Art Yak with CHANDA MWENYA
IT HAS been some 14 years since South Africa-based Zambian artist Restone Maambo left the country during the infancy of his art career. After what seemed like finding solid ground on the Zambian art scene, Restone headed for Cape Town hoping to break new grounds.
It was a dare devil move.
“I had exhibited many times before at Henry Tayali Gallery in Lusaka and sold many times. Ordinarily, I had launched my art career. Bubbling with confidence, I left for South Africa in 2004,” he says.
“But my moving from the Zambian art scene to try and practise in South Africa made me appear like a small fish from the pond thrown into the sea. I was confronted by a very advanced and competitive art scene.
“There, I found a pool of established artists. Even though I was within the ranks of upcoming artistes here, out there I was a nonentity. It was like starting all over again, it was very hard and frustrating.”
Despite the predicament, Restone pushed through his challenges and finally found solid grounds on the South African art scene in 2011.
His breakthrough was enhanced by Spier Hotel in partnership with Nandos with their initiative to support artists. The Spier Hotel/Nandos programme that transformed to Yellowwoods in 2014 has since bought over 210 artworks from Restone. Now, that is a huge collection from a single artist.
The gist of this article is to have Restone’s view of the Zambian art scene through the spectacles of the South African creative industry where he has worked for the past decade and fairly established himself.
“Ironically, while the rest of the country is making positive strides in many spheres, the art scene seems to be going backwards here. Generally, a lot has changed since I left in 2004, but the art scene is depressing, at least speaking from what I saw at Henry Tayali Gallery, which is arguably the birth place of Zambian art,” he says.
“Artists are still painting the same way they used to 14 years ago. Some of these people inspired me a lot when I was starting, now am like maybe I was wrong, because the energy and the vibe I found at Henry Tayali was dead.
“I cannot even compare the Zambian art scene to that of South Africa. The comparison is right within itself, when I was leaving the country 14 years ago, the art scene seemed to be vibrant but today that energy is completely gone.
“It really requires a revolution to turn things around to make the industry vibrant again. We need to start by making ourselves visible and relevant in society. There are so many empty spaces around which we can utilise.
“When I look around, I cannot see any appealing public art work. Where are the murals of our icons; Kenneth Kaunda, Michael Sata, Kalusha Bwalya and Edgar Lungu?”
I cannot agree more with Restone on the stagnant status of visual arts and on the conspicuous absence of public art on the Zambian landscape.
A lot needs to be done not only on erecting public art but also in putting up quality works.
The recent statues making rounds on social media are that of the “President” erected at Mukuba Secondary School in Kitwe and Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda people in Mwansabombwe respectively.
I think the two have done little to improve the profile of art in any way. If anything, they defeat the very purpose of making art and artists relevant to society.
Art Yak with CHANDA MWENYA