31 August, 2015


Post by Bert Witkamp
Published 31 August 1015

Below a list of art activities that in my view would make the Zambian Art World a more interesting and functional place to be in – and would do better justice to the art made in this country and the people who make it happen.
It is a short-medium term itinerary – mostly just ideas but some of these are presently practically worked on.

Detail of drawing by Aquila Simpasa (Chongwe collection).
He was one of the pioneers of modern art in Zambia,
yet his work and life are not documented.
1. EXHIBITIONS. A trilogy of exhibitions of Art in Zambia in social context by generation: 1960-1980, 1981-200, 2001 to present. Objective: provide comprehensive overview, build up historical awareness and understanding.
Requires booklet and educational activity for schools. 
The exhibition should be designed to travel to suitable venues in Zambia; in any case the Livingstone Art Gallery and the Lusaka National Museum. A slimmed down variant could perhaps be displayed at smaller facilities.

2. “THE INSIDE OUT HISTORY OF ART IN ZAMBIA.” An art history of personal accounts by those (or their associates) who made the Zambian Art World. Intended as Internet publication on a dedicated website or as a component of:

3. THE VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF ART IN ZAMBIA. Promoting this project was the idea behind the Art in Zambia blog I started in 2011. I now have decided to go ahead and presently am working on it in an as yet unpublished form.

4. Revise the N’GOMA ART AWARDS. Presently annually four prices are given out: 1 for 2-dim artist, 1 for 3-dim artist, 1 for female artist and one for upcoming artist. Zambia does not have sufficient artists for so many annual prices and the N’goma awards are not sufficiently funded to award artists with a substantial price. I’d say 1 substantial price annually is enough and better, rotating the current schedule. I don’t know if it still makes sense to have special prices for female artists – perhaps female artists by now are equally well positioned as the men. A substantial price, I would say, starts somewhere in the order of K 50,000; enabling the artist to work for some time without financial worries and possibly purchase art equipment and materials.

There are other issues, perhaps of greater importance but probably more remote in realization. Yet some of these need to be named.
  1. On top of the list is the need to have a genuine art CURATOR: I mean someone having an MA in a combination of Art History (with major in Zambian art by research and thesis) and Museum Studies (including preservation). It is appalling that we have several art collections, now located at the Lusaka National Museum, without an art professional = curator looking after these collections.
  2. A dedicated ART MUSEUM / CENTRE. The LNM never was designed as an art museum and is not well suited for such.
  3. Such museum could be placed in an ART PRECINCT (as proposed by Gwenda Chongwe and supported by others). A concentration of art/cultural facilities and activities by itself has a stimulating allover effect.

24 August, 2015


Post by Bert Witkamp
First published: 24 August 2014
Last update: 28 August 2014

Art in Zambia series 9: The Inside Out History of Art in Zambia is a project aimed at the collection of stories by those who helped shape the History of Art in Zambia. Their personal accounts are to be published on a dedicated website and thus shall be accessible to anyone interested in Art in Zambia.

The lack of Zambian art historical documentation increasingly makes it hard for upcoming artists to position themselves in a tradition which now is several generations of artists deep. Similarly art lovers, supporters and other interested party rarely have more than a fragmented view of the Zambian art world.

The idea behind “The Inside Out History of Art in Zambia” is to ask people who actually made that history or who were/are closely involved in it to write personal accounts of the things they were/are involved in. The variety of contributors can be large indeed; artists, organisors, members of (boards) of organizations, managers of business houses and galleries, writers, patrons, teachers, curators, supporters, workshop facilitators, exhibition designers, collectors: in short anybody who in one way or the other had/has something to do with art that is of interest to the art world in Zambia.

The written contributions are not meant as formal art historical papers. They are meant as personal accounts of someone’s involvement in a particular event or activity. It is about the inside view. The facts should be correct, their understanding and interpretation that of the writer.

When possible the contributions should be illustrated and additional documentation (e.g. media coverage, leaflets, catalogues) is very welcome.

The Print Maker. Woodcut
 by Patrick Mweemba. 
There is a very long list of topics that springs to mind. The coming into being of VAC, Mpapa Gallery, the art exhibitions of the Choma Museum, the art collection of the Livingstone Museum (did you know they had one?), the Art Centre Foundation, the Art Teacher’s Diploma Course at the Evelyn Hone (students that became artists, curriculum development), Rockstone, Insaka Trust, the development of stone sculpture in Zambia using an angle grinder, the introduction of high firing pottery, the use of local materials in fine art, what the etching press of Cynthia Zukas did for Zambian graphic art and so on and so forth. Coverage shall focus on “modern art” and may include applied and popular or folk art.

The collection of contributions is not likely to be a systematic coverage of the subject. It is a piecemeal approach, topical indeed. But the opening chapter could and should be an overview of modern art in Zambia. Furthermore, as the project progresses strategic contributions can be solicited to arrive at something more coherent or relevant.

My idea presently is to publish these contributions in a dedicated website – I am presently setting it up. The beauty of publishing on the net is global accessibility and the possibility of adding and updating.

The copy rights shall remain with the authors. Publication is as by regular format: Title, name author, text; and only after consent of author. Participation is both by invitation or own initiative. The coordination for the time being is with me – others are welcome to join.

Interested? Don't think about it. Do it. Writing is good for you!

14 August, 2015


Internet publication by Bert Witkamp.

Text first published: 15 August 2015
Current update: 22 September 2015

Art in Zambia series no 8: The Matter of Art and Artists. The purpose of this article is to contribute to a better understanding of material-technical knowledge and ability for artists, art collectors and others interested in art; with special reference to the development of modern art in Zambia. Most modern art techniques were introduced in Zambia during the colonial days or shortly thereafter and therefore are exotic in origin. The materials and techniques of these media were taken up by Zambian artists, often in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion. Much art has been made that is poor from a material-technological point of view. A deterioration of the physical condition of the art object also brings with it a deterioration of its imagery.  Lack of material-technological understanding has been exacerbated by a changing technological standards of the conventional western fine arts and is perpetuated by absence of educational facilities where sound material technology of art can be accessed, learned and practiced by Zambian artists. The final section of this paper is an itinerary of simple measures that can be taken by (Zambian) artists to improve on the material construction of their art.

