The Artistic Ideologies of Kenneth Kaunda

There is a larger-than-life icon conspicuously missing from the Zambian landscape and more so at the centre of the 57th anniversary of the country’s independence. That figure is the first president of Zambia Dr Kenneth David Kaunda who died in Lusaka on June 17 2021, aged 97.

Jonathan Leya, Your turn, my dear ones, 2019

Kaunda has engraved an indelible footprint on the political stage in Zambia, Africa and the world.  Kaunda is well placed among world leaders as a respected politician. However, his pedigree in arts and literature deserve more recognition.  Kaunda was a fledged musician and an accomplished author of several books.  Some of the books authored by Kaunda include Zambia Shall be Free (1962), Humanism in Zambia and a Guide to Its Implementation (1967), Letter to My Children (1973), Kaunda on Violence (1980), The Riddle of Violence (1981) and The State of the Nation: National Economy (1988).  

Caleb Chisha, The Custodian, 2019

While the book Zambia Shall Be Free can be seen as his political autobiography, Letter to My Children chronicles his own childhood, growing up as an ordinary village boy with a disciplinarian father who helped groom him into a responsible adult. Other books, such as Humanism in Zambia, record the ideological mind of Kaunda.

Kaunda loved music, not just as a listener but as a performer. Whether he was singing his all-time favorite love song ‘Pagan Moon’ for his wife Betty or ‘Tiyende Pamodzi’ for the people, the music touched the mind and moved souls. Whether in his books or through music, Kaunda applied his creative ability for the good of humanity.

But how can Kaunda, an ingenious creative and leader be immortalised for posterity? A yet to be unveiled five metre bronze statue of Kaunda has been erected at the newly constructed Longacres Mall in Lusaka. The statue created by artist Chande Kapundu is arguably the most representational depiction of Kaunda on the Zambian landscape.

Kale Nayulele, Indomitable, 2019

Art Ideologies

Zeela Art Gallery and Home Stay in Lusaka’s New Kasama area is an artspace where first President Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s ideologies have been embraced and celebrated. The creative space which is home to Bedah and Charity Salasini, and prides itself as a sanctuary for art and culture has paid homage to Kaunda’s intellectual legacy.

Zeela’s appreciation of the Kaunda’s beliefs and values was revealed through the Letters to My Grandchildren* art exhibition in November 2019. The exhibition illustrated Kaunda’s thoughts on nature, culture and art. It exhibition engaged top Zambian artists to create works anchored on Kaunda’s three symbolic epistles to his grandchildren. In essence, Kaunda was speaking to the youth about some fundamental principles of life.

“Nature is a diversity of life. It is an abundance of living things that draw energy from one another and essentially end up sharing the same energies among themselves,” Kaunda’s letter on nature reads in part. Kaunda’s demonstrative description of nature was ably depicted by Caleb Chisha in a painting titled The Custodian. Caleb paints a surrealistic face of Kaunda formed from a landmass, imposed against a backdrop of an expanse of water and a serene wildness complete with wildlife.

 “Culture is your birthright. A nation without a culture is dead. Culture is a data bank of our identity, histories, our ways of knowing and doing and indeed our common existence as a people,” Kaunda wrote. Kaunda’s thoughts on culture were illustrated by artist Gordon Shamulenge in his painting dubbed Ubuntu. Gordon employs traditional motifs to create a painting depicting different people going about their everyday lives. The artist explains that the painting highlights the celebration of our unity in diversity.

In his third letter Kaunda addresses art. He writes, “My dear ones, let me share something with you. In the days of my childhood, art was part of my everyday life. I collected things from nature and used them to make things to play with and for amusement. That’s what I call creativity.” Indeed, Kaunda was an artist in his own right, leaving behind inspiring works which now forms part of Zambia’s creative heritage.

*The featured paintings were among those included in Zeela Art Gallery’s Letters to My Grandchildren exhibition. Zeela’s founders, Bedah and Charity Salasini, described the exhibition as “a fundamental reflection of the Kenneth Kaunda legacy.”

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