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“At 23:56 on 23rd October 1963, Zambians rose in reverence of the Union Jack, the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom, for the last time as it lowered, signifying the end of British rule in Zambia.”

― Precious Mwansa-Chisa

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“I was interested in art from a young age because its authenticity was a part of me. It’s what I felt connected to and that’s a talent that was naturally expressed.”

If indeed it is true that behind the mask of the everyday man lies the true face of an artist, then there are few better masks to wear than that of a banker if you wish to keep your true face concealed. This is no slight on bankers. But it is not a vocation usually associated with the creative spark that artists are known for. It is rare that one sits across from a banker in his sombre toned suit, with his strictly organised filing system and thinks he could be sitting opposite an artist. I know I haven’t.

Silvester Mali may not be at the head of an army of bankers seeking to overturn this stereotype but one piece at a time he is doing his part.

Born and raised in Lusaka by a single mother, Silvester opted for a career in IT after finishing school. But his love for art had been inside for a long time.

“I was interested in art from a young age because its authenticity was a part of me. It’s what I felt connected to and that’s a talent that was naturally expressed. I find happiness in creating art also as a way of finding a sense of peace, happiness and satisfaction.”

As well as art Silvester enjoyed sport like most boys his age. However the happiness he found from art kept drawing him towards it.

“Some of my childhood interests included swimming. I would go swimming a lot with family and friends, reading comics and playing soccer. But I found myself to be drawing a lot. I mostly loved to sketch and doodle in my early childhood. I found my inner connection to art at a tender age and so most of the time I would isolate myself, alone in my room, being creative with my little exploring mind.

A portrait of reggae band UB40

“There were times when I would visit my cousin Sam, a guitarist with Crazy Fish, and he would always love to see what I did. He played a role in my early stages that eventually developed my interest. When we were young I remember how he would come home to visit and bring me pencils and drawing pads he’d bought for me. It was exciting because every time I was nowhere to be seen in the house, everybody knew something was being created. And then I’d show up and show them what I had been busy with.”

Despite, or perhaps due to, his long love for art, Silvester is not really sure when he started.

“Art is a talent I grew up with so I can’t really tell how I first got involved, but just that I would first draw cartoon characters from television and books. From there I would come up with my own characters and short stories in comic form that I would create so it has always been an extension of me.

“I first got involved on a public stage in primary school when my aunt Alison took one of my art pieces for a show at the International School of Lusaka for a David Shepherd Foundation exhibition. Of course I understood nothing of that exposure by then, but it was a seed that would eventually grow to bear the fruit you see now.

A portrait called Beautiful Introspection

“I would draw for fun and it has always been that way. It’s a way of expression and every art work I create is a piece of me. It’s an expression that relates to the inner part of the viewer or spectator. It’s a visual culture I’ve come to love and find compelling. So the interest was there also because I love to create.

“Eventually, with growth comes maturity and now I have plans and ambition for how I want to use my talent and where it can take me.”

The innateness of Silvester’s love and talent for art can be seen from the fact that despite the precision of his work, he has not had any formal training or education.

“It’s a God given talent that I have worked on and developed. Over the years I have seen improvement with practice, even if sometimes laziness creeps in or I get busy with other things. I only took art and technical drawing in secondary school at Matero Boys. I was always awarded the best student in art during all my years at Matero Boys. After which I stopped art and life went in a different direction”

The direction he took in life was IT and he eventually found himself working for Stanbic Bank. Life is full of so many quirks. Little did Silvester know that working for a bank would gain him the opportunity to gain the exposure that would help push him forward.

Silvester presenting his portraits to members of Boyz II Men

“Working in and with the bank I have received such tremendous support where I have also come up with initiatives that have since been backed up with such great support, some of which have led to the success I have achieved so far. I’m especially grateful to the staff and management of Stanbic because they have identified my talent and given me a platform that has created opportunity to breach barriers and produce great results.”

