali style of “free” figurative imagery. In this work “expression” overrules realistic representation; and sometimes the figurative reference seems to be not more than pretense in the overriding interest of making an image in its own right - as an image.

Photo 2. “A Measure of Cooking Oil.” Woodcut by Henry Tayali. 1982. Here we see Tayali as a mature graphic artist pretty much at his most figurative. His graphic work often has a social reference; in this case to the shortages of essential commodities that were one of the characteristics of the second republic.

Photo 3: “Pounding Maize.” Woodcut by Henry Tayali. 1985.

In some of his work he transposed his abstract way of painting to the printing table. He was, no doubt, a good graphic artist. In painting he started out as a figurative painter but in his mature years he developed a personal variety of abstract expressionism, which, to him, was highly intense and emotionally charged.  I suppose it came about by his studies in the early seventies in Germany. The quality of his sculptural oeuvre varies greatly – there is the tremendous metal bull along the Lusaka airport road on the one hand, and the clumsy Graduate at the University of Zambia (UNZA) grounds on the other hand.

My first encounter with him dates back to December 1975 when Fakson Kulya and I had our first exhibition at the Public Library of Lusaka. I had arrived in Zambia in April of that year and was looking for artists to work with. Fakson was the first person I met. Our intention to form a group of co-operating artists was extensively publicised in the newspaper The Daily Mail, at the time of our exhibition in December 1975. This event is described in detail in Zambia Art Chronicles no 1, which is about Fakson Kulya. The journalist had utilized the occasion to lash out to the then Department of Cultural Services, perhaps to settle some old score. Fakson and I were manning the exhibition in the quietude of the library reading room when:
Trevor Ford and Henry Tayali stormed the premises after the publication of Daniel’s article armed with expensive and big cameras. They photographed everything. All of our little art work - the work we had was small in size and there was not much of it; as if it was subversive material, endangering national security. After this intimidating show the duo disappeared and unfortunately I have never seen a print of the photographs they took. Henry happened to be Zambia’s showcase artist at the time and Trevor was an internationally acknowledged cartoonist of Welsh extraction. 
End of quote out of the Art in Zambia Blog post Fakson Kulya, folk artist. Now why would Tayali be all up in arms when a government department was criticized to which he was not directly associated? Henry since his return from studies in Germany in 1975 until his death in 1987 was the UNZA resident artist/lecturer. He was a dominating and domineering man, he wanted to be seen as the representative and leader (if not the boss) of the Zambian artists and in that world there was no place for an outsider championing the cause of the poor self-styled artists living in the urban compounds (townships) of Lusaka or in the servant quarters of those that could afford to buy art work. What made matters worse, perhaps, is that much of Tayali’s work has a reference to social commitment. Says Tayali in 1979: “My art is concerned with the suffering of the people and I want it to be the echo of that suffering. I see the problems of the continent... I am just recording what I and my people feel, but I do not attempt to provide answers to our problems.” Clearly the “underprivileged,” (today’s key phrase) poor yet talented artists could have provided Tayali with a clear case for concern; but he had little appreciation for our self-help approach.

The next meeting soon took place soon after the library incident. It was equally brief, now at the house of one of the university lectures. Many lectures lived in a campus-like housing complex adjacent to the university. In those days UNZA had teaching staff and scientists from all over the world. It also was a cosmopolitan village as it was small, and had something homely about it. As we met Tayali refused to shake hands, to him I did not exist. As we met Tayali refused to shake hands, to him I did not exist. None of us could have foreseen that some 36 years later I would be mounting and framing some of his prints for exhibitions I organised for the Choma Museum art gallery.

