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A glance at Zambian art columnist through a Hole in the Wall

ART YAK with CHANDA MWENYA
I HAD intercourse with the 2012 CNN African Journalist Award winner and art journalist Andrew Mulenga following his successful completion of his art studies in South Africa.
Andrew has also written extensively on the Zambian art through his “Hole in the Wall” column.
ARTYAK: How long have you been doing your art column?
ANDREW: I’ve been writing on art since 2003 but the Hole in the Wall column started in 2005.
ARTYAK: What has been your inspiration to sustain your column over a decade?
ANDREW: My inspiration has always been to give the visual arts the much-needed visibility. when I started writing it, I already had a full-time job as a graphic designer and later as a deputy editor, but I would always find a moment to sit down and write something, now my purpose is locked in it. But as a writer I suppose consistency is everything, I think my writing paid off first with an international award, then  a scholarship, I’m a serial optimist so I’m sure more good things are coming, but really, I do it out of passion.
ARTYAK: How do you see the development of  art in Zambia.
ANDREW: According to my research and my experience covering contemporary art for over a decade, I have observed that artists have been working under very challenging conditions without organised support structures like artists’ grants, studio spaces, galleries, corporate-sponsored art competitions, education and policy. So Zambian artists have not really been able to fully experiment with creativity, they create work to put food on the table, not express themselves as artists, more so because they cater to a very small collectors market of mostly expatriates who dictate what Zambian art should look like.
ARTYAK: How do you see  the competitiveness and relevance of Zambian art on a global stage?
ANDREW: Loose notions of “globalization” imply that countries around the world enjoy a level playing field, but we all know this is far from the truth. For instance, Zambia hardly controls a fraction of the world’s economy compared to the USA or China, likewise on the global art stage Zambian artists do not hold an equal footing.
The global art world is run by a very small cluster of international curators, gallery owners, museums and biennales, so to get into the line of sight of these global art puppet masters (for lack of a better term) Zambian artists will need to show what they are doing.
Last year we had a dozen exhibitions in Lusaka alone, all save for Agness Buya Yombwe’s show passed with no catalogue. International curators depend on these catalogues. no matter how active they are, if Zambian artists are not producing these and sending them all over the world, how is the world going to know they exist?
ARTYAK: What’s your view on the advanced art education in Zambia
ANDREW: Advanced art education is surely heading in the right direction with institutions such as the Zambia Open University (ZAOU) coming up with the country’s first art degree. I have interacted with students from the school, ocassionally, I have been invited to address them and what I have observed is that the university is producing analytically minded essayists  who can help fill the gap in the much-need area of locally generated academic literature on art. however, I still feel the school is facing challenges when it comes to equipping the students with studio practice skills, this I can understand because the fine art degree is still run by means of a distant learning programme, they have no studio facilities, limited lecturers and so on.
Having said that, I believe ZAOU is producing a very strong flock of arts administrators who will in turn help change the entire arts education system as most of them are practising school teachers, a good thing for the bigger picture if you asked me.
artyak@rocketmail.com

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