The art scene in Zambia is relatively small but is growing steadily. One of the most exciting art spaces on the stage is now Mwimbi Fine Art Gallery. Previously located in Lusaka’s Woodlands area, the gallery has relocated and re-opened with not one but two spaces – one in the suburb of Kabulonga and the other at Chaminuka Lodge and Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Lusaka.
Mwimbi Fine Art aims to raise the profiles of its featured artist and support the development of African artists at home and internationally. Through collaborations with industry professionals and institutions, the gallery aims to explore the links between contemporary art, African art and its audiences.
The format of touring, site-specific or permanent art exhibitions by corporates and private collectors at museums or galleries is already a familiar concept in Zambia. Mwimbi Fine Art is breaking new ground with a class act of temporary but in-person art exhibitions hosted in private and public spaces such as working spaces, cafés, boardrooms, business lounges, shopping malls, and airport terminals. In fact, Zambia Airports Corporation Limited has signed an MoU with Mwimbi Fine Art to proudly display artworks at numerous Zambian airports to affirm the country’s visual culture.
Leading the Mwimbi Fine Art’s on-site and pop-up exhibitions is Lee Garakara, the gallery’s founder and creative director. Garakara has garnered invaluable experience in not only the Zambian art scene but also in Hong Kong, South Africa and Sweden. In fact, Mwimbi Fine Art also has a location in Hong Kong, making it a truly international endeavour.
Garakara’s restless creative mind, flexibility and easy-going nature have helped him embrace the pop-up art exhibition more than other players on the local art scene. He first announced his presence by organizing solo and group pop-ups at an office space in Woodlands – hot on the heels of a solo showing of “Chinese Born in Zambia” in Hong Kong for accomplished Zambian artist William B. Miko.
Following the pop-up’s success, many more solo and group pop-ups featuring some of Zambia’s best creators were showcased rapidly. Among the showcased were artists such as pencil drawing virtuoso Shadreck Simukanga, canvas painting workaday observers Geoffrey Phiri and Ng’andwe Mwaba, master-sculptor Smart Banda, and the unapologetic audacious puzzlers David Daut Makala and Nukwase Tembo known for her works on black femininity.
Makala and Tembo crown a wave of disruptive emergent young talents thirsting for traction and distinction beyond Zambia’s art scene. Their get-up-and-go attitude is well matched by the profound conviction at Mwimbi Fine Art. Given the wealth of cultural heritage represented by Zambia’s 73 ethnic communities spread across its ten provinces, the array of possible themes and stories yet to be created and shared by the two artists is limitless.
An excursion by curator Garakara to Chaminuka Lodge and Nature Lodge in mid-2021 to view some of the heritage-inspired contemporary art and craft work on display in a private collection inspired Garakara to start boot camp style arts skills and career orientation workshops for young artists. These workshops have been held at Chaminuka Lodge since January 2022, hosting some of Mwimbi Fine Arts exhibited artworks.
A visit to a Mwimbi Fine Art exhibition at Chaminuka allows for a multi-faceted experience. After viewing the day’s exhibition, one can also view the private art collection (belonging to the lodge’s developers) on display throughout the property and take in activities on offer at the lodge, including game drives and cheese tastings.
The Kabulonga location is located on the top floor of Africa Works, a chic and hip co-working space. It is fitting because co-working spaces have emerged and proliferated in response to our more nomadic or transitory work lives. It has a minimalist design, allowing the art to speak for itself. The art on display “breathes” and guarantees total engagement with the viewer, explains Curator Garakara. The gallery offers exhibition space for visual art created by emerging and seasoned Zambian artists, with a pulse on commercial art sales to both new and established local and foreign collectors.
At the time of my visit, there was a mixed media solo exhibition by Geoffrey Phiri themed ‘More Witnesses,’ with most artworks on long stretching canvas evocative of a cinematic widescreen. Through the paintings, Phiri shows the varying interpretations of specific scenarios by the witnesses from different segments of society. Phiri consistently captures the frailties of the underclass in works like ‘Witness’ and ‘More Umboni’, and the foibles of society’s high and mighty in ‘Mboni za a Kawalala (Criminals witnesses)’ and ‘From Metal to Dust’.
I wait in anticipation to see what other exhibitions will be on display at Mwimbi Fine Art Gallery’s new home. Phiri’s exhibition was only the first in the new Kabulonga locale and will surely not be the last exhibition. Whether you visit one of the two permanent locations or head to a pop-up exhibition, Mwimbi Fine Art represents the progress of the Zambian art scene.
SOME QUICK FACTS:
– Mwimbi Fine Art has thus far put through their boot camp style orientation workshops about 100 young artists and 5 group shows in partnership with Chaminuka Lodge.
– Newly developed is a production artist-in-residence (AIR) Programme at Chaminuka Lodge, currently hosting 4 artists.
– A total of 9 pop-up exhibitions – 5 solos, 4 group shows – have since been staged by Mwimbi Fine Art over the last 12-18 months.
– Mwimbi Fine Art opened in Hong Kong in 2009 and has two newly opened spaces in Lusaka – one in Kabulonga and the other at Chaminuka Lodge.
– The gallery forges cross-cultural ties between Africa and Asia and within the Zambian and African art communities.
– The first exhibition at Mwimbi Fine Art’s recently opened Kabulonga location was by renowned Zambian artist Geoffrey Phiri.
– The Kabulonga location is open between 08:00-17:30hrs from Monday to Friday and by appointment on Saturday and Sunday between 08:00-17hrs.
Images by Kalichi Pictures