The Shaping of my Art

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Art, Art Process, Creativity, Mpapa Gallery, Poetry, Politics, Storytelling, Zambia1 Comment

Damaged self-portrait 1971

The world hasn’t stopped turning in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, but most people’s lives have been upended. It’s been a time for self-reflection for me as well as a time of tidying up files and boxes of photos. Some photos record my changing appearance, but the more interesting ones are those that detail how my art has altered and developed. My recent return to Zambia and my meetings at Lechwe Trust Gallery and the Open University art exhibition with artists made me think of the influences on my own art practice, and the debts I owe to other artists. I’ve decided to share some of that experience with you in the hope that you will tell me about your own ideas and developments in your own art practice in the Comments below.

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The Shaping of Water

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Books, Colonialism, Creativity, Displacement, Freedom Fighters, identity, Politics, Power, Reviews, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water2 Comments

Returning to the past to build the future

Daniel Sikazwe interviews Ruth Hartley on the terrace of the Ridgeway Hotel

This year I time-travelled back more than 30 years. I returned to the Ridgeway Hotel in Lusaka to the place where golden weaver birds build their nests above small sun-worshipping crocodiles. Here, there once was the excellent Zintu craft shop, a regular Zambian ladies lunch, an Independence Day National Art Exhibition and gin and tonics on the verandah under the management of Richard Chanter. On this occasion, I was meeting Daniel Sikazwe, journalist, broadcaster and PEN member who was interviewing me about my novel The Shaping of Water. The Ridgeway was as pleasant as ever! As with the Alliance Francaise event compered for me by Daniel, it was a very enjoyable interview. Daniel asked me penetrating questions about the reasons I wrote The Shaping of Water, and the truth of the facts in it. “It’s a book that should be standard reading for Zambians,” Daniel said. “It tells of a part of our history that is not known about.” And so we talked about how I came to write this book and the problems of writing cross-cultural history as a novel.

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Women and art

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Feminism, Learning, Race, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Women’s Art from the Lechwe Heritage Collection

The Lechwe Trust in Lusaka, Zambia, has an exhibition of art created by women from this Sunday, 8th March, International Women’s Day. I’m honoured to be included in it and to share the space with so many other artists I know and admire. There are a total of 32 artists – many with a long creative history in Zambia. There is a list at the end of this post.

Difficult Women

The cover of Difficult Women, A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, by Helen Lewis

At the same time in Gaborone, Botswana, there is an exhibition titled Difficult Women in which two more artists I know, Veryan Edwards and Neo Matome, have their work in a shared exhibition. Yesterday a book with the same title arrived in the post for me. Difficult Women by Helen Lewis is A History of Feminism in 11 fights. I already know that I love this book. As a feminist, I feel very much part of some of the fights that Helen Lewis describes. I’m proud to be a difficult woman too. Difficult women are those who like to solve problems. Working at the task of empowering artists – both men and women – in Zambia wasn’t easy. At first, this task fell to artists and believers in art, like Henry Tayali, Cynthia Zukas, and Bente Lorenz . There was a cost to pay. In my experience working to support artists is done often by other artists and at the cost of having less time for their own work. In my case, I had one solo exhibition before I started work at Mpapa Gallery and another 15 years later after I left Mpapa Gallery. What I did find was that those years working for other artists enriched my art and taught me more than I could ever have learned at an art school

Art and Feminism in Zambia

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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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