CHANDA MWENYA, Lusaka
NOBODY ever imagined that a man who spent almost his entire life giving some form of life to dead wood and still stones would be found
lifeless in such a manner.
Flinto Chandia, the renowned sculptor, was found by one of his daughters hanging outside his studio at his Avondale home, which he shared with his Canadian-born wife Laura.
As the Lusaka rumour mill goes, all sorts of theories have been going round since Thursday morning when his body was found.
But at this stage, it is too early even for the police to draw a firm conclusion. By press time, funeral arrangements were still being worked out.
But there is no doubting what the Zambian arts fraternity has lost.
At 64, Flinto was still at a relatively young age for an artist.
“It is a great loss. It is actually devastating. Carrying his lifeless body into the mortuary today was the hardest walk of my life… A monumental tree has yet been dropped. Let us remember him for his warmness and how he inspired a multitude, a forerunner with humility and passion in what he created and open-mindedness to those he mentored,” Mwamba Mulengala, one of the artists who carried his body from Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Police Post to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) mortuary, wrote on one of the WhatsApp’s groups for artists.
Flinto was featured in the Extraordinary Project, an exciting collaborative art project by photographer Gareth Bentley and writer Johan Rahm.
The introduction said it all.
“As a grand old master of visual arts in Zambia, Flinto Chandia’s sculptures have found homes all over the world. In a backyard in Lusaka’s industrial area, unremarkable rocks change shape and come to life under his skilled hands,” the caption partly read.
“Flinto Chandia is not only one of the most famous artists in Zambia, he is also among the best educated. As a young and aspiring artist, he was awarded a scholarship to study arts in the UK for three years.
“Since returning to Zambia, Flinto Chandia has had a long and successful career and has held exhibitions all over the world. He is the recipient of a Ngoma award and has received a medal of recognition from the Zambian President.”
During the project, Flinto explained that he had always loved art. His mum was a potter, so the first material he worked with was clay. But that was a long time ago. Later, he worked in wood and stone.
On reading about Flinto in the Extraordinary Project, Jocelyn Banyard could not resist quipping in.
“I am a long-term fan of Flinto’s fabulous sculptures. He also tells wonderful stories of his times in England – he mentored and looked after many from Africa,” Jocelyn, a keen follower of art, said.
The question is, who follows art in Zambia and is not a fan of Flinto?
In 2009, President Rupiah Banda awarded Flinto with a medal for his contribution to Zambian art.
Flinto, a man who could be best described as a bor- artist, was born in Kitwe on March 11, 1955 to a woman who was a traditional potter herself. He grew up in Chamboli township alongside Akwila Simpasa, one of the country’s foremost artists alongside Henry Tayali.
With abundant clay within reach, Flinto grew up playing and experimenting with clay.
Little did he know that he would become one of the country’s celebrated sculptors.
It was almost natural that Flinto took the path of art.
While growing up in Kitwe’s Chamboli township, Flinto spent his childhood playing music in the famous mine township. He played with many up-coming bands such as The Peace, The Black Souls, Boyfriends and Kingston Market in the formative years.
In his book, Zambian Music Legends, Leonard Koloko writes that Flinto was discouraged from letting music take up his time by his older brother and guardian.
“Flinto took heed of the advice and completed his secondary education at Chamboli Secondary School. Although he kept away from playing in bands, Flinto still practised his guitar playing alongside his other passion – art – which his brother failed to stop him,” Koloko writes.
“It was art that actually took him to the United Kingdom for he pursued it further specialising in sculpture.”
In 1980, Flinto was sponsored by the British Council to study fine arts for three years at the City & Guilds in London after a stint of practising as a self-taught artist.
Whilst other foreign students did odd jobs to earn an extra income besides their meagre stipends, Flinto teamed up with Simon Barker, Derek Dunbar, Karla Duplantier and Mark Rutherford to form Jimmy The Hover, a band that went on to release a hit song titled Tantalise under Colombia Records. The song, a unique afro-rhythm disco track, shot to the summit of a number of record charts in the UK in the early 80s.
The song also became a dance floor hit both in the United Kingdom and in Zambia. Captivating the Zambian revellers was the beat, which was just too familiar to the ear.
“Well, it had to do, for the song Tantalise had strong Zambian connections,” Koloko wrote. “…The bassist was the Zambian Flinto Chandia, who was the main brain behind the song. The song is based on a Bemba traditional style of singing called Umupukumo, which is a call and answer chorus.”
Apart from the single Tantalise, Flinto and the group released another single, Keel-Me-Kweek, but its impact was not as hot as Tantalise.
But Flinto had to return home to establish his visual art career. In the mid 1980’s the Zambian art scape was still in its early infancy but it is also seen as the most rewarding era for the artists.
The Meriden BIAO Bank, under Andrew Sardanis, played a pivotal role in supporting the Zambian artists. At Chaminuka Game Nature Reserve, which Sardanis runs, there is a collection featuring the works of many of Zambia’s greatest artists such as Tayali, Godfrey Setti, Patrick Mumba, Patson Lombe, Shadreck Simukanga, Enock Ilunga, Raphael Mutulikwa, Stary Mwaba, Mulenga Chafilwa, Stephen Kapata, Peter Maibwe and of course Flinto.
When news of Flinto’s death filtered through, Sardanis was among the first persons to respond to the distress call.
Flinto worked with Sardanis’ son, Stelios, on the famous Meridian BIAO jingle about the bank being a truly pan-African bank.
Other than artists such as Tayali, Flinto Chandia is arguably another Zambian artist with some of the most expensive works in the Chaminuka and Meridian Biao Bank headquarters collection at the current COMESA [Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa] headquarters.
Perhaps, the most outstanding sculpture by Flinto at the COMESA headquarters is The Elephant, which is perched in the garden area, flanking the main buildings.
The sculpture is an African story in itself; it depicts the elephant as the main body of work, the rest of the sculpture is a mountain of masks, drums and geometrical motifs.
Another sculpture by Flinto, which is in the vivid eye of the public, is the African Union (AU) statue perched at the Addis Ababa Drive round-about in Longacres.
Other works by Flinto are in the Lechwe Trust Collection as well as other private collections at home and abroad.
It cannot be contested that Flinto, who served as chairman of Mbile International Artists Workshop, 1995 and Visual Arts Council, Lusaka Branch, has inspired many young artists.
“It was a challenging time in London. I felt like a novice again but I found so much inspiration in my education and in all the museums I could visit. You need education to become better, there are no short-cuts,” he said in one of the interviews.
“If someone works with me, I demand discipline. You have to arrive on time and work hard. That’s an important lesson; only then can you succeed in this profession. Some artists only work when they need money. That’s not the way to become a good artist.”
Perhaps the best platform Flinto shared his artistic secrets was when he organised a workshop at his Avondale residence. The models of study were fish bones. Flinto is also said to have been inspired by his father’s carving of fishing canoes.
Flinto has made more sculptures modelled from fish bones than any artist in Zambia. Still, who can contest that he created some of the best marble torsos the country has ever seen?
His sculptures were largely inspired by objects from nature such as leaves, seeds and animal bones. But his musical life was also ingenuously reflected in many of his sculptures.
So, where will the sculpture of Flinto be?