15 Dec Patrick Mumba’s Paintings Look at the Impermanence of Life through Environmental Degredation
If all life must come to an inevitable end as a result of time, then it is the job of the artist to capture the moments that arrest and immortalise that life. Through a series of multi-layered, highly textured paintings, Zambian artist Patrick Mumba focuses his brush on the impermanence of life and the time in between various forms of beginnings and endings.
Titled Time in Between, Patrick’s work questions how certain abstractions engage with the relative notion of time and how this links to the processes of ageing and decaying in life, by focusing specifically on the despoiling of the Zambian landscape by the copper mining industry.
The body of work formed part of his Masters in Fine Art which he recently completed in Grahamstown at the university currently known as Rhodes. He is also a lecturer and head of the Education department at Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka and has had works exhibited worldwide—an experience that has led Patrick towards a better understanding of how the international art world views ‘African art’.
We had a chat with Patrick about his recent Masters exhibition, the state of the arts in Zambia, and abstract art in the realm of African Modernism.
Before we discuss your art, can you tell us a bit about yourself and when you first knew you wanted to pursue art as a career?
My knowledge about wanting to pursue art as a career became more evident after I completed my high school career in the early eighties and joined Evelyn Hone College to study an Art Teachers Diploma.
Your most recent exhibition, Time In Between looks at the despoiling of the Zambian landscape through copper mining. Was this a very personal body of work for you? How did you go about conceptualising it?
Yes the work is personal, but driven by colonial greed. African greed, and personal experience impact my work. Life is always a temporary situation, an idea which I develop as Time in Between, the beginning and the ending and the young and the aged, the new and the old. In my practice I break down these dichotomies, questioning how abstractions engage with the relative notion of time and how this links to the process of ageing and decaying and how it affects our life span. The abstract paintings in my exhibition titled Time in Between address ‘in –between time’, engaging with the process of ageing and decaying. In this body of work I have painted various stages of ageing and death in living creatures and in plants, and the decay of objects and materials. I have linked this to the aesthetic process of moving from representational art to abstract art. My practice is concerned not only with the aesthetics of these paintings but also, more importantly, with translating each specific theme into the formal qualities of abstraction.
Works such as your Global Warming series also speak to environmental degradation through human processes. How effective do you think art is in combatting environmental issues?
Art can be very effective in raising awareness about global warming and the consequences of climate change if promoted.
These paintings in particular are incredibly detailed with a number of layers and styles overlaying one another. How long did it take you to complete a painting and what was your process?
The painting process was quite slow and calculated, each layer of paint was only applied once the one underneath was completely dry. This was to avoid the colour becoming mud and losing its brilliance. Because of that, on average it took one month to complete a painting, but depending on the weather at times it took even longer.
You’re heavily involved in the development of contemporary art in Zambia. What’s the state of Zambia’s arts scene and arts education like?
The Zambian art scene is relatively small, and currently abstract art remains rare in Zambia. There is a tendency for Zambians and foreign collectors to think that abstract art is the preserve of Westerners and that Zambian artists should produce paintings based on realistic themes. Therefore, my practice of working in abstraction has enabled me to engage theoretically with abstraction’s relative absence in Zambia. In Zambia since independence in 1964, there is no school of Fine Art at any government universities. The highest qualification one can get is an Art Teachers Diploma which is offered at Evelyn Hone College in the Education Department which I head.
You grew up in Zambia where much of your work is well received. What made you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in a small town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape?
The difficulty in Zambia, as I mentioned earlier, is that there is just no school of Fine Art at university level apart from the newly opened, privately owned Open University which has started offering an undergraduate Fine Art programme, not at a Masters level hence my coming to Rhodes University which is among the best in Africa.
You’ve had work exhibited all over the world. How have international audiences taken to your work and how well does African art translate to international narratives?
My abstract paintings have been well received, however African art internationally hasn’t been appreciated. That is why in my research I critique the Western notion that African abstract art is not ‘African’ and that African abstract art is a mere copy of Western Modernism.
Can you elaborate on your Masters research?
Together the exhibition and the thesis analyse in depth abstraction and its role in’ African Modernism’. I have also related the theoretical and practical analysis of abstraction to scholarly debates on abstraction and ‘African Modernism’ arguing for multiple African Modernisms as, the notion of a single African Modernism is too homogenous. I have used a study of abstraction to interrogate notions of so called ‘African- ness’ or ