This week our reporter AYAMI MKWANDA had a conversation with Mike Chilemba, Visual Arts Association of Malawi (Vaam) president on various matters affecting visual arts in the country. 

Chilemba: Malawian visual art is so unique

Q

: What are the areas that visual arts cover?

A

: The visual arts are art forms such as ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, video, filmmaking, and architecture.

 

Q

:               Some people say Malawians do not appreciate art. What, as an association are you going to do in order to change this perception/attitude from the public?

A

: As an association, we are in the process of lobbying the government, private sector and other stakeholders to help us in sensitising the Malawian society that visual art is an economically viable industry.

For this to happen, we need a mindset change towards the current social perception that regards the visual arts as a playful and non-profitable endeavour. For instance, the main problem lies in our education system which has lagged behind in streamlining the arts in the national curricula.

Teacher training colleges in Malawi are not training specialist teachers who can teach art as a trade.

This cascades to how the curriculum is being implemented in our primary schools. If you go to the secondary schools, the new Secondary School Curriculum and Assessment Review (SSCAR) is yet to roll out the new creative arts syllabuses, which means that we are yet to see the arts being embraced as a serious endeavour.

On the other hand, the Visual Arts Association of Malawi hereby urges the Malawi Government to consider introducing visual arts as one of the training courses in the very important community colleges introduced by the current government.

In so doing, we will be able to expand the production rate and quality of skill in the visual arts at the same time, sending a message to all Malawians that visual art is also a vocation that is capable of developing the country.

Lastly, Vaam, through its four chapters from the south, east, centre and north of the country, are busy lobbying artists to join the association so that we make the visual arts visible and vibrant in and outside Malawi.

 

Q

:               Are there profitable rewards for artists in the country when they produce their work?

A

: Yes there are profitable rewards in the country, for instance, we have records of artists who have been commissioned to produce artworks that are fetching huge amounts of money. Some artworks are being sold in our local art galleries and the prices are very encouraging. I for one have produced commissioned artworks that have gone beyond K1 million per set of two. People like Ellis Singano, Nickson Malamulo, Elson Kambalu, Gilbert Mpakule, Tamara Banda, just to mention a few are some of the artists who have made remarkable economic benefit from their artworks.

 

Q

: In what way can visual art promote culture and tourism in Malawi?

A

: Visual art promotes culture and tourism in Malawi in the sense that it plays a role in maintaining social identity of Malawian ethnic groups which is a unique tourist attraction opportunity. Malawian visual art is so unique in many genres that makes our art stand out although we have an effect of westernised imitations here and there.

 

Q

: Do Malawian artists hold exhibitions frequently to showcase their artworks?

A

: At present, I must commend Malawian visual artists because we are frequently seeing numerous art exhibitions in galleries and special events both locally and internationally although we may need more of these throughout the country since other cities are less vibrant than Blantyre, and Lilongwe. Talk of Kwa Haraba, La Caverna, La Galleria, just to mention a few.

 

Q

:               What are some of the notable artworks by Malawian artists that have won international accolades?

A

: I may not particularly give the titles of artworks that have made it big on the international scene but Malawians need to know that recently, our former Vaam president Crisford Chayera had a successful exhibition of his paintings in Japan. Our own Dr. Massa Lemu is flying high in America and the whole world with notable global quality artistic work. His artistic achievements can be read via www.massalemu.com. Our lady artists Theophany Nammelo, Vina Sibale and Eva Chikabadwa have also exhibited internationally such as in Germany. In the illustration industry, we have notable international visibility of quality work by South African based Kas Mdoka who also does animation.

Q

: Some artists have blamed government for not sponsoring art competitions and sending artists to international exhibitions. As the president of the association, how do you intend to convince government on this?

A

: I would like to challenge the Malawi Government to give our artists a chance by promoting the visual arts through competitions, awards and also supporting us with commissioned contracts so as to economically empower local artists. Our association is very ready to work with government in order to promote local visual artists.

 

Q

:               Any parting words?

A

: My first parting word is to seriously ask the Malawi Government to consider removing tax on imports of all visual art materials. In so doing, government will empower local artists who are finding it hard to produce quality artworks due to the exorbitant prices of art production materials. Secondly, I would like to ask government, private sector and other stakeholders to buy artworks made by our local artists for their premises so that we can support our President Peter Mutharika and the country as a whole in the ‘BUY MALAWI’ campaign. We are tired of seeing imported art prints when we have beautiful art right here in Malawi.  n

 

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