Art is a thing
Art has an objective existence because works of art are made up of matter. All art, in one way or another, is made of materials having specific physical and chemical properties. Certain objective properties provide the raw material for perception, the external stimuli. In the visual arts those properties that have to do with light are of paramount importance. Our eyes perceive the artwork by the light the work of art reflects or emits. Our brain and mind during such perception construct the imagery associated with the artwork that is perceived. The imagery is mental and internal; the object is material and external.
We do not have an objective instrument to assess (“measure”) artistic merit of a work of art. The study of materials and techniques of art, however, provides a way to assess how well a work of art is made as an object. Such assessment must be carried out in the context of the art tradition to which the art under investigation belongs. Outside its own tradition, placed in an alien environment, different criteria may apply. This often happens when ethnographic artifacts are removed from their native situation to a museum. In the museum measures need to be taken to conserve and preserve the object well - as that is one major thing museums have to do: keep objects well. In the native situation the broken mask is replaced by a similar, new one and the old mask is discarded.

Art is an image
The relation between art object, perception and mental imagery construction of the perceived art object is complex and not the subject of this article. Suffice it here to note that seeing is something you have to learn and this also applies to the perception of art. For our present purposes we merely emphasize the intrinsic relationship between art object and percept of that object. If visual properties of the work of art change, so does its percept and mental image. Artists and keepers of art need to know the changes that shall or may incur in the art object once it has been made; changes issuing from the manner of its construction and the environment in which it is kept.

Art is for today or for eternity
Some art is not made to last; it is made for a single occasion after which it is destroyed. Its material integrity only needs to be sustained during the event for which it has been constructed. This, for example, holds for certain makishi masks used during the boys initiation of the Luvale, Chokwe, Lunda, Luchazi and Mbunda of North West Zambia. Other art is used at multiple occasions until it is broken down. This, for example, is true for makishi masks that have entertaining functions also outside of mukanda, the boys initiation referred to above. Examples are Mwana Pwevo (the young women) and Ngulube (the pig). These masks are made of wood, wood being more permanent than masks made of bark cloth, hessian or other fabric. The worn down mask is disposed off and replaced by a newly made one following the same stereotypical model. Some art is made to last to eternity. Egyptian sculptures dating back to the earliest times of the pharaohs, some 5,000 years ago, belong to this group. Today many of those ancient sculptures look the same or nearly the same as at the time of their creation, thousands of years ago. In short: technology is directed by functionality and ideology.

Material technology is an aspect of an art tradition
Art, no matter where or when, is embedded in a larger context. We can name that larger context an art tradition, or more broadly, an art world. For the time being, let us stick to the concept “art tradition.” The term tradition implies a customary way of doing things and “a customary way of doing things” implies historical depth. Each art tradition has its specific material technology; a technology that has evolved over time and is part of the culture and cultural heritage of the people having that particular tradition.
Art traditions vary tremendously and so do the materials and the technologies used in art production. A number of factors influence or determine the choice of materials and their processing. These factors include availability of raw materials and ready-made art materials; the cost of acquiring these materials; the technology to process the materials; the functionality of the work of art; values attached to the work of art as regards permanence or durability; desirable properties as regards visual appearance such as brightness, colour, texture, transparency or opaqueness; and the incorporation of certain colours or materials for symbolic reasons. Each art tradition in the course of time developed and develops its own standards.
Technologies do change in the course of time. New materials are incorporated into the existing stock; methods of processing these materials may change as well as the manner of their application. Yet these innovations rarely radically change the prevailing traditional technology - but they do modify it. The colour red of makishi masks historically was procured by red ochre (ground haematite or purified red clay; the colouring principle of both substances is red oxide of iron). For many decades red cloth, red paper or red commercial paint has replaced the original material. In this instance the important element was not the raw material as such but the colour red. That colour has been retained in this technological change. It does happen, however, that in a certain social setting an entirely new technology is introduced, or that an existing technology disappears. Rock art, in Zambia, by now is extinct and so is its technology.
Art traditions usually are associated with specific populations; a specific art tradition being part of the culture and cultural heritage of its associated ethnicity of cluster of (related) ethnicities. The makishi tradition mentioned above belongs to a group of culturally related peoples, sometime referred to as the West central Bantu.1
A new art technology may spread from its place of invention. The technical term for this is diffusion, meaning the spread of a cultural trait or feature. An example is the replacement of tempera painting by oil painting. Oil painting became the main painting medium in Italy during the sixteenth century and was adopted in the course of the seventeenth century throughout Europe to become the major and most prestigious painting technique for mobile paintings. This innovation is placed in a broadly defined European (fine) art tradition. The diffusion of a number of modern art technologies (notably in painting and graphic art) via an (im)migrant population to indigenous artists is an instant of the adoption of technologies new to emerging Zambian artists more or less as of the 1960’s.2