In 1976 the Art Centre Foundation decided to support the group Lusaka Artists Group. The Art Centre Foundation was a government sponsored body to promote and support the visual arts; and its members were a mix of prominent art lovers, artists, amateur artists and sympathizers. They also were part of the upper strata of society. Tayali was a prominent member of this club, representing the African in a dominantly European association. The ACF facilitated a room at the Evelyn Hone College which they regarded as their workshop but which in a practical sense was managed by us – we worked daily in that location. Once a week members of the ACF would come to teach us uneducated folks how to make art, or simply to discuss and talk about art – it depended on the ACF member(s) present. Tayali once in a while would also attend these meetings – occasionally demonstrating his superiority in a contemptuous manner. "I would not even put that in my toilet," he once said pointing at a lino print - and I am sure he would not and perhaps not entirely without reason.

Most of the work we did at the workshop at the Evelyn Hone College was graphic, mainly lino cuts and once in a while an etching. Our flourishing printing production had been made possible by Cynthia Zukas, who generously made a printing press available. In a sense this put us in direct competition with Henry, who also was a prolific graphic artists. And in fairness – much of his work at first was much better than most of our production. Tayali had been academically trained in graphics for several years, the Zambian LAG members all were self-taught and new to the art. Tayali, in graphics, had evolved his own, personal style. People like Patrick Mweemba and David Chibwe were experimenting with different styles and techniques and it took time before their explorations crystallised into a consistent and personal manner of print making.

Photo 4. “Thinkers.” Woodcut by Patrick Mweemba. 18 x 26 cm, 1988. In a style reminiscent of Tayali.

Photo 5. “A Return from the Field”. Lino cut by David Chibwe. 1992? 10.5 x 24.5 cm. Stylistically close to Tayali.

When these instructive meetings at the college workshop ceased we had virtually no contact. Henry did his thing, I did mine. I visited his house once, at the same University complex. It was full of his abstract paintings. The occasion was sad – his Ugandan wife had died. This was in 1976.

In 1980 I left Zambia to go back to school. I started afresh as a student in cultural anthropology. In 1985 I returned to Zambia to do my M.A. research on makishi, in association with UNZA. Incidentally I met Henry at the campus. We exchanged a few words. He had mellowed, the hostility was gone, he looked tired and kind of wasted. It was the last I saw of him.

Two years later he was dead, victim of the disease unknown to Zambia at the time he was infected by it. Aids in Zambia developed in the seventies, underground as it were, with people dying mysteriously, from causes unknown. It spread strongly in the eighties and by then had a name. Its exponential growth tapered down only after the turn of the century. National average infection rate presently has stabilised possibly in the order of 15% of the sexually active. By the time Henry died he may have known what trapped him – when he was infected he probably did not know HIV/AIDS existed.

He was a hard working man, ambitious and strong willed; a dedicated artist who, unlike most of the first post independence generation of Zambian art students, remained true to his vocation. Many of his colleagues became administrators, lecturers or other professionals with a regular salary. To them art became a peripheral activity in their lives; for Tayali art always remained the centre point of his professional existence. His graphic art especially, has lasting merit. By education and ambition he represented Zambian art and artists in all kinds of forums. He is/was one of the few Zambian artists with a genuine international presence. He also was the first indigenous Zambian artist to rise to lasting national and international prominence. He was the first indigenous Zambian artist to substantially introduce graphic art in the emerging spectre of Zambian visual arts; and thus was instrumental in the development of an artistic tradition that still is vibrant today. That, I believe, is his main artistic legacy.

Note: Wikipedia has a good page on Henry Tayali – just google it up. 

07 March, 2013

FAKSON KULYA, folk artist

Art in Zambia No 2: Fackson Kulya, folk artist. The personal story of our cooperation starting in 1975, leading to the formation of the Lusaka Artists Group. Fackson made original imagery, timeless and a-fashionable; a self-taught local artist making pictures as he liked it.

Post by Bert Witkamp
7 March 2013
Updated: 15 July 2015

Note: This text complements the previous post about Fackson Kulya in the Zamart Blog “Tribute to Fackson Kulya” by a personal story of our meeting and working together during 1975 - 1980.

Fackson Kulya died years ago, literally out of sight, probably somewhere in the Luanshya countryside around 2000. None of us, his friends and co-workers in the second half of the seventies, knows the details and we only heard that he was dead long after he had been buried.

