JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
GROWING up in the village or rural set-up can disadvantage a child in many ways, but for one small boy, it provided the natural scenery that stimulated his artistic mind.
Decades later, Victor Makashi is a well-recognised name in the world of art, and now serves as director of art in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts.
Mr Makashi was born in Kasama in 1956. His father Kelvin Makashi worked as a miner on the Copperbelt, and at one time as a revenue collector for the local authority, but retired as a local court justice in Kasama.
Mr Makashi, who is the second born in a family of four, describes his family as “moderate”.
“We were not rich, but we were not poor. My father tried to provide everything we needed. He was very enterprising,” he says.
As a small boy, Mr Makashi was adventurous, hunting birds and other small animals, but it seems his little mind was always captivated by the beautiful landscapes surrounding his village.
“For me, that is one of the most memorable moments, just to look at the landscape, the trees and the birds. It was fun growing up there,” he says.
His introduction to art happened much earlier in his life, at the school he attended.
But before then, he did like any kid would do; he copied drawings from books.
“It is just something I enjoyed naturally. I would even copy letters and numbers,” he says.
But it was during his days at secondary school that he discovered his talent in art.
Mr Makashi attended Mbala Secondary School, where he used his talent to make illustrations for the school magazine.
One of his earliest inspirations was Gabriele Ellison, who for a long time made illustrations for postage stamps. Later, he came across works by Trevor Ford, a cartoonist of note, who also taught art at Evelyn Hone College.
He came across Trevor Ford’s works in magazines and calendars.
“Their work became very inspirational to me,” he says.
In 1976, after completing his secondary school education, Mr Makashi enlisted for National Service, which was mandatory at the time. Here, too, his talent was identified and he would be asked to sign-write for the military camp. His talent usually saved him from the menial work other recruits were made to do.
He later attended Mufulira Teachers Training College, where he trained as a primary school teacher, graduating in 1981 as the best student.
But Mr Makashi’s childhood dream was not to become a teacher, but to join the military, for the simple reason that he loved the band.
“I really enjoyed that. I was a member of a small band at primary school,” he says.
But he hated the thought he would have to wear uniform for many years. Also, he did not think he would conform to the military mentality.
“In the military, sometimes you have to obey orders even if you don’t agree with them, so my mind just refused,” says Mr Makashi.
He adds: “My artistic mind is so liberal that I want to express myself in a certain way, even if someone doesn’t agree with me.”
Mr Makashi began work on May Day 1981. His first posting as a teacher was to a school on Chilubi Island in Luapula Province.
But after teaching the island children for three years, he decided to pursue a diploma in art at Evelyn Hone College. There was only one problem; he had no art on his school certificate to be allowed to enrol for an arts course.
He had to convince the college administration that he could study art.
After practical interviews, he was admitted.
He later taught art at Kabulonga Girls Secondary School, while at the same time working as a part-time art lecturer at Evelyn Hone College.
When he was an arts teacher, he was chairman of an association for teachers of art.
And then in 1989, he was part of the newly-formed Zambia National Visual Arts Council.
In 1992, he resigned his teaching job and joined the Copperbelt Museum as a senior technical officer.
Six years later, he became the first assistant director for arts and crafts at the National Arts Council. In 2000, he was elevated to the position of director. He held the position for 13 years.
In those years, he oversaw the success of the Ngoma Awards, which were held annually to recognise outstanding artistes.
And during the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly in 2013, he chaired the committee that was in charge of exhibitions.
He also helped to organise the opening and closing ceremonies for the AfCON, the African soccer showpiece.
In 2013, Mr Makashi was appointed director of arts and culture in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts. One of his initiatives as director in the ministry was the construction of the Livingstone Art Gallery – the only public art gallery in the country.
Mr Makashi is the brains behind the Pamodzi Carnival, a cultural display that will be held for the third time this year.
“My hope is that that things will continue even after I have left, because it is a big platform for our cultural tourism,” he says.
“I want it to be a very big, international festival where other countries can come and join us to showcase their own culture alongside ours,” he says.
Apart from the preservation of culture, Mr Makashi wants to create a market for handicraft producers and the people who deal in traditional foods where they can sell their products.
But one of his greatest joys is to see some of his former students who are now accomplished artistes.
“Some of my students are prominent artistes. It is satisfying that I have been part of their lives,” he says.
Mr Makashi’s passion for art and culture is unmistakable. He loves to dress like an African – in tailored shirts made from African-print material.
And his office in the ministry building on Cairo Road is a small gallery. Hang on the wall behind his desk are some of his works, mostly pencil drawings depicting human figures.
Mr Makashi finds a huge fascination in people, and that has become the major theme of his works.
“If you care to see things – because most of the times we just look at things, but we don’t see – you will find that there is an endless stream of subjects around people,” he says.
Mr Makashi has recently also taken up photography, taking pictures of people’s social life.
On the other wall of his office is a framed picture of the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.
Mr Makashi had a chance to visit the Louvre in France, where the Mona Lisa is displayed. While he was excited to see the famous Leonardo da Vinci piece, he was disappointed at its size.
“As a student of art, I really desired to see the Mona Lisa, because there is so much written about it, but when I stood before it, I was a little disappointed because it is very small,” he says.
Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo are some of Mr Makashi’s favourite artistes.
To Mr Makashi a painting is not just paint on canvas.
“Paintings are like children,” he says.
“Every piece is done with such emotion and you get a different feeling for each of them. You relate with each of them differently,” he says.
Mr Makashi relishes the process of imagining something, then transforming it into a visual object.
“What I’m sharing is what is in my head then I put it on paper so that you can also see what is in my mind,” he says.
In fact, he says sometimes the process of conceptualising is more enjoyable than the actual painting.
“Sometimes, I dream about these things,” he says.
Many of Mr Makashi’s works have been collected by foreigners visiting Zambia.
And once he was commissioned to do works for Chaminuka Lodge and his works are displayed there. His works have also being collected by the Lusaka Museum.
But he says the appreciation of art among Zambians is very low.
“In a general sense, there is a very little percentage of Zambians who actually appreciate art,” he says.
He says this is so because very few Zambians appreciate the value of art.
He has made himself a small fortune nevertheless.
“I have greatly benefitted from my works. I constructed my house from selling my works and managed to educate all my children,” he says.
Mr Makashi hopes to continue painting until the time he dies.
“This is a career that can take you up to the grave,” he says.
Mr Makashi is also well-travelled.
“If I was given an opportunity to start my life all over again, I would still choose to be an artiste. It is the only thing I do which gives me absolute pleasure,” he says.
Mr Makashi is married to Catharine, whom he met at college. The couple has five children.