ART and art
In the Western tradition the concept “art” means both the ability of the artist to handle his/her materials well (art as craft) and ART in capitals. The double meaning reflects the notion that you need to master the skills and knowledge relevant to ART in order to make ART. One reason why art stands out from ordinary objects is because art is (should be) made with technical mastery. This principle is universally understood but has eroded in the 20th century Western art world by the adoption of art styles or modes of production that require very little material skills, or in which the material properties of art materials simply are ignored in favour of “spontaneous expression,” or are deemed irrelevant or even deliberately flouted and revolted against. Any artist worldwide however, traditionally could only become an artist after having learned the craft of his trade. Such learning was done by apprenticeship with a master and/or by studying at an Art School.
I subscribe to the view that craftsmanship is a precondition for artistic competence and one aspect of craftsmanship is mastery of materials and techniques used in art. Some academic writers even hold that aesthetic merit arises out of or is imminent in technical mastery. The great Franz Boas, one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology, for example, holds that technical perfection creates beautiful forms, forms that turn on the aesthetic attitude (1955: 10-12), art making ART. Technical mastery, when applied, results in perfect form, pleasing surfaces and beautiful decorative patterns; formal qualities which, in his view, turn an object into “art.” Boas stresses that technical mastery implies the ability to make an object “automatically,” meaning the manual operations are highly skilled and do not require thinking.
The deterioration of the value attached to craftsmanship in art in the West is reflected in the curriculum of Western Art Academies – the subject may or may not be taught. Consequently many contemporary Western artists may have very little material understanding of the art work they produce. Similarly other major players such as galleries, museums, art critics or collectors may lack material expertise even when such should be required. After all, one does not in the Western art tradition purchase a painting to see the paint fall off its surface within a few years.
African art students attending Western Art Academies or fine art departments of universities similarly may be poorly equipped with material skills and understanding.
*  *  *
Ill.1 Discoloring of print due to poor
 quality inks. Two copies, same edition.
Let me now turn to the situation in Zambia. Firstly we need to realize that modern easel painting, murals and graphics as fine or visual arts were introduced in Zambia during the colonial days and thereafter. These arts initially had no indigenous material history that could have guided the handling of the materials used in these arts by Zambian artists. Only in wood carving can we establish a link between traditional and modern art applications. Today we have a modern art history several generations deep. A number of artists have developed good or even excellent craftsmanship – as a class this applies especially to the sculptors. The situation in the two dimensional arts – mostly painting and graphic art – varies from obvious ignorance to make do with what is available to a conscious attempt to use the best materials in a proper manner – that is: to abide by genuine standards of the craft. Generally, however, there is a great deal of room for improvement.
The introduction of “fine art” in Zambia is well described by Gabriel Ellison in her book Art in Zambia, (2004: 17-24). This introduction took place in a specific segment of society; that of European expatriates, residents and settlers who, in a colonial setting, constituted a subculture in which “art” testified to the presence of some sense of civilisation, their civilisation that is, and inevitably was associated with the upper stratum of society. Many of these pioneering modern artists were members of the Lusaka Art Society, established in 1947. Their art work fitted into a tradition they considered their own and that included, in varying degrees, technological awareness and competence.
Several of its prominent members in the course of time worked with or supported indigenous African artists thus setting into motion a process of diffusion of art techniques from one population to another. On the European side Gabriel Ellison, Cynthia Zukas and Bente Lorenz have played a major role in the formative years of fine art in Zambia and that role included support for African artists and artisans. Both Tayali and Simpasa worked with (and under) Gabriel Ellison after Independence at the Government Graphic Art Department. The establishment of the Art Teacher’s Diploma Course at the Evelyn Hone College later in the 1960’s was another milestone in the dissemination of Western art techniques. Initially most lecturers were European or Western educated Zambian. This facility was to become the single largest provider of Zambian artists. Technology was not taught as a separate subject, save for a brief spell during 1977-1980 when the writer of this article lectured in materials and techniques of art. The prime objective of the course was to introduce the students to a number of basic principles in art technology with the specific aim of enabling them to make their own art materials for their art classes at secondary schools – this is at a time when there were no art educational supplies in Zambia. The third and perhaps most important avenue of exposure of Zambian art students to western fine art technology was and is by study abroad. As of Independence till the present a good number of Zambian artists have benefited from this opportunity, including major artists of the first post Independence hour Simpasa and Tayali and lesser known others such as Mwimanji Chellah and Billy Nkunika. The technical competence of the graduates of these foreign art schools or university departments varied and varies considerably due to reasons stated above. Consequently the fine art enclave of a broadly defined Zambian art world still scores poorly on its mastery of material technology save for the sculpture – with exceptions in both 2- and 3-dimensional divisions.
Ellison, to her credit, mentions another entry in Zambia of an art technology originating in the West (2004: 17); this time not by Europeans but by Congolese. Congolese artist had become internationally recognised as of the fifties and a good number of them tried to make a living in prospering and peaceful Zambia of the sixties. In the seventies they constituted the largest single group of artists in Lusaka, doing oil painting and murals. They were known for their velvet paintings and heavy impasto works. These Congolese delivered a major input in the emergence of popular art, indeed art for the so-called common folk; as opposed to the sophisticated fine arts for the educated. As Ellison writes, several Zambian artists picked up the Congolese styles. Many Congolese artists had been well trained in the western painting tradition. In Zambia, lacking adequate materials, a manner of making do with what is available was adopted; a McGyvering of technology still persisting today. Its outstanding feature is the use of a wooden, non adjustable frame; on which cotton cloth is stretched as support to be painted with white pva serving as a ground.
The Congolese easel painters targeted a wide market of both Europeans (mostly expatriates and tourists) and Zambians (mostly lower middle class and higher). The Congolese muralists worked for a near exclusive African audience by their production of murals for bars and shops in the sixties and seventies. Some of these murals rank as genuine folk art, examples are/were the paintings at the Moonlight bar on Palabana Road just out of Lusaka and the Moonlight bar somewhere near Chongwe on the Great East Road some 30 km’s out of Lusaka. Such work now often is deteriorated or destroyed. The murals were made using commercial paints on ordinary walls without any provision for their conservation. Zambian “commercial” artists as of the eighties replaced the Congolese who gradually disappeared out of the scene.
The Zambian art world, historically, therefore, is not one of a kind but composed of several strands, the modern visual arts being only one of them. The origin of this art is largely in the western tradition. The second strand is that of popular art, mostly done in painting, also exotic in origin but this time introduced via neighbouring Congo. The subject matter of this art, contrary to the fine arts, always is explicitly African, drawing on mythology, folklore and rural or urban life experiences. This popular congolese art declined with the disappearance of the Congolese artists in the eighties bur resurfaced now as contemporary Zambian popular art. A third variety is indigenous (Zambia) folk art. This broad category includes decorations on huts or improvised locally available materials both rural and urban. At the other end of the scale, opposed to the modern arts, are the truly indigenous traditional arts; the makishi and njau masks being its most prominent examples. Each of these varieties of art has its own range of techniques of materials, and each of these technologies is subject to change in time. Commercial house paints and cotton wool are now used to decorate makishi; huts and other buildings are decorated with pva paints; popular art is made with commercial oil paints and in the modern art scene, and. remarkably, we see increasingly the introduction of local materials especially in the sculptural/3-dimensional arts.
Ill. 2. Use of pods of flamboyant tree in wall hanging by Agnes Mbuya Yombwe. 2012.
Example of innovation in modern visual art technology emphasising local identity.
Simple ways to improve material-technical competence

