When Chanco Writers Workshop organized the Steve Chimombo Memorial Show on April 23 this year, fine artist Kenneth Namalomba mesmerized patrons when he created a portrait of a man and woman caught in the act of kissing. That ‘live’ painting served as an indication that, maybe, visual artists could introduce ‘live’ painting shows. But four months and some 10 days have elapsed and nothing of the sort has happened. RICHARD CHIROMBO engages Namalomba on this and other issues. Excerpts:
How did you make the connection between fine art and you?
My dad, Samson Wills Namalomba, influenced me a lot in becoming an artist since he was one of the prominent artists in the country. And one of his greatest achievements was when Bakili Muluzi was the chairperson of the Sothern African Development Community (Sadc). During the Sadc convention held in Malawi, all the visiting heads of state and government were given my dad’s paintings as a welcome gift into the country. He died in August, 2013. In my primary and secondary school years, I was not very interested in art. I could draw but it wasn’t my passion, I enjoyed solving and studying science. I always thought of studying the sciences, [and thought] engineering would do. Then, my passion changed after sitting, and waiting, for Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations. I got more interested in art [than other fields] and, for apprenticeship, I went to Lovemore Kankhwani, one of the major artists in the country. When I got to college I realized art as part of my life and I spent more time in the studio than any other place on campus. I even spent some of my nights there. These college years also marked the time brother Shadreck Namalomba, who encouraged me a lot in my art and I wouldn’t be where I am without his support.
By the way, one of your works is a nude painting in a conservative society like ours. Why nude painting?
My nude painting was part of my third-year anatomy class project. But I strongly believe in having a philosophy behind my art. I chose a posture that would look seductive, but for a reason. Being born in a former British colony, this [nude] woman symbolises Britain who to me is more like a prostitute; like a prostitute or gold digger who seduces and tries offer some pleasures and leaves you when you are broke. Likewise, this woman, Britain, seduced us with religion which she, herself, no longer believed in. Britain robbed us of our minerals and treasures then left us broke with no minerals to sustain ourselves with.
Did you say anatomy class project?
Yes. At Chancellor College, I double majored in Philosophy and Fine Arts. Philosophy acts a backbone to my art. My art is a pictorial translation of my philosophical ideas. We have some very nice artists in Malawi. However, most artists are not trained and their art may, therefore, lack other elements of art or philosophies behind them. As such a lot of artists are still amateur and very few have progressed to the professional level.
Coming to the issue of ‘live’ paintings. Why can’t Malawian fine artists come together and start organizing ‘live’ fine art shows?
Most Malawian artists are studio artists that love to work in solitude. It is very possible, people have the skills to do it but one of the challenges is that artists don’t take it seriously and don’t see the money value in it… the other problem is that of organising the show [I am talking of] the logistics that include paying for the venue, advertising and [to say the truth] artists do not know how the turn up will be. The market is there and what is needed is for artists to explore the field or they can start venturing in it by featuring during poetry and music shows. In my live art, I used acrylic paint on Canvas, among others.
So, this is the only challenge facing such a venture?
The issue of a National Gallery is an important one. Without a national Gallery, it means Artists do not have a proper exhibiting space and the value of art, really, depends on the space it is being exhibited in. It is a need. Again, a National Museum on art is also needed. An Art Museum is a serious need at the moment. Art reflects different eras and events and it, therefore, embodies the history of the country. Without a Museum, it means we are a country without a past and there’s a saying “People without a past are people without a future” Up to this point, the country’s art [work] has been for exportation and domestic use. We have to transcend that. We are partners with the Chinese; let us learn from their experience, especially on the value they attach to their history and art. We should have a place where we can see a real Chiromo, Tione Mwera, Suke Kenan, Misheck Mwaungulu, Samson Namalomba, Aaron Banda, Boston Male, among others. But, up to this time, all these people’s efforts seem to be in vain and their history forever forgotten. The lack of training among most artists is one of the challenges a lot of our artists face since it’s hard to understand some philosophies behind different art movements.
What are you good at, artistically?
My works vary from traditional naturalistic and realistic paintings to contemporary art styles such as cubism and abstract expressionism. It all depends on what I want to achieve at that particular time. Art is my life. If we can become professionals in this field, art is very rewarding and it’s not a waste of time. All an artist has to do is to realize them. There are a lot of unexplored art fields in our country, including art-therapy, comics drawing, illustration and designing.
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