In 1975, the year of my arrival in Zambia, I was looking for fellow artists to work with. I found Fackson staying in one of the servant quarters of the University of Zambia staff houses at Handsworth Court, Lusaka. A kind expatriate lecturer had made the accommodation available to Fackson. There Fackson lived, penniless or near penniless most of the time. We would walk to Lusaka’s metal scrape yards and look for copper wire. These we’d hammer into bangles that we would hawk.

He was into bronze casting. That, of course, was another reason to scrounge the scrape yards. How he got into casting I do not know. He was not the only one. Better known and better accommodated was German N’goma, who worked together with Henry Jackson in a well laid out bronze casting workshop. Fackson did not have such technical privileges. He had a metal 40 gallon drum turned into furnace where he burned charcoal to melt the brass or bronze collected from scrape yards to pour these into the moulds he’d made. Some casts worked, others did not and eventually he did not carry it on. But the effort did illustrate initiative and an experimental drive.

True, I got him into lino cutting. Not true that Fackson had an “apprenticeship with me at the Art Centre (Foundation) Workshop at the Evelyn Hone College” (See the page on Fackson Kulya in “Art in Zambia” by Gabriel Ellison). The suggestion that Fackson and other self-taught artists, needed “apprenticeship” to do what they eventually did is wrong; so is the implication that these guys (Fackson Kulya, David Chibwe, Patrick Mweemba, Style Kunda) needed an academically educated artist to rise to national acknowledgement.

These men already had chosen to be artists; I expanded and improved some of their technical knowledge and skills, that’s all. We never talked about art, or about design, or aesthetics. We were mostly busy with the practical issues of making art (in an environment where many art materials were not available) and making a living out of it in an environment which, at the time, did not have a single Art Gallery. I am not saying that it would not have been sensible to talk about things like “composition,” “colour harmony,” or “what art does and can do in society,” or “making fine art in a country that did not have a fine art tradition in the western sense.” We just did very little talking about the imagery we were making.

The lack of the social infrastructure in Lusaka (and Zambia nationwide) necessary for art to work gave rise to the idea of establishing an organisation of artists working together. Fackson was the first recruit of what in 1976 became the Lusaka Artists Group.

He was a man of humble origins. A villager and to some extent a stranger to modern town life. He was used to hardships as hardship was the stuff out of which his life was made since birth. He came from Luanshya rural, a Lamba by tribe. He was born poor, lived poor and no doubt died a poor man. He would scoop out the leftover nshima (thick maize porridge which is the Zambian staple food) and save it for breakfast by warming the plastic bag with leftovers in hot water.

By December 1975 we had made a few pictures, enough to venture a show. It was to be in the Lusaka Public Library, next to the Lusaka Hotel, right in town. It was a very modest business, this exhibition. Just a few pictures on a board and a table in front of it where Fackson and I sat, waiting “for things to come.” In front of us were tables with people reading and studying library books, all was all quiet.

Photo 1. Fackson Kulya (right) and I at our modest stand in the Lusaka Public Library. Front page of the Times of Zambia newspaper of December 19, 1975. Photo by Times photographer.

At the time Zambia had two national newspapers, both government controlled. We went to the Daily Mail, to announce our exhibition, and were received by a journalist with the name of Daniel Mwale. He was interested, asked some questions, took some notes, brought in a photographer. 

Bert Witkamp interviewed by Daniel M. At The Daily Mail office in December 1975. Photo by Daily Mail photographer.

I did most of the talking and propagated the idea that “artists should co-operate” (even literally as a co-operative – it all suited very well the Zambian political ideology of the time), and Daniel keenly absorbed the notion that government money for the visual arts served mostly those already well-off (meaning artists having been educated and belonging to the higher strata of society) while the poor chaps living in compounds – the low class neighbourhoods - were neglected. Yet these guys were talented and able to produce art unpolluted by Western artistic and aesthetic conceptions.

