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Fighting poverty through art

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Many artists in the country especially those doing visual arts have for a long time bemoaned lack of interest from locals saying they shun local works.

Some of them have gone on to say that the local artists’ works are expensive while others simply do not have interest.

In most cases visual artists rely heavily on foreigners who have interest in their works and buy them often.

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But artist Peter Masina, who is also a sculptor, says the country needs to wake up from its slumber and start supporting artists by buying their works.

He describes art as something which is expensive, hence the artists peg their artworks at good prices.

“I heard several people saying artworks are expensive that is why they do not like buying them but creativity is not expensive. Art is something where one puts in more effort and so art is not expensive,” he says.

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And true to his words, those who have seen Masina’s finished products will attest to the quality artworks he produces.

As a sculptor, he does not compromise on his work, he takes time and makes sure that his products are attractive and the best.

“Arts and culture are a way of life but many Malawians have not accepted this, so we are making steps to make sure that Malawians start buying our artworks. We produce our artworks for all people and not only foreigners,” says Masina.

Masina has grown to love art and today he has expanded his base incorporating other artistic fields although sculpturing is what laid his foundation.

For those who may not be familiar with sculpting, Wikipedia says sculpturing is the art of carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax into three-dimensional representations, as statues, figures and forms.

This is not easy work so to say, carving wood or chiseling stone to produce a figure or a form, and so why should the finished product be sold at a low price?

In fact Masina travels to Biriwiri, Ntcheu, to get stones used for sculpturing. He says that there are only three districts in the country where they get the right stones namely Ntcheu, Salima and Mzimba.

“So where we are, Ntcheu is the closest place. We use soap, spring or hard stones in sculpturing and to produce something depends on the type of stone and actually it takes time to produce something using a hard stone,” says Masina.

As I speak to Masina at Chichiri Museum in Blantyre where his office is, he is chiseling a stone producing a duck which has already been bought not by a Malawian but a foreigner.

This foreigner saw his products before asking him to make a duckling for his home.

“This is what I call stone sculpturing which I have been doing for many years actually it is since 1992,” he explains.

Masina, who is now 47 years, says when he was young, he used to draw then but did not know that this would be his career.

“There was a sculptor who came from Zimbabwe (Hemson Chauluka) and this was when they were opening the museum. But then after sometime, the museum said they wanted to teach the youth sculpture and so is targeted the staff but many did not want to learn,” he says.

Masina says many of the staff did not value sculpturing as they considered it dirty work and it was during this time that he approached the museum’s officer in charge then.

“At first they did not want someone from outside but looking at my interest they accepted and I ended up learning the trade for 11 months and I was actually welcomed in the museum family as a volunteer,” says the artist.

In 1991, Masina participated in the international trade fair where he ended up selling all his works and this was a platform that exposed his potential such that the government on May 1, 2001 employed him on a temporary basis.

As they say hard work always pays, Masina worked very hard at the museum such that in 2002 he was employed permanently.

In 2004, he even went a step further to start teaching sculpturing and it was in the same year that he was promoted to senior sculpture.

But this was also the time; the country was moving from one party system to multiparty such that the museum experienced changes which in 2005 saw him being shifted from his actual sculpturing work to be trained in technical, exhibition design and maintenance.

“My interest was in arts so going this other direction restricted me. But still more wherever there is a will there is a way. I dug deeper to find that space to explore arts,” says Masina.

It was then that in the same year he created Cultural Heritage Arts Foundation and it was because of this that later Director of French Cultural Centre Christian Tonani selected him as a young achiever.

He later did a course Peppeir Mache Technique in Ethiopia in 2006 where he received a certificate and upon his comeback, he started holding workshops, trainings and art exhibitions.

Still searching for more knowledge in the creative industry, Masina in 2009 went to University of Malawi – Chancellor College in Zomba where he did a Training of Trainers course.

His love for arts saw him widening his net to venture in performing art and in 2006 he established Chichiri Cultural Troupe.

The group which is still in existence and has been performing in different platforms in 2009 went to participate at the Pan African Cultural Festival in Algeria.

“We went there with Ben Mankhamba and Zig Zaggers Band and National Dance Troupe formely Kwacha where we had performances for 23 days,” recalls the artist.

Taking a look at one of his finished products, Masina goes further to reveal that his group did well during the festival as they came out position three out of 49 countries receiving a bronze medal for Best Performance and Discipline.

In 2009 with his passion for love, he was elected Malawi Folkdance and Song Society president, a position he still holds up to now and says he has done enough and would leave it next year.

Having been operating different arts fields, Masina decided to take a huge step this year by forming a company known as Chichiri Heritage Entertainment.

“This company is housing all the arts fields together you talk of basketry, sculpturing, traditional pottery and through it you get Chichiri Cultural Troupe. The aim in forming this company is to do art as a business and this entails producing products which are of high standard,” says Masina.

He says although they do not have enough money they have employed several other artists with the aim of reducing poverty.

“Our art services are broad because there is more that we offer. We are also into traditional style decoration; we also do promotions through jingles. We also do art exhibitions as well as facilitating art and culture trainings and all this is under one roof,” says Masina.

He says their plans in the next five years are to reduce poverty, grow the company to compete with others and employ more people.

“We actually have assisted several youths imparting the arts and culture knowledge and we are looking having our own place with proper offices. For now we are operating at the museum and we would like to thank the museum for giving us the space,” says Masina.

He says as a company they generate money on their own through their products hence they want support from people.

“As I said this company is still a baby, it can only get to its destination when we get the support. People should utilise Chichiri Cultural Troupe during their different functions. They should also buy our different artworks for their houses,” says Masina.

He also calls on youths who are just staying idle but have interest in arts to join them as they have different departments including painting.

Masina says they have signed a memorandum of understanding with the museum in that when they sell every artwork they have to give out five percent.

He says they have been invited to an arts festival in Cape Town, South Africa from October 24 to November 12 but is quick to point out that as a company they do not have enough resources.

“The organisers have already catered for accommodation and allowances but we have to organise our travel documents and transport. This is where we are asking for help from well wishers. We have a lot to offer during the festival,” says Masina.

He says they have not sat idle but they have organised an exhibition dubbed Summertime Open Air Art Exhibition from September 22 to September 29 which will run under the theme Perspective of Arts and Culture at 51 years in Malawi.

Head of Painting Moment Chaweza, who has been in the arts industry for close to 30 years says they have more to offer as a company and called for support from the government and corporate world.

“We did well to come together as a company because we share ideas and work as a team. This is also easier because people get so many products under one roof. For instance we have the painting department and as an artist my subjects are mainly in realism, landscapes and wildlife,” says Chaweza.

He says that by coming together, they have shown that they love arts and that they have passion for it but they can only grow when they receive support.

“There is a lot of money which is being pumped into other fields but art is neglected and yet it offers a lot. We are looking at flying the country’s flag in South Africa and we will have a lot to show but we need support to go there,” says the artist.

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