A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
The Tuning-In: Mini-Lab workshop is part of the Livingston Office for Contemporary Art’s (LoCA) Academy programme. It is an ongoing series of projects centred on workshops, discursive platforms, lectures, screenings, exhibitions and pop-up shows that focus on growing a new art audience. The Mini-Lab functions as an alternative informal school centred on participatory knowledge-sharing, exchange, collective learning and critical thinking. It was established in Autumn 2019 to run as an intense four-week programme, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been reformatted into a year-long online and in-person hybrid programme with small groups of participants.
The Tuning-In: Other Ways of Seeing Mini-Lab programme looked to deconstruct the paradigms that have driven the reading/presentation/representation of the arts in the local Zambian art scene by critically exploring art production and new media.
Selected participants have worked together with established artists, authors, art historians, scholars, and curators to explore practices, concepts, critical thinking, and experimentation on new ways to reflect on de-coloniality.
The group was facilitated by Ebba Moi from Tenthaus and Helen Eriksen with guest researcher and artist Emma Wolukau Wanambwe. Participants included Megan McNamara, artist and Filmmaker (Cape Town, South Africa); Dominic Nshimba web developer and LoCA team member (Livingstone, Zambia); Emeldah Mpilipili aspiring curator and organizer (Livingstone/Lusaka, Zambia); Mwape Mumbi (Kabwe, Zambia) aspiring curator; Isaac Kalambata, artist (Lusaka, Zambia); Stephane Kabila, philosopher and curator (Lubumbashi, DR Congo); Lucas Ngoma, filmmaker (Livingstone, Zambia); Bwanga ”Benny Blow” Kapumpa, fiction Writer (Lusaka, Zambia); Bitter Sweet Chibuku, lawyer, poet and writer (Livingstone, Zambia); and filmmaker Nelson Siisi, also a team member of LoCA.
Selected participants from this group presented their work in an exhibition titled A Glimmer of Resistance that opened at the National Art Gallery Livingston in December 2020. The exhibition showcased new artworks by Isaac kalambata and Bwanga ‘Benny Blow’ Kapumpa and was curated by Emeldah Mpilipili and Stephane Kabila-Kyowa.
A Glimmer of Resistance seeks to bring attention on how we perceive and process histories and information, engaging the viewer to relook at the same forms, or listen to the same stories heard over a long time differently. In the act of relooking at histories and its processes, one raises new questions, reflects on the deeper context of the tools that may have enabled or hindered its survival. In the exhibition, the artists are engaging in the process of retrieving the silenced voices in both our history and in today’s social issues and political debate. They interrogate perceptions and short-sighted narratives that have determined the misreading of whole communities and suggest new or alterative meaning. Through this gesture the artists are enacting care and repair of our histories, which is itself an act of resistance.
A second group of artists including Stéphane Kabila Kyowa, Mwape J. Mumbi, Megan McNamara, Lucas Ngoma and Bittersweet will present their work in an exhibition titled The Sun Will Always Shine opening on 2 April 2021. The exhibition is curated by Stéphane Kabila Kyowa and Mwape J. Mumbi, assisted by Sana Ginwalla and Jonathan Dingani Sakala.
In the global south, the mantra ‘…the Sun will never set on the Empire…’ is a hark back to Imperial Britain, also home and employer of poet and era social-political critic John Milton, famous for his literary epic ‘Paradise Lost’. The Sun Will Always Shine exhibition collectively draws parallels to Milton’s scepticism at the melding of state, royalty and religion in government and commercial affairs, alerting “…they who have put out the eyes of the people reproach them of their blindness…” The works in the exhibition in their respective ways interrogate positions of power between the masses and leadership; for instance, Lucas Ngoma’s works Field of Hope and Udyela olo Udyewa are two installations that feed into each other. Field of Hope alludes to an illusional hope that symbolises a scenario of the people’s power to provide for themselves. At the same time, Udyela olo Udyewa articulates the state’s manipulation in the production of the maize and how the same becomes a tool of political manoeuvring and oppression. Bittersweet’s Fallacies is an installation that invites the viewer to self-reflect as they participate in a gesture looking into mirrors arranged in wooden boxes – almost in the same way one confronts the ballot box. In the same way as Ngoma’s work, Bittersweet’s installation plays with words to highlight misconceptions between the masses and the leadership – the installation seeks to bring about dialogue on the meaning of what democracy is.
A small publication documenting all the activities of the 2020 Mini-Lab programme will be launched at the same time.
A fresh batch of young artists and curators have already been enrolled for the 2021 online Mini-Lab programme, and more will be added through an open call.
ABOUT LIVINGSTON OFFICE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS
The Livingstone Office for Contemporary Arts (LoCA), founded in 2014 is an artist-initiated non-profit library and research centre based in Livingstone, Zambia. LoCA functions as a collective/collaborative platform for reflections and an experimental think-tank, exploring histories (colonial histories, social and political histories and their legacies) and how they relate to language and contemporary art on both a local and an international context. LoCA strives to raise awareness, facilitate and promote Zambian contemporary art, African art history, and research.
LoCA provides a critical discourse towards urban Zambian contemporary issues through exhibitions, workshops, research projects, artist residence and periodicals. LoCA aims to be a community-driven space where experimental practices and fresh perspectives are fostered and shared among interdisciplinary artists, curators, scholars, cultural workers and audiences in the region.