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.

Print by Lutanda Mwamba at the Lechwe Gallery
Paintings by Lutanda Mwamba at the Lechwe Gallery
Prints by Lutanda Mwamba at the Lechwe Gallery

Mpapa Art Gallery, Lusaka 1978 – 1996

At that time I was managing the only art gallery in Zambia, Mpapa Art Gallery. We supported and resourced many Zambian artists helping them to make a living from their art. I talked to my partners, Joan Pilcher and Cynthia Zukas about employing Lutanda to help with the framing and exhibitions and they agreed to give him a trial. By then Lutanda was a Rastafarian who looked like Bob Marley. In those days Rastas were unusual in Zambia and some of our artists and customers were shocked by his dreadlocks. Lutanda was, however, an enormous asset to the gallery. He was intelligent, hardworking and pleasant with everyone. It didn’t take him long to see the value of art and the possibilities of making a career from it especially with his natural visual talent. The printmaker Patrick Mweemba, one of our top artists, who later became a fellow director of the gallery, taught and advised Lutanda and in a very short time, he became one of the best and most interesting printmakers shown by the gallery.

Sculpture by Flinto Chandia at Lechwe Trust Art Gallery
Lechwe Trust Founding Members and Mission Statement

The start of Mpapa Gallery and how it helped artists go to art school

Art galleries are seldom profit makers. In rich and developed countries they may count on government support or the generosity of patrons and funders. Often they operate as charities or trusts. Mpapa Gallery was on its own and had to be carefully managed financially. The smallest commission possible was taken from the sale of artists’ work to cover the rent of the premises, the receptionist and manager’s salaries, exhibition openings and advertising. Joan, Cynthia, Patrick and myself worked without payment for the whole time the gallery existed. We were artists and art historians who loved Zambia and its artists and wanted to see Zambian artists succeed. It was a challenging time politically and economically in Zambia. Mpapa Gallery was not only in the frontline in supporting artists but supported Zambia as a Frontline state in the war against apartheid. It wasn’t until Zambians began to run their own art galleries that they realised how hardwon and important our achievement had been. In 1986 Cynthia Zukas set up the Lechwe Trust. Mpapa Gallery already had an excellent reputation with the British Council, USAID, Norad, and other organisations so we were able to recommend artists whose work was of sufficient quality for study abroad. Lutanda was an exceptional artist and with the help of the Lechwe Trust and the British Council he was able to study at Reading University’s School of Fine Art.

Lutanda Mwamba at Mpapa Gallery with an exhibition of his prints circa 1987

Tragedy strikes but art lives on

The first time I met Lutanda he was about 14. The last time I saw him with all his family was on a very happy occasion at the Henry Tayali Centre in Lusaka just 2 years before his tragic and for me, heartbreaking, death in his early 40s. I feel that over that time Lutanda was a significant part of my life and my connections with Zambian art and Mpapa Gallery. Lutanda had the most beautiful smile. I will always remember that about him and value his friendship and his final gift to me. I have some of his prints and I am privileged to have seen the wonderful exhibition put on at the Lechwe Gallery in the memory of Lutanda Mwamba and Flinto Chandia.

Art lives on and the art of Lutanda and Flinto will always be honoured in Zambia.

9 Comments on “Lutanda Mwamba’s story, Mpapa Gallery and the Lechwe Trust Exhibition”

  1. Anita

    Reading art school needs to see this. Do they know what became of their student do you think? Thank you Ruth, yet again, for stories like these.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Anita – I do try to link in all those elements in the posts I blog. Sometimes I run out of time and sometimes out of internet. I’ll try and remedy it when I can! There were other Zambian artists there too. Sadly Godfrey Setti has also passed away!

  2. sigrid

    |It’s good to hear stories like this and get some idea of all the good work and good will that existed then, and still goes on, no doubt (as you probably witnessed on your visit recently?? ) And, as Anita says, Reading Art school might add more to the story?

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Sigrid – thanks for your comment – and yes I should have put Reading Art School into the post. I’ll see if it can be added!

  3. Mel O'Gorman Davies

    Very touching story about real kindness. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of looking at the real picture especially in difficult times.

  4. mike kaonga

    his dream was to have an award in his name.” and the lutanda mwamba award for best print goes to …………” these were his words in our many private conversations i was privileged to have had with him.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      What a wonderful dream for Lutanda to have had! It would be wonderful if it could one day, be more than a dream! I wonder how that could be made possible? Perhaps you need to talk about Lutanda’s dream with some other artists and printmakers!
      Thank you Mike

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