Five Decades of Art in Zambia

by Roy Kausa

The history of Zambia contemporary art spans a period of fifty years from Independence in 1964 to the present. The earliest paintings in this country at that time were generally executed by settlers of British origin. And the first African painters originated from the war-torn Congo in the late ‘50s settling in Kitwe and Ndola.

These Congolese painters, such as Dongala and Master Diouf were also skilled craftsmen, producing various items ranging from copperware to wooden and copper crafts. On the Copperbelt, Bulangililo and Twapia Townships in Kitwe and Ndola respectively became popular art centres. And most of the crafts and paintings produced by these artists were sold at strategic points along the main road.

In those days Zambian artists exhibited their artworks in council libraries and other public and private spaces, with Lusaka-based artists exhibiting at the Anglo-American Building. The Zambian artists breathed a sigh of relief when Mpapa Gallery opened. It was the first commercial gallery in the whole country situated in ChaChaCha Road in central Lusaka.

Ruth Bush was in charge of the gallery, which provided space for exhibitions and workshops to both local and international artists. The late Stephen Williams from Zimbabwe was among visiting artists to exhibit there.


Stephen Williams, Okavango II, 1994, watercolour on paper, 20cm x 35cm, donated by the artist

The first college offering a certificate in art in the then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) was established at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation centre in Kitwe in 1959. This was a six months course tailored to teach art students how to illustrate portions of the Bible in order for Africans who could not read to understand the word of God.

In 1962 the art curriculum at Mindolo was revised and with the help of the Georgia University in the United States of America saw the establishment of the African Literature Centre (ALC) which offered a one year diploma course in art and journalism open to all pan-African countries. The ALC was a fee-paying college, and due to financial constraints closed in 1992.

In the meantime the Lusaka Arts Society (LAS) was revived in 1965 which comprised mainly expatriates and initially the only Zambian artist was Gabriel Ellison, while Bert Witkamp and others Zambian artists joined later. The LAS members met behind the Evelyn Hone College in prefabricated studios to share ideas mostly in paintings and print making. Bert Witkamp, Henry Tayali, Bente Lorenz and Cynthia Zukas played an important role in organizing artistic activities there.


Henry Tayali, The Fishermen, 1958, poser paint on paper, 46cm x 65cm, on loan from Gibbs family

Evelyn Hone College opened just before Independence in 1964; however it was not until 1973 that the Department of Art and Design was established. The teaching staff included Trevor Ford, Andrew Makromallis, Margaret Plesner, and Billy Nkunika. The first graduates from this department were quickly absorbed into the industry where they worked as graphic artists. And when Kwame Nkrumah Secondary School's Art Teachers College in Kabwe closed, the Evelyn Hone College incorporated the teachers training course in its curriculum. For the past few years the Art Department has been headed by Patrick Mumba, a Lechwe Trust graduate.


Margaret Plesner, Untitled, watercolour on paper, 70cm x 70cm, donated by Bente Lorenz

In 1989 Martin Phiri and William Bwalya Miko were leading figures in the creation of Zambia National Visual Arts Council. Its objective is to promote and develop visual arts in Zambia through establishing centres throughout the country, putting art lessons back onto school curricula, and keeping archives relating to the visual arts. This event gave much needed momentum to the art scene at the time.

The Henry Tayali Art Centre, originally an exhibition hall only, officially opened on June 15th, 1995, in the Lusaka Showgrounds. Later it was refurbished by Norwegian aid (NORAD) with support from other sponsors including Lechwe Trust. Apart from a large innovative exhibition space, the Art Centre now houses workshop facilities for artists, administrative office and documentation centre. The centre is named in tribute to the late Henry Tayali, one of Zambia's best-known and influential artists, who died in 1987.

More recently the capital has seen an emergence of art galleries and other spaces for art, such as Twaya Art-Zambia at Intercontinental Hotel, Chaminuka Nature Reserve, Woodlands New Gallery, Rockstone New Gallery, Alliance Francaise, and Wayi Wayi in Livingstone.

Since its establishment in 1986 Lechwe Trust has played an important role providing vital encouragement to the art movement in the country, not only through purchasing art for its collection, but by assisting artists to pursue further academic studies at home and overseas; and by supporting studios with workshops and exhibitions of their own.



The National Art Collection of Zambia


Honourable Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to say that Lechwe Trust is happy to be cooperating with the Lusaka National Museum again. We have worked together since the inception of this Museum to enhance our Cultural Heritage. For this exhibition our support includes the loan of our newly acquired screens. In addition, our Vice Chairperson, Mr William Miko volunteered on his own behalf to curate this exhibition.

Looking around I am sure that I am the only person old enough to remember how the National Collection started. So I will give you a brief outline of its chequered history, its ups and downs.

At Independence the newly-formed Department of Cultural Services under its first Director Mr Mutumwena Yeta had the vision and enthusiasm to start building a National Art Collection. He had the full support and encouragement of President Kaunda.

There was a generous purchasing allowance, and the collection grew. It included works by four prominent artists, two British and two Zambian. Dr Kaunda himself invited the two British artists to visit Zambia to paint our wildlife and birds. We are fortunate to have twelve wildlife paintings by David Shepherd, and nine works of Zambian birds by Jack Harrison.

The two prominent Zambian artists are Gabriel Ellison and Henry Tayali. There are twelve works by Gabriel and fifteen by Henry. The two brilliant Akwila Simpasa charcoal drawings were a later donation.

After a few years the Department of Cultural Services handed custody of the collection to the Art Centre Foundation, a recently-formed art trust, supported by the Anglo American Corporation. That is when the whole collection was moved to the Mulungushi Conference Centre … and that's when the trouble started!

Most importantly, after 1972 or '73 the purchasing grant got less and less, and the committee sometimes had to plead with the Department to get at least something each year, so very few new works could be bought.

Secondly, some of you may remember that during the UNIP government, Mulungushi Hall was often used for political meetings, and on many occasions committee members and visitors were turned away at the gate by policemen with AK47s!

As if that wasn't enough, an invasion of termites crawled up the walls and attacked our precious traditional stools and drums.

But I haven't finished – there was one more disaster -- the storeroom roof leaked and by the time it was reported to the committee much damage had been done.

So, as you can appreciate, the committee's enthusiasm got less, and by about 1990 the National Collection was badly neglected.

But here comes the good news … once the Lusaka National Museum was opened it agreed to take custody of the National Collection, and with a sigh of relief we handed it over.

Then came a great second lease of life, with donors including the European Union, NORAD and others funding new purchases for the collection. Donations also came in from local sources, including the Zintu Foundation. But even those funds eventually petered out by about 2000. So there are two significant gaps in the collection: from 1980 – 1994 and 2000 – 2010.

It is our hope that we can start again and bring back the vision of a National Gallery for the visual Arts, which has been our hope for so long.

Thank you.