CHENA ART GALLERY
CAPTIVATING ART LOVERS EVERYWHERE
“Creativity takes courage.” Those are the words of Henri Matisse, a French artist known for his use of color and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. It’s the same courage that inspired two friends, Sepo Musokotwane and Zelipa Mulwanda, to birth Chena Art Gallery. The gallery was created to promote art and art mentorship by providing a platform for Africans to showcase their work in an environment that fosters growth and sustainability. It was founded in 2018 as an outdoor art space. In 2020 Chena Art Gallery made their collection available online in order to make it accessible to a wider audience. As of 2021 Chena has completed a gallery building to complement the original outdoor exhibition space on the grounds of Nkwashi Estate, a charter city being developed just outside of Lusaka.
The gallery was created to promote art and art mentorship by providing a platform for Africans to showcase their work in an environment that fosters growth and sustainability.
One of the major observations made by Sepo and Zelipa before embarking on the journey to creating Chena was that most art galleries in Zambia and Africa were owned by foreigners, something they wanted to change by creating a platform for Africans by Africans. A platform that enables African artists to take control of their narratives and earn the worth of their work in the process.
“When we started, we had this idea to open an outside gallery to help fundraise for The Unforgotten Fund, a charity that Sepo works for. The US-based charity organisation has programmes across Sierra Leone, Zambia, Kenya and Bangladesh,” Zelipa tells me.
“We sat together and said, ‘Look, we don’t have an actual gallery right now, let’s do something outside, and make it an outdoor gallery.’ That’s how we went from that concept of a gallery for a charity, to what we’re doing now at Nkwashi: running a sculptor park, an outdoor museum and an artist in residency programme. Initially, it was supposed to be a one off event, but it just took life from there. I don’t even know how or when, we were just happy to go with it.”
Sepo has a background in education and Zelipa has 14 years of volunteering experience. They use their different skills to achieve their shared goals. The two friends and business partners discovered that they shared a common interest in art, both possessing a love for design and curating spaces. They started out doing carpentry and expanded their repertoire, creating different kinds of art works.
“We actually started out doing carpentry, building things, and we still do, once in a while, just not as intensely. We realised shipping these products would be costly, as they’re chunky and heavy and they require certification. It was quite the headache. We decided that if we did something that has impact, is still creative, and is still artistic, we would actually do more with our talents. So we went into art. That was well over five years ago,” Sepo shares.
Chena considers art as a fundamental instrument in redefining the future of a society. Their activities are focused on seeing a direct and, where possible, immediate impact in the communities they support.
“We’ve always been at one idea or the next. We’re very good at accepting a crash and starting over and I think that’s what helped us get here. There’s an element of complementary talent that we both appreciate and value from each other. There’s always a perspective and a continual innovative and iterative process with us. Just to show you how dynamic we are, we would go from designing furniture to designing jewelry and fashion. And through all of these things, all these skills actually blend together; because with 2D and 3D art you’re looking at sculpted pieces. All the experience gathered from working with different materials comes into play. Suffice it to say, we’ve been at it for a while but we don’t stop exploring.”
One of the most exciting things about Chena is their mentorship programmes such as air.nkwashi, the artist in residence programme at Nkwashi. There’s also the ASK (Art Starter Kits) initiative focused on the mentorship of youths in peri-urban and rural areas with the aim of inspiring an appreciation for art and engaging vulnerable communities through art. It also aims to equip young people from these communities with entrepreneurial skills.
“I’m very passionate about education. So what we do is we take elements of academic progress and performance and we help these kids plan their futures by seeing what we can do to partner with organisations that can help with sponsorship and get these kids into institutions of higher learning. With the educational background that I bring, and the community development background that Zelipa brings, we then use all those aspects of our experience and passions and feed that into art,” Sepo explains.
Chena’s founders see art as an essential part of culture. It’s what makes a city buzz, be it Nkwashi or any other city. Preserving and promoting African history and culture is one of their objectives.
Chena considers art a fundamental instrument in redefining the future of a society. Their activities are focused on seeing a direct and, where possible, immediate impact in the communities they support.
The journey of setting up Chena was not without its challenges. But through hard work, persistence and innovative thinking, Sepo and Zelipa have brought their vision to life.
Visit chena-gallery.com to learn more about the gallery. Also check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.