ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
PERHAPS it is not a surprise that despite being employed as a bank teller by Barclays Bank, Isaac Kalambata has still forged a fairly successful professional career as an artist.
Kalambata, 35, has always been an artistic person.
“In school, I never took art as a subject, it was just in me, from the time I was young, I have always been an artistic person,” Kalambata says.
“When I was young, I used to do a lot of comic drawing, I started becoming serious as I approached my teen years, I discovered I could paint and draw more than just comics.”
In the last five years however, he has carved a name on the local front as a serious artist. Kalambata’s works have featured at a number of exhibitions locally.
In 2016, his paintings were shown at the Livingstone Art Gallery, at the Open Mind Exhibition at the Pope Square in Lusaka and Aesthetic Imagination Exhibition in Lusaka.
Then last year, he exhibited his works in a Voice in Colour group exhibition at Henry Tayali Gallery under the Visual Arts Council (VAC), Perfect Imperfection Group Exhibition at the Lusaka National Museum and the Versatility of Possibilities Exhibition in Ndola and Kitwe.
“As an artist you need to engage yourself with other artists so that you learn from them, he says. “With my busy schedule, I make sure I find time for exhibitions so that I learn from others as well, it is through such that you find networks.”
Kalambata attended Lusaka’s Rhodespark School from 1988 to 1996 before proceeding to Kabulonga Boys Secondary School for his junior high school. Afterwards, he went to the Kamwala High School where he completed secondary school in 2000. He then went to the University of Zambia (UNZA) for library studies. Later, he obtained a diploma in Institute of Management and Information Science (IMIS) from the Zambia Insurance Business College Trust (ZIBCT).
Still, there is no running away from art.
He says he finds painting relaxing and uses it not only for meditation after a stressful day in the bank but also an alternative source of income.
Despite not having any formal studies in art, he says the passion for the contemporary arts, driven by his love for comic books, is all he has had to bank on.
Kalambata started out as an illustrator and would create comic strips of African super heroes as he imagined them.
“I started becoming serious as I approached my teen years,” he says. “I discovered I could paint and draw more than just comics.”
Internally driven and emotionally charged, his subjects are diverse and range from cultural to futuristic depictions.
Inquisitive by nature, his versatility lies between imagination and reality.
“I understand we are now developing our technology and other things like the western world but Africa should not only focus on that only, we should also embrace our own cultures and traditions through what we possess like art,” he says.
“My creations go beyond the African challenges of poverty, political and economics, they look at the possibilities of what can be archived by Africa’s rich diversity and beauty of its people.”
Kalambata certainly has a rich portfolio; explosive abstract art paintings, contemporary mixed media collage art, spiritual and myths paintings are just some of the styles you will uncover when you delve into Kalambata’s portfolio of works.
The main focus of his works is to address the distortion, misrepresentation of Africa‘s past traditions and project possible future of the continents science, myths and traditions in a functional society.
“Slowly, people especially us Africans are forgetting our culture and traditions, I feel art is something that can be used to keep memories of certain occurrences,” he says. “I paint for decorations, but mostly for records.”
But despite the busy schedules that banks can sometimes pose, Kalambata still finds his balancing act.
He says banking and art are not entirely worlds apart as one would suspect. In his case, he finds the world of banking and art complementing each other. During the day, he is entirely focused on his work at the bank, and at night, he attends to painting in his workshop.
“What people don’t realise is you need as much planning, calculation and attention to detail in art as you do in creative problem solving and idea generation in banking,” he says.
Kalambata is earning his place on the local front of the arts.
Last month, the Lusaka National Museum gave him a platform right in the museum to exhibit his works dubbed “The Unseen Creatures of Myth and Legend”. The two-week exhibition evoked an interest in ancient traditions and a fascination for personal visionary languages and creatures.
After viewing the various eye-catching pieces of art on display, you just had to ask Kalambata what the inspiration was. He focused on Zambia’s mythological creatures. He visualised folklore characters and painted them.
“I realised we don’t have a lot of information about our deities and I wanted to bring that out in my own way,” he explains.
“We need to be custodians of our own stories; I had problems to find information because I needed a book printed for reference. These art works are my representation of what I think these deities would look like.”
Kalambata says the exhibition emerged as a study of the present from a place in the future as well as a lament for a vanishing anthropological and ecological past.
“If you don’t know your past, how can you keep track of your progress? You can’t project the future when you are in the present with no direction of where you are going or what you’re supposed to achieve,” he notes.
ZIO MWALE, Lusaka