Above I have emphasized that mastery of materials and techniques is important especially if the integrity of a work of art is to last – meaning that the change in its visual appearance in time should be as minor as possible. I also have described that art materials and techniques are a cultural trait belonging to a specific art tradition. The dissemination or diffusion of western art technology in Zambia occurred piecemeal and haphazard, often resulting in poor material craftsmanship – notably of 2-dimensional art. This state of affairs has been exacerbated because of deteriorating standards in Western fine art as regards material competence and deficiencies in the emerging Zambian modern art world.
To improve on this state of affairs artists should not only consider their work of art as a creative statement but also as a work of construction. Imagine you order a dining table from a carpenter and pay the proper price for it. You complain if the table collapses within a short time or develops wobbling legs and you'll seek redress. In art the situation is similar: As a professional you offer a product for sale and that object therefore must be made according to professional standards of workmanship. I may add here that art for sale in Zambia does not come cheap and that a good part of its cost should have been invested by the artist in first class materials and appropriate workmanship. I can show you embarrassing examples of Zambia’s top artists that belie this principle – usually because of sheer ignorance; sometimes because of irresponsible short cutting; or unfortunately, unavailability or expense of quality materials.
This text cannot take the place of a proper technical manual. But below is some advice that may help to improve matters in a simple way.
Get informed
There are numerous text books about each artistic discipline – but not or rarely in Zambia. Zambian artists, however, do travel and should use such occasions to purchase such books at art supply shops. They can also pull strings in the international network they often have or purchase on-line. There are two books I personally love and recommend to each artist.  The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer is a classic. Written in clear, largely non-technical English it is a must for any artist to read. Getten and Stout compiled Paintings Materials: A short encyclopaedia. This inexpensive Dover publication is more technical but equally indispensable when you need to quickly research any material used in art. And then, of course there is the I-net, the largest library in the world, accessible by now in almost all of Zambia. Once you get into it you won’t stop and you’ll ask yourself why you did not do your surfing and researching earlier.
Get top grade materials
Worldwide each art tradition has its own standard material technology and so does each of the Western art media. The Western technologies, historically, are directed towards permanence of the work of art. Durability of the work of art is only achieved by the proper application of permanent materials. The VAC shop sells good materials and so does The Artshop at Zebra’s crossings cafe, both in Lusaka.
Paper is the usual support for graphic art. The best paper is made of rags. Art paper is made by specialised paper mills. Buy one of those brands and get the kind suited to your medium. Good paper yellows little and takes printing ink, crayon, pencils, charcoal, water paint and gouache well.
Printing inks are a special concern. Note that offset printing inks and commercial silkscreen inks are not made to meet artistic standards. Most of these colours eventually fade. Simple test for fastness to light: take a piece of paper, apply ink or paint, cover one coloured half with paper and expose to sunlight by tacking to a window. Check after some weeks to observe changes. These can be dramatic.
Canvas. Canvas is the common support for oil and acrylic paint. The only proper canvas is made of linen. In oil painting canvas is first sized with rabbit glue to protect the canvas from the deteriorating effect of (linseed) oil. After sizing the canvas is primed, formerly with a lead based white paint. Substituting the linen canvas for cotton fabric entails a risk of “sagging” as the cotton support in time loses its tautness. Skipping the sizing brings about the risk of the support being “eaten” by the oil and eventually breaking up. Using pva paint instead of rabbit glue and oil primer may result in disintegrating canvas and poor bonding between ground and paint. In short: if you want to paint in oil, use proper linen canvas as made by specialist factories and sold by specialist shops. It seems that adequate support preparation is less critical in acrylic painting. Best is to purchase canvas made for acrylic paint and apply acrylic primer. You can apply acrylic paint to a canvas prepared for oils but you may want to roughen its surface a bit by light fine sanding. This ensures better bonding.
Pigments and paints. In the western tradition there is a standard list of pigments for each medium – there is no space to reproduce such lists here. Do note, however, that different media and different supports all impose specific requirements on paints. Notably in murals the choice in colours is limited to those pigments that are resistant both to an acidic and an alkaline environment. Avoid the purchase of so-called student grade paints – they teach you wrong outcomes of apparently similar materials.
Fat over lean. Different pigments require different amounts of binder. In oil painting paints containing more oil should be applied over paint layers containing less oil – the leaner layers. Sinning against this principle causes constructional problems. An example of a fat paint is raw umber. These colours should only in lean mixtures be used in the underlying paint layers. The same principle applies to acrylic paint, but perhaps not so rigidly.
Use fresh paint. Use paint fresh from the tube and discard paint that has started to dry up on the palette. This applies especially to paints having binders that change irreversibly in the so-called drying process. These include the polymers (acrylics) and oils.
Thinners. Use appropriate thinner for the medium you are using. Do not use paraffin in oil painting. Mineral turpentine is good, natural turpentine better.
Storage and exposure. The art object is subjected to environmental variables such as temperature, humidity, light, wind, air born particles and gasses. Even a well made painting may deteriorate if displayed or stored wrongly.3  Generally store or display in a fairly dry place, avoid great fluctuations in temperature or humidity and be aware of bugs. Don’t expose 2-dimensional work to sunlight, same for wooden sculpture. Inform, if necessary, the buyer about adequate preservation measures. Prints, water colours and drawings should be properly framed (meaning: dust free, behind glass, using acid free board and backing) when exposed.
1    The author did research on makishi as part of his MA requirements. Copies of his Seeing Makishi have been deposited with The Livingstone Museum and the library of The University of Zambia (special collections I believe).
2   This process sometimes has been labelled by the ugly term “westernization,” as in Setti (2000: 5). This term suggest the changing of an indigenous cultural element by western influences. In our case there simply is no historical connection between most of these techniques and a previous indigenous artistic practice. Diffusion therefore is a better term, though terms like acculturation and cultural interaction also apply.

3    See Witkamp, G., 2015, in bibliography.
About the author
The author academically is a cultural anthropologist with specialisations in non-Western art and anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa. He taught Materials and Techniques of Art at the Evelyn Hone College from 1977 to 1980 to students of the Art Teachers Diploma Course. He worked as a practising artist in Zambia from 1975 to 1980 and from 1988 till now. Some of his art writing can be accessed at the Art in Zambia blog and the Z-factor Art Site.
Boas, Franz
      1955      Primitive Art. New York, Dover. First published in 1927.
Ellison, Gabriel
      2004      Art in Zambia. Lusaka, Bookworld Publishers Ltd.
Gettens, Rutherford J. and George L. Stout
      1966      Painting Materials. New York, Dover Publications. First Published in 1942 by D. Van Nostrand Company Inc.
Ralph Mayer
      1982      The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. New York, The Viking Press.
Setti, Godfrey
      2000      An Analysis of the Contribution of Four Painters to the development of Contemporary Zambian Painting from 1950 to 1997. Manuscript, M.A. research essay, Rhodes University.
Witkamp, Gijsbert
      1988      Seeing Makishi. M.A. thesis and research report. Photocopied manuscript. State University of Leiden.
       2015     Keeping Art. Choma, Z-factor technical bulletin no 1. Accessible as I-net publication at: http://artblog.zamart.org/2013/08/caring-for-your-art-work-prints.html

15 July, 2015


Text and internet publication by Bert Witkamp

Photographs by Bert Witkamp unless indicated otherwise in the caption.

First published: 15 July 2015.
Current update: 14 August 2015

Art in Zambia series no 7: The Lusaka Artists Group. The Lusaka Artists Group (LAG) was a major player in the Zambian Art World from 1976 to 1980. Supported by the Art Centre Foundation the group established and managed a studio at the Evelyn Hone College - the first instance in Zambia of co-operating artists. The studio at the time was the centre of Zambian graphic art. Part of the success of the group was its ability to source and utilise locally available materials for modern (non-traditional) art production; most spectacularly in large mosaic murals designed and executed by Patrick Mweemba and Bert Witkamp. Another contributing factor was the diversity of its core membership: each member by his background and history had his own capacities which together created a broad array of perspectives, skills, knowledge and art works. And last but not least: the group members, unlike the academically endowed artists, lived a simple life in the townships. Then as, now, it was hard to make a living by art alone. Working together was a way to cope with the problems of making art out of a living and a living out of art...

The Lusaka Artists Group (LAG) informally came into being towards the end of 1975, was formally registered as an association in 1976, changed its name to Zambia Artists Association in 1977 and fell apart in 1981.

During the five years of its existence the group was spectacularly productive in graphic art, murals and painting. It was not the first artists’ organisation in Zambia, but it was the first instance of co-operating artists working in the same studio. The next instance would be in 1985 when Rockston was formed, also in Lusaka.

I took the initiative to form this group in 1975 when, fresh from the Netherlands, I started to make art in Lusaka. During the five preceding years I had worked in a town named Leeuwarden; the provincial capital of Friesland (Frisia), the homeland of these white and black milk cows. I was a member of its Cultural Council on behalf of the visual arts, had a large studio made available to me by the cultural department of the municipal administration, was mostly interested in graphic art and painting, participated in the annual art fair, and had been commissioned an 84 m2 mural. Basic art materials could be bought locally and what was not available nearby could be had in specialized art supply shops in Amsterdam. The well stocked provincial library was a ten minute walk from home and if it did not have an art book I needed it would be procured for me from another library. The small town even had an art academy which offered evening classes – this is where I learned lithography. The real thing: on stone.

In Zambia of 1975 I found myself in an environment where there was very little for the modern visual arts in terms of materials, organisation, galleries, museums, publications, media coverage and private, corporate or government support. There even seemed to be very few artists and most of these turned out to be non-Zambian. Yes, some things were there, but especially for the newcomer/outsider these were mostly invisible. 

The "modern visual arts" are mostly arts that originated in the Western world and were introduced to Zambia during and after the colonial period. The pioneering practitioners invariably were of European origin - save for certain forms of sculpture. Sculpture, notably carving in wood, had indigenous ancestry, though traditional sculptors made art for social situations very different from those associated with modern art. Popular art (a broad category embracing tourist painting, velvet painting, sign writing and murals in bars or shops) at that time was almost entirely produced by Congolese who operated a social scene of their own, entirely separate from of the fine art circuit.

I decided to look for artists to work with. The first one I came across was Fackson Kulya who at the time lived in a servant’s quarter of an UNZA staff house at Handsworth Court1. Fackson agreed on the formation of an artists’ organisation. We appeared on television, in an early evening feature programme by Joseph Kuleneta and Charles Mando. It was, in those days, a peculiar thing to see a professionally trained European working with a self-styled Zambian artist and to hear that European say that living in a compound (township) is the only way to understand the life of the people who lived there – the vast majority of urban dwellers, at the time usually referred to in semi-socialist rhetoric as “the masses.” I, coincidentally, lived in Mtendere compound where I gradually got to know some urban folk life. The place for Europeans was in the so-called residential areas, where the uppa mwamba – the upper class, indigenous or expatriate – lived comfortably in electrified houses along tarred roads. In a few of these residences lived people who bought or supported the modern arts.

The so-called common folk lived in compounds; working class neighbourhoods if you like, save that for many paid work was hard to come by. These compounds were dusty and dirty, lacked proper roads and electricity but were brimming with live. In 1975, eleven years after Independence, it was highly unusual to find a European live in a compound and be part of an African or mixed household. Also for Africans this was an unlikely situation. They could ask “Do you eat nshima?” And be even more astounded if you replied positively in one of the local languages. Fackson and I teaming up was sufficiently extraordinary to get us on television.
Ill. 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 19th, 1975.
Photo by 
Times photographer.

In December 1975 we were ready for a first, small exhibition at the Lusaka City Library situated along Katondo street, next to the Lusaka Hotel, between Cairo Road and Chachacha Road. We were both experimenting with materials that were locally available.  I had found wax and had made some wax prints. I was also showing some fairly sophisticated dry point prints I had come with from the Netherlands. Fackson had some small bronze sculptures which he had casted from a homemade furnace, a modified drum fueled by charcoal. Before the exhibition was on we talked to a journalist from The Daily Newspaper who interviewed us about our co-operative plan2. Though the journalist reshaped our story for reasons his own, he truly reported that we believed that artists could only progress in Zambia by working together; and that this was especially so for poor artists without formal education, the ones living in compounds. A photograph of the exhibition was published on the front page of The Times of Zambia Newspaper.

The publicity sparked off several reactions. First, it helped to get other artists to join us. Second, it created conflict with prominent academic artist Henry Tayali and the then Director of Cultural Services as government was blamed by the Times journalist of ignoring the poor, uneducated, underprivileged yet talented artists. Third, our presence could no longer be ignored by the main body promoting Zambian modern art in those days, the Art Centre Foundation.

Fackson and I met Patrick Mweemba, at the time living at old Kanyama compound, and David Chibwe. We now had our basic team. Fackson originated from Luanshya rural and was Lamba by tribe. Patrick came from the Southern Province and is Tonga by ethnicity. David seemed to have mostly Bemba affiliations but did some art training in what now again is the Congo. As noted above I came from the Netherlands. Our group of four would remain the core of the LAG/ZAA until the organisation disintegrated in 1981. In the course of time other (aspiring) artists would join or pop in of whom Style Kunda became a regular associate. All of us, despite different back grounds, had major things in common. We were all in the beginning of our careers; we all had to establish ourselves in an environment that offered little support or facilities and all lived in the compound side of town.

Time for some contextualisation. We are in the Kaunda area with its socialist/humanist policies; days in which the state was seen as the engine (and controller) of society; Zambia was a one party state and much of the formal economy and all of its major enterprises or industries were state owned and managed. An aspect of the political economy was an emphasis on the formation of cooperatives of small scale producers, farmers for example. My initial vision of the development of the LAG was to turn it into a full sized cooperative. I went to the co-operative office, got forms and talked to the artists. A genuine cooperative society is an economic organisation in which the individual economies of the members are fully integrated into the cooperative. This, practically, was much too extreme for our Zambian compound artists, and also quite unintelligible to them. I had to abandon the idea. It was hard enough to get the members to put a small percentage of their individual sales into the Group Fund to cater for shared expenses. Even that after some time was abolished. It took me at least a year to realise that the group just was not ready for such far reaching “co-operation.”

It turned out that our association worked much better without rigid, binding rules and needed to be flexible in sharing or not sharing jobs and resources. Today, some forty years later, many, if not most so-called cooperatives in fact are not more than associations serving, for example, to access subsidized fertiliser, and that is often were the cooperation stops.

Back to 1976. In Lusaka was one organisation specifically for the visual arts, the Arts Centre Foundation (ACF). It was a government sponsored body the Board of which was composed of prominent artists and art sympathisers, both Zambian and expatriate, both of African and of European extraction. Outstanding artist members at the time were Bente Lorenz, Cynthia Zukas and Henry Tayali. Each of these artists has played a major role in the formative years of the post independence Zambian art world. Tayali was a well educated academic artist who also played a significant role in cultural and art organisations3. At the time there were only a few indigenous Zambian artists with academic qualifications and even fewer made art the core of their professional existence. Tayali was one of the very few and therefore became a key figure in the social art world, taking over or complimenting the positions of those of European extraction. He, as described in no. 2 of this series, had become very angry about the Daily News article that publicised our call for artists to co-operate. Also the statement by the journalist that government support for the arts was directed to those already well off and that the poor talented guy of the compound was ignored must have displeased Henry who himself was one of these privileged beneficiaries. He was appointed University of Zambia artist in 1976.

The irony of the situation was that Fackson and I were completely ignorant of the existence of Tayali at the time of the 1975 interview; and that Tayali and his fellow ACF members equally were unaware of the existence of poor talented upcoming artists in compounds that deserved to receive support. Tayali probably was embarrassed by the article and felt that it undermined his leadership position and the more so as our cooperative initiative was politically more than 100% correct.

Other members of the ACF had less of an ego and more compassion with the socially “underprivileged” artist. This notably was true for Cynthia Zukas and Bente Lorenz. The Cynthia Zukas and her husband had a long standing commitment for the African people dating back to pre-Independent days. Bente Lorenz, a Danish ceramist coming from then Southern Rhodesia, worked at her beautiful Lusaka studio with African potters and sculptors. The net outcome of it all was that the ACF decided to support the LAG, and they did it by facilitating the use of a prefab classroom at the Evelyn Hone College. The AFC liked to look at the facility as “their” workshop but in practice it was the LAG membership who populated and managed it; working daily in that prefab building on the ground floor, close to the 2 story red brick building where art and music were taught formally to formal students – something beyond the reach of my friends as these lacked the required secondary school qualifications.

I put a lot of energy into the LAG (later ZAA) and the Evelyn Hone College studio. It was basically an exercise in coping – an effort to make up for the deficiencies in the institutional fabric. The strict regulations concerning hard currencies ("forex") at the time resulted in absence or near absence of the materials used in art production – oil paints being one of them. But one could find raw linseed oil, and this could be purified into oil suited as a binder in paint, or boiled to arrive at the right viscosity for printing inks. Printmaking, lino cuts in particular, was our first innovative technique. The underlying idea was that we could reach a lot of people by producing cheap works of art. Cynthia Zukas, seeing and appreciating our graphic interest, made her etching press available; a press that also could print lino cuts. We soon were the main graphic art producers of Lusaka, and in fact of Zambia. Tayali also produced graphics, but he moved in a very different circuit and could not be as prolific as the four of us combined.
Ill. 2 Hunting Community. Patrick Mweemba, 1976, lino cut, 3/20, 20 x 20 cm.
One of the first lino cuts by Patrick Mweemba.
In beginning 1976 we were subjected to counsel by periodic sessions with Art Centre Foundation members who commented on our work and advised how we could improve our artistic production. I remember one such session where Tayali, pointing at one of Patrick Mweemba’s prints, announced that he even would not want that print in his toilet. Well, surely, it was not designed to wipe your bottom with. We had, however, without Tayali’s dominating presence, pleasant and sensible discussions with other AFC members. In any case, these instructive encounters eventually ceased. It is true, however, that we were all new to lino or wood cuts and each one of us was trying to find his own way in this medium. It took some time before experiment resulted in consistent production. 

Ill 3. Around the fire place (Pa Nsaka). David K. Chibwe. 1977, Lino cut, 2/10, 30.5 x 15.5 cm. One of the first lino cuts by David Chibwe.
We all did most of our art work in the studio and it was truly the shared element in our professional lives. These lives, despite the cooperation, were not easy. The artist’s lunch – a standing joke – was a bun with some boiled peanuts or the occasional coke as an extra treat. In rare days of plenty one could enjoy a meal at the College’s student canteen. The way home after work might be long indeed: there was an enormous lack of public transport and if you had failed to get into a bus by 18.30 hrs you had to walk from town centre all the way to Kaunda Square, Mtendere, UNZA Handsworth Court or wherever you were domiciled.

Ill. 4. Exhibition poster, lino cut, 1979 reprint. Design Bert Witkamp
Money from sales came in sparingly and irregularly. I remember hawking our prints in offices along Cairo Road in 1976. Fackson and I would go to metal scrap yards to look for copper wire which we hammered into bangles. In 1977 we had our first (and I believe only) common exhibition at the US Information Service at Hero’s Square, Lusaka. It was attended by the American Ambassador and other officials. From then onwards once in a while commissions came in, either for one of us singly or combined. End 1997 I started work on the 54 m2 ceramic mosaic mural at Society House in Lusaka. I did the designing at our workshop. Later Patrick Mweemba, David Chibwe and Fackson Kulya did murals at the Longacres market.

Ill.5 The sculptor. Lino print by Fackson Kulya, around 1977. 
Fackson depicts himself working in the LAG studio at the 
eagle relief for the National Assembly building. Ink on newsprint.
Fackson Kulya was commissioned to carve the Zambian eagle in wood relief for the National Assembly building – truly a sign of recognition. David Chibwe every now and then managed to get a commission for a painting – he really was the painter of the group. Patrick Mweemba, following a commission for a small mosaic mural at Barclays bank at Cairo Road, was commissioned a major mosaic mural at the Industrial Relations Court. 

The technology for the mosaic murals was developed by me and inspired by ancient Moorish earthenware pottery in Spain. Bente Lorenz helped me by borrowing me a book in Spanish detailing lead based pottery glazes as used by the Moors some thousand years ago. I could not understand the Spanish but did read the formula’s and knew how to convert physical formula’s in grams into chemical formula’s in molecules and vice versa. Now I was happy with the science A-level subjects I had been forced to do at secondary school. Also my technical interest in art materials which I had developed during my stay in Leeuwarden was very useful in making paints, inks or working out technicalities of mural art.

Fackson, Patrick and David developed into good print makers. Each one developed a style his own. There are,  however, strong thematic linkages between these artists by the choice of their subjects. Much of their work is about folk life, urban or rural, traditional or modern, depicting daily events or ceremony. Their work, almost without exception, is figurative; ranging from realistic or naturalistic to imaginary presentations. Viewers could relate directly to the pictures as these were made up of recognisable elements; questions such as "which side up?" did not arise in our group.  

Ill. 6. Sitting on a bad Branch. Fackson Kulya. 
1989, lino cut, 3/5, 12.5 x 21 cm.
Fackson’s prints and other art are inspired by folklore and folk life, sometimes displaying his bizarre sense of humor. Many of his prints have a story to tell. Fackson, who died sometime around 2003, also made drawings, paintings in various media and carved. He did a bit of bronze casting at the beginning of his career but gave it up. 

Ill. 7. The Father and a Child. David Chibwe. 1979, linocut, 15 x 10 cm.
Post card. One of David’s favourite themes: folk life in the compound.
David made many naturalistic compound scenes, taken from life as he knew it so well. He also made paintings, often of large size. Market scenes, animals, events and situations of daily life, crowds were and are his favorite subjects.