Our sympathetic friend published these ideas and some of his own in a large article titled "Zambian artists urged to form a co-operative" in the “Daily,” utilizing the occasion to sharply attack the Department of Cultural Services. This created a major embarrassment as the ideas we were preaching were fully in line with government policies and ideology at the time, especially the co-operative bit. Having these ideas publicised the way Daniel did made the government Department of Cultural Services look incompetent and inadequate.

Several things happened. First, there was a disturbance of our peace and quiet at the Lusaka Public Library. Trevor Ford and Henry Tayali stormed the premises after the publication of Daniel’s article armed with expensive and big cameras. They photographed everything. All our little art work - the work we had was small in size and there was not much of it; as if it was subversive material, endangering national security. After this intimidating show the duo disappeared and unfortunately I have never seen a print of the photographs they took. Henry happened to be Zambia’s showcase artist at the time and Trevor was an internationally acknowledged cartoonist of Welsh extraction.  

Second, I was summoned to the office of the then Director of the Department of Cultural Services, a Mr Mofia. He greeted me by insulting me persistently and provocatively. I kept my calm and told the man the simple truth, the truth being that the journalist was the one who had written the article and had used the occasion by voicing his own ideas now put into my mouth. I suggested he’d call Daniel to his office to sort matters out. That was that. Ooff.

Third, it got the Art Centre Foundation (ACF) into motion. That showed later, in 1976. I presume that right from the time of the publication of Daniel’s article some members of the ACF were seriously disturbed. The ACF was an organization having a mixed membership of well meaning art sympathizers, genuine art professionals, and amateurs whom together constituted a good share of people whom at the time were important in the Zambian art scene. It was a government sponsored body which on behalf of the government had been tasked “to promote the (visual) arts in Zambia.” The irony of the situation was that the Foundation had several progressive members in it “with a social consciousness” who not at all wished to short change poor artists emerging from Lusaka’s ever increasing compounds. These artists simply were not known to the Board members as they lived in a very different part of society. The ACF decided to support us self-styled artists, by that time formally organized as the Lusaka Artists Group. They arranged that the Evelyn Hone College made a space available, one of the ground floor prefab teaching rooms, and that became the Lusaka Artists Group Studio. Some ACF members, for a short time, would visit at late afternoons to discuss or criticise our work; to make up, so to speak for the education we were clearly lacking. I remember Tayali saying, pointing at one of Patrick Mweemba’s pictures, that he would not even put it in his toilet. That was a good example of constructive criticism. These visits tapered off and in practice for some years this was the place where most of Zambia’s art was produced. Notably people like Bente Lorenz and Cynthia Zukas have given the workshop much support. Cynthia made her etching press available and much of the etchings and lino cuts made during 1976-1980 have been printed on that press. The ACF also facilitated commissions, notably for the mural paintings at Longacres market. So in the end all worked out well.

Fakson in the early eighties moved back to where he came from: a village somewhere near Luanshya. A villager-artist. A stranger at home and in town. He kept on making art: drawings, paintings and sculpture in wood. He gained an awkward reputation: he felt that his work at least should deliver him some of the money he badly needed. I do not think that he was really interested in national recognition as an artist, what mattered to him was that he returned from his Lusaka exploits with money to buy fertilizer, sugar, a chitenge for his wife and cash for the school fees of his children. If the people where he had left his works to sell could not produce these Kwacha’s he would flare his temper to get what he needed. He deserved the money – even if his work had not been sold.

"He is now the King." Gouache (?) painting by Fackson Kulya. 90 x 75 cm. made in 1991 at the transition of the second to the third republic.  Prophetic?
Fackson was a good artist. He made images as he saw fit to do and as he liked it and that is good enough. His work vibrates between the humorous, the bizarre, and the serious. He, in consideration of his background, made an extraordinary choice in life: to become an artist in the modern sense of the concept. A creator of original imagery. He did it with integrity. He deserves to be remembered among those who made the modern fine arts come into being in Zambia.

More about Fackson Kulya in no's 1, 4 and 5 of this series.