15th April 2009
Vitner / Witnesses Part I
The first phase of the project with the final title Vitner / Witnesses has been undertaken in Lusaka, Zambia. The project was the winning proposal in the competition to produce a public art piece for the Norad Centre for Development in Vestbanen, Oslo (see news).

The installation takes as its point of departure Pablo Picasso's painting "Guernica" from 1937. Picasso is known to have been strongly influenced by African art and crafts in his early works, in particular ahead of his cubist period. The painting "Guernica" also bears signs of this fascination, although painted at a later stage.

"Guernica" is a modernist painting which has never lost its significance, and the painting keeps on playing a role in both art and politics. The tapestry version which hangs outside the Security Council chamber in the UN headquarters in New York was famously, and cowardly, covered up for a press conference in 2003, when Colin Powell announced the US Army's invasion of Iraq.

The same tapestry version is being reinstalled by Goshka Macuga at the Whitechapel Gallery in London this April, where it was first shown in 1939. More information about her project "The Nature of the Beast"

My take on the painting was to "turn the table", and have contemporary Zambian artists produce wooden sculptures inspired by Picasso. They were especially encouraged to try and find points of overlapping between their Zambian visual culture and Picasso's expression. And they were asked to charge the works with their personal experience of the pain and suffering depicted in the painting.

I came home with 170 kilos of wooden sculptures. The 10 artists who participated in the project were given different parts of the painting to bring to life in jacaranda wood, as small scale models and drawings - and the results are stunning.

The sculptures will now be fitted into an 8 meters tall geometric structure which is going to be suspended from the ceiling, and cutting through 3 floors at the Centre of Development. This makes Part II of the project. I will come back with pictures of the final result. But for now I wanted to share with you pictures from the work at the Art Academy Without Walls Studios in Lusaka.

The ten artists are: Nsofwa Bowa, Gladys Kalichini, Chifuchi Kandala, Emanuel Kapotwe, Kalinosi Mutale, Chishimba Nyirenda, Nick Sangale, Joseph Shakulipa, Gordon Shamulenge and Christopher Simbule. Thank you! You are fantastic!

Pablo Picasso, Guernica. 1937

The studiospaces in Lusaka

The first day of the workshop

Nick Sangala making a sketch of the bull's head

Gordon Shamulenge's sketches for the bull. He also made the final wooden version below

Making models of clay. Chifuchi, Nsofwa, Chishimba and Christopher

Chishimba Nyirenda's clay model of the horse's head

Christopher Simbule's clay model of the mother's head

Chishimba with the log of jacaranda which was to become the horse

Work in progress: Christopher and the running woman

Kalinosi, Nick and Chifuchi working on small scale models of metal wire

Chifuchi Kandala carving a gun to the sound of Bob Marley

Gordon's bull is almost done. Picasso eat your heart out!

Joseph Shakulipa presenting his skeleton arms and legs

Christopher and I are collaborating on getting the mother's expression right

Joseph, Chishimba, Gordon, Kapotwe and Christopher outside the studios

Nsofwa Bowa, a lady in pain. Made in plaster and fibre glass


Emanuel Kapotwe made a brilliant mask in plaster, inspired by the "spirit" in Guernica and a Makishi mask from Western Zambia, as seen on the far right in the picture below:

From a Makishi ceremony in Lusaka 2006

From the same ceremony: a Nyau character from Eastern province

Chishimba's beautiful horse is ready to go to Oslo

Gladys contributed with distorted drawings which may be integrated as cut out sculptures in the final piece

Some more Nyau characters from the Eastern province

All photos by Marte Johnslien

All text and image © Marte Johnslien
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