Connections between art, politics, and change in South Africa and Zambia

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Art, Art Process, Colonialism, Creativity, Design, Education, Human rights, identity, Imagination, justice, Mpapa Gallery, Politics, Printmaking, Racism, South Africa, Storytelling, When I Was Bad, Writing, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Andrew Verster, the best teacher I had

Ruth Hartley “Other Sunsets” Lechwe Trust Collection Zambia.
Influenced by Andrew Verster’s teaching

Andrew Verster died on Sunday 16th February 2020. In 1964, After graduating from Camberwell School of Art and Reading University, he taught me painting at the Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town. He was a wonderful teacher – one whom I will never forget because of his kindness and the attention he gave to all his students and to me. I think of him whenever I paint. I graduated that year feeling very discouraged by apartheid and left South Africa for London soon after under difficult circumstances. (I’ve written about it in my memoir.) Many years later I would be working with Joan Pilcher, Patrick Mweemba and Cynthia Zukas as co-directors of the Mpapa Gallery in Lusaka, Zambia. Cynthia and I had both studied art at the Michaelis, though some years apart. Another thing we have in common is our radical politics and mutual friends in the ANC, but every one of us at Mpapa was against apartheid.

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Lutanda Mwamba’s story, Mpapa Gallery and the Lechwe Trust Exhibition

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Art Process, Creativity, Education, Mpapa Gallery, Printmaking, Printmaking,9 Comments

Portrait of Lutanda Mwamba by Suwilanji Banda

Teaching O level art at the ISL

I was teaching O level art at the International School of Lusaka in 1982 when I first noticed a student called Lutanda Mwamba. He had a gift for drawing. I praised his work but he said he wanted to be an engineer. I didn’t argue. Life was hard then in Zambia particularly for those who didn’t fit into either the white or black communities. The ISL was a fee-paying school for privileged kids but somehow Lutanda’s devoted mother scraped the fees together for his education. Each day he made the long, hot, and dusty walk from his home in Chilenje to school. He was lonely at the ISL. The other pupils lacked for nothing and Lutanda was poor and shy. Occasionally I’d give him a lift home. Eventually, I gave him a bicycle that my kids didn’t need anymore. I had to stop teaching the next year and it was several years later in 1985 before I next saw a very thin Lutanda walking by with his friend David Chirwa. He recognised me as a friendly face and came to ask me if I could help him find work. He had passed his O level exams but that wasn’t enough to get him a job. Lutanda still hoped to study engineering but none of my efforts to help found him work or an apprenticeship.

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The Story of a Storyteller in Zambia

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Books, Creativity, Graphic novel, identity, Imagination, Promotion, Publication, Reading, Reviews, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Shaping of Water, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Writing, Writing Process, Zambia2 Comments

Zambia is the home of my heart. A country I love and that I returned to for a while this year. I was honoured that Dr. Fay Gadsden of Gadsden Publishers, Lusaka generously arranged a book launch for me at the Alliance Francaise – France is my other home so that felt appropriate. Daniel Sikazwe, journalist, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation presenter, and lecturer in journalism and creative writing at Evelyn Hone College was the wonderful compere of the evening. He is also the PEN secretary for Zambia. A tough call anywhere. We all hoped the evening would attract and inspire Zambian writers and readers and help build Zambian literature.

Storytelling is part of every culture

Stories existed before writing, books or kindles, before radio or television. They are the ground in which human culture is rooted and from which we grow. Songs, dances, and poetry are woven from the rhythm of footsteps and heartbeats of our nomadic wanderings. We sing to our babies and we tell them stories.  Humans are born out of and into storytelling.  We are mythic beings constructed from the stories we tell ourselves, listen to, and read.

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Mangoes, black tea and books for breakfast

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Books, Publication, Reading, Storytelling, Writing, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Fresh mangoes and black tea and books to read.

I haven’t forgotten my blog readers. My plans are rather awry at the moment though, so this post is a divergence from what I planned in a wintry France, to blog about in January. Since I arrived in Lusaka about 2 weeks ago, I have been reading and reading and reading. It has been an immense pleasure. Reading is not the orgiastic pleasure of eating sweet fresh mangoes straight off the tree which, I confess, were plucked and peeled for me – its more like bathing, like submerging in new and wonderful worlds -like those flying dreams of childhood or not needing to breathe underwater.

My traveling library, desk, study, workplace

My laptop, phone, kindle, and water bottle – all I need

I suppose that’s another magical experience provided by the digital age. I have a library inside my Kindle, bookcases of files on my laptop, walls of pictures – I’ve arrived on a flying carpet. When I open my laptop – it is a Tardis providing me with everything I need to think, read and to write. I’m reminded again that Zambians are so integrated into the digital universe – the hyperspeed at which Zambia has become part of the future is breathtaking though that isn’t to deny the problems of poverty that are everywhere.

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The River’s Story

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Colonialism, illustration, Imagination, Power, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Shaping of Water, Truth, Zambia4 Comments

We all own the River.

Ruth Hartley’s kinetic painting of a river that will always appear to look different as rivers do in light and shade.

That’s what we believe. The world of nature is ours and we can do what we like with it. The River belongs to us. We can use it – we can waste it – we can worship it. Not one of these ways of looking at the River tells us what it means to be the River itself. We think we know of and all about the River. But not one of these methods of evaluation and study tells us the story that is the River’s own story.

Telling our stories of the River

The Great River Zambezi became the focus for a million different stories in a social media post about the Victoria Falls this month. Known by the African peoples as the Mosi-O-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders – it was renamed by Dr David Livingstone in honour of Queen Victoria. That was Livingstone’s way of giving the River to the British Empress of India. By saying that angels in their flight must have stopped to marvel at the magnificence of the Falls, he gave the River to Christianity and missionaries. Colonial governments ignored what the River meant to Africans who thought of the River as the great Snake God – the powerful Nyami-Nyami who brought life to the people who lived by the River. Livingstone hoped, however, that his story of the River would help bring about the end of the Slave Trade even if it brought colonialism to that part of Africa.

Different stories of the River. Different visions of the River

Thomas Baines The Victoria Falls.

Did Livingstone only see the material fact of water plunging into a vast rocky chasm? Did he see angels above it? How does the transformation of the River into spray and mist and sound, make us understand the power and the spirit of the River? What stories are science? Which stories are fantastic? What stories are spiritual?

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