Public art should be of quality

Art Yak with CHANDA MWENYA
LAST week, I briefly talked about the need to raise the profile of public art in the country and referred to “President Lungu” and “Mwata Kezembes” statues which have been recently erected at Mukuba Secondary School in Kitwe and in Mwansabombwe respectively.The two statues have since received an avalanche of criticism from the public who have cited their poor workmanship.
The public criticism of the statues is once again a wakeup call to authorities that society should not be taken for granted when it comes to public art.
The constant check by the public of what kind of art is put in public spaces has resulted in shoddy works being demolished.
The erasing of the statue that was once erected at the Examination Council of Zambia (ECZ) in Lusaka is a classic example.
Institutions like the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC), the Zambia National Visual Arts Council (VAC) and artists themselves should rise to the occasion and ensure that the profile of public art meets certain standards in aesthetics.
To avoid mediocrity to be exhibited in public spaces in the near future, I will attempt to explain what public art is and how important it is to the country’s visual heritage.
Public art is defined as aesthetic creation that has been executed with the specific intention of being sited in the public space. And with the advancement of new media platforms, public art is quite broad and not limited to statues and murals.
But for this discourse, I will just focus on sculptures and murals.
Notably, most of the outstanding public art in Zambia was done before the formation of NAC and VAC, yet these are the institutions that should have taken a key role in building a creative portfolio of the country.
There is very little public art that is of high aesthetics and of good quality in Zambia. On the Copperbelt Province, it is only the “Imposa Mbwe” statue on Matuka Avenue in Kitwe.
Lusaka on the other hand has quite a number of them for obvious reasons.
On top of the list is the freedom statue, the lions guarding the Supreme Court, the lady justice at High Court, the relief coins at Bank of Zambia, the baobab mural at Mutaba House on Cairo Road, the new mural at Toyota Zambia and the two fish eagles perched at the Kafue and Kabwe traffic circles though tiny and almost dwarfed by commercial billboards not long ago.
The rest are the metal bull by Henry Tayali on Airport Road and the miner perched at Mukuba House on Dedani Kimathi Road.
In the tourist capital, it is just perhaps Dr David Livingstone’s statue done by Nsofwa Bowa and the Harry Mwaanga statue at the airport recently by Emmanuel Muthanga.
I might have missed one or two good statues elsewhere, but that is really about all the country has to write home about.
Anyhow, public art is for society to celebrate. Essentially public art reflects the values of a society, and if properly managed, it raises the cultural heritage of a given country.
It is therefore, incorrect to allow public spaces to be filled with mediocrity.
Zambia does not need to look further to western countries where public art is a respected feature. In neighboring South Africa, the quality of public art is admirable and artists are held in high esteem.
Perhaps, local authorities mandated with the promotion and management the creative industry need personnel with some basic knowledge of art.

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