Ill 8. Consolation. Patrick Mweemba. 1979, linocut, 15 x 15 cm.
By this time Patrick had found his own style in print making.
Patrick’s prints cover a broad range of subjects; at times inspired by (biblical) stories, country life, family life, daily events or imaginary figuration – but all of this diversity always in a naturalistic presentation. He developed his own manner of colour printing, not an easy thing to do at all. Patrick also once in a while painted and later on made sculptures in wood or metal. 

Ill. 9. Pounding Women. Bert Witkamp. 1976, colour lino cut, 16.5 x 31.5 cm.
One of my first attempts at lino cut and African figuration. Printed in 1979.
I started out in 1975 doing graphics, lino’s especially, in which I tried to grasp/develop something like an African idiom as inspired by my living circumstances. As of 1977 I was mostly busy with the mural commissioned to me by the Zambia National Building Society for its new headquarters then under construction at Cairo Road. I spent a lot of time looking for ceramic raw materials and testing them. After drafting the approximately 3.5 m2 design I made little use of the Evelyn Hone Studio. A friend made his servant’s quarter at Handsworth Court (UNZA) available for ceramic testing and experimenting. By luck I had purchased a small kiln to try out clay bodies and glazes and all sorts of materials. Tiles were made and boards on which clay had been rolled out. About 70 m2 tiles were glaze fired at Moore’s Pottery. The entire mosaic was laid out and prepared for mounting on site, at the first floor of what was to becom Society House.

The relationship with the AFC and its members following the initially somewhat awkward start improved rapidly and especially Cynthia Zukas and Bente Lorenz have been very supportive of the LAG artists, also when the LAG (by then ZAA) had ceased to exist.

I left Zambia in August 1980 after completing the mosaic mural at Society House. The going had been tough towards the end. Life in Lusaka following the onset of the raids by Ian Smith of Southern Rhodesia in mid 1978 had become difficult and unsafe – there was a general breakdown in security, law and order. Violent crime was rife; this was the time when Lusaka residents who could afford it walled themselves in. Imagine beautiful Woodlands or Kabulonga neighbourhoods without wall fenced plots! Time to move on – or move back, rather - to the Netherlands where I returned to an earlier, academic, interest: anthropology and especially anthropology of art.

In 1981 the Evelyn Hone College claimed the class room back – it apparently had become a hangout for Zairian artisans and a storage space for their merchandise. Yet in a sense the studio's mission had been accomplished. By then my friends David, Patrick and Fackson had received a fair share of recognition and had become accepted players in the Zambian art scene. Making a living, however, was not easy for them. 

Ill 11. Beer drinker. Around 1980 (?), gouache on paper, 16 x 21.5 cm.
Painting showing both Fackson's love of folklore and humour.
Fackson returned to his rural roots and eventually died around 2003. He was an original artist. I have tried to keep his memory alive by several internet publications (see notes below) and by including his work in exhibitions I helped organise. 

Ill 12. Street Vendors. David Chibwe. 1992, Linocut 6/10, 15 x 21 cm. 
David’s favourite theme: the extraordinary lives of ordinary folk.
David was and is quite a versatile artist who, if need be, picks up some Kwacha by sign writing. He also does art teaching. He recently made an attractive interior mural for a Protea Hotel at Lusaka. 

Ill 13. The Bus is full. Patrick Mweemba. 1989, colour lino, 3/7, 19.5 x 42,5. 
Complex design printed in several stages.
Patrick in his artistic career has been supported by his hardworking and talented wife, Esnart Hangoma, who had good positions at Zinthu crafts shop (now defunct) and the Choma Museum and Crafts Centre. Patrick for some time has been involved in Mpapa Art Gallery (now defunct), the Visual Arts Council (VAC) and the Choma Museum and Crafts Centre (as an art instructor). He, like David, to date is a productive artist with an impressive oeuvre behind him. Their present recognition as individuals, however, arose out of their past cooperative efforts as members of the Lusaka Artists Group.

Finally, we can ask, in retrospect, what lasting contribution did the LAG/LAA make to the Zambian art world after 1980? Firstly, I should say, the LAG has shown the power and effectiveness of organisation of artists and in that sense is inspirational for temporary artists. Secondly, art by its members are in private and public collections and some of it is public monumental art. The group thus contributed substantially to Zambia’s artistic heritage. This contribution, however, as that of Zambian art in general, would be of much greater significance if Zambia had a national modern arts museum /arts centre where collections are systemically built up, managed, preserved, documented and displayed. Thirdly, the group made a major contribution to graphic art in Zambia. Since the eighties quite a new number of artists have practiced various printing techniques and print making now is a regular feature of the all over artistic output. Last, but not least, its members have contributed to a tradition of art work that is accessible / makes sense to a broad public by the choice of subject matter and the manner of presentation. Scenes of daily life in town or in the village, family situations; imagery inspired by folklore and fantasy – presented in a figurative manner that provides the viewer with a way of relating to the art work without extensive (semi-)academic discourse or membership of an artistic in-crowd. 

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You can read and see more about Art in Zambia by clicking the label Art in Zambia of the Art in Zambia blog, or by clicking on the publications tab of the Z-factor Art Site, or by going to the Art in Zambia facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1400618810168436/).

1    More about Fackson Kulya in the Art in Zambia series:
No 1: Fackson Kulya, Tribute to
No 2: Fackson Kulya, folk artist
No 4: Henry Tayali and Fackson Kulya: Academic and folk art in Zambia in the 1970's and 1980's.
2    Daniel Mwale’s article, and what it triggered off, is detailed in Art in Zambia no 2.
3    More about Tayali in Art in Zambia series:
No 3: HENRY TAYALI – a post scriptum
No 4: Henry Tayali and Fackson Kulya: Academic and Folk art in Zambia of the Seventies and Eighties