Mulenga Chafilwa

23.05.2018 - Article

Mulenga Chafilwa is very well known in the Zambian Art scene with his work mostly focussing on social commentary displaying his great observation skills of the surrounding environment. Born in 1967 he started painting at the very young age of 7 and began exhibiting professionally more than 20 years ago. In 2012 he became the chairperson of the Visual Arts Councils and has participated in various exhibitions and workshops internationally. The German Embassy proudly presents him as the “Artist of the Month” in November 2017 and lets his words speak and elaborate on his works in the following statement by the artist himself:

“My work is largely figurative where  I’m fascinated with city dwellers going on their usual business. I usually extend my experiences from the streets onto my canvas. When you are on the streets of Lusaka or indeed any urban setting you can’t help but get caught up in the energies that the streets exude. Usually my painted subjects are out there to make ends meet. You will notice that I will usually contrast the every day breadwinner on the street with the breadwinner in the tall buildings in the background mainly representing the corporate  spaces which to me house the educated few and those who are believed to be well off financially.

Within the arts I’ve heard of the question, or is it a debate to say ‘Are Artists born or made?  I have painted from the time I was 7 years old and I believe my artistic trait was evident by this time. As much as I wanted to take up art as a subject in secondary school, the odds were not in my favour. I, however, nurtured what I had in me till I underwent the art teachers training at the Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka (1991 – 1993) this having been the only institution in Zambia then, offering any study programme to do with fine art.

I started painting professionally in my first year in college in 1991. This was not as a supplement to the college study instructions but a passion of mine that was simply manifesting itself owing to the professional galleries and art shows that Lusaka had to offer. Twenty six years down the line I have come to settle for the painted subjects that in most cases I will not show facial features. This I believe stems from the philosophy in my practice where I toy around with the fact that the hundreds of faces I see every new day will not all register on my consciousness and I will not live to remember all these. Another distinct feature is that I do not show feet in my figures unless when the subject is in a particular posture. All this and more, I execute in mixed media where I use acrylic paint, artist's charcoal, pastels and sometimes drawing ink.

I believe I’m one person who always feels for others. I am generally interested in the welfare of people around me. I believe everyone is at a given place and time for a reason. My existence I believe should complement the people around me. Having said this, I should then say I am motivated by people, especially the positive ones.

I am not fascinated by city life as such but am ”artistically positively charged“ when I’m in a crowd (on the streets). The crowded scenes for me translate into studying colour combinations in terms of what people wear. I listen to the sounds. You cannot help it but smell the air around …. Not so long ago, I was confessing to a friend that when I am in a particular setting and surrounded by some crowds, I feel like I’m inside my own painting and mingling with my subjects (I guess there is a hidden theory there that would need further exploring).  After all, ‘Life is an exhibition’. Just look and see!”

Please find his contact details on the right and a selection of his brilliant work in our online art Gallery.

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