That platform included the chance to present his artwork to the headliners of the past two Stanbic Music Festivals. It all started with Silvester’s decision to draw the main act for the 2016 festival.

“It was my idea to draw UB40. I creatively like to think outside the box. So when I had the idea to draw them it was before they even came for the show.

“So I first approached the bank with the idea and had to present a proposal with some of my previous work. When they approved the idea I started on my work.

“And when I presented the finished work to them they noticed my talent and capability. They have supported me ever since.”

Support for his talent didn’t only come from his employers.

“My family has always been supportive, even if I would receive harsh criticism from my mother when I would first draw. But that shaped and sharpened my sense of how I create my works. She has always been supportive and I give her credit for that.

“I have always been an artist but this is only when I’m stepping out to show the world a part of me so there is still much support from all angles of my life; friends, my best friend Abbiya, my cousin Kasonde of Spark Models to mention a few.”

Drawing international stars is only one of the highlights of Silvester’s career so far. He recalls one anecdote from when he presented his work to Zambian president Edgar Lungu and his visiting South African counterpart Jacob Zuma.

“I attended a presidential luncheon in August where my presidential portraits were being presented to the presidents of Zambia and South Africa by our bank’s Managing Director. As I sat there, paying little attention to what was going on, I heard my name being called on the speakers requesting me to go to the presidential table. I was totally unprepared. I found it interesting how when they both had questions regarding my work and for a second I felt like I had been thrown in the deep-end of the pool trying to swim out of it. And the rate of my heart beat didn’t help! But I’m a cool guy, so I kept calm and enjoyed the honour.”

Rather than allow such audience to get ahead of himself, Silvester takes a philosophical look on things.

“From that I hope someone can take the lesson I saw as the bigger picture. That truly your gifts will set you before kings. We all have something to offer and contribute to changing the world, you never know until you just it a go because we are all gold mines. But that gold needs to be mined. No matter who you are and what others think about you, your value is more worth than you will ever know. And realising your potential leads to discovery of purpose.”

With such experience behind him Silvester is looking forward to what lies ahead.

Silvester posing with one of his paintings

“I have taken part in a few countable, selective exhibitions in the recent past, and I wish to participate in more with time. I already have a few upcoming major exhibitions I will be participating in as the year ends. One of them is a possible exhibition I will be taking part in is next year in Europe, which I’m looking forward to.”

Despite having only starting taking his art seriously in recent years, Silvester considers himself ready to carve out his own place in the art landscape.

“We are the all the same as humans but just made unique by who we are in our different abilities. That’s how God created us, each with an ability no other possesses the way we do. So for me, my ability to transform ideas that have never been crossed has led me to discover how my work has set me apart.

“I am an idealist and always try to think outside the box, so the results normally push me to the fringe at times because it’s unbelievable how much potential lies within each of us that has not been discovered until you try and keep pushing your limit. And the more you try the more you know and discover something within you that only you can offer. And that makes you unique.”

When asked about his source of inspiration Silvester pauses pensively.

“I think that it’s quite common that most artists work is inspired from within by deep emotions. It’s similar to music and other arts. So it’s therapeutic, and a healthy form of projection from my experience.

“I normally start off by picking a subject that catches my attention and I try to depict the sense of aspiration onto paper or canvas. So when I pick a subject I study it first, if it’s a figure or portrait, the concept is developed by continuous study such that I can draw or paint it from memory. Sometimes the mood I’m in takes me into a zone out of this world where I just flow and it produces an unpredicted picture or scenario.

“So some of my works have been a symbol of a newness in portraiture, a system I’m developing. I try to use my work to convey and inspire legacy through an artsy medium. I’m compelled to paint them as a means of transforming the legacy of one culture onto another because I want my work to speak to the world and leave a legacy. To create a future where the fruit of my work change and inspire the world in love, hope and unity for the future.”

Silvester’s views on art and artistic expression may seem highly theoretical, but his work bears fruit. As he stands before kings, be it in music or otherwise one can only hope will keep producing high quality work that conveys feeling and depth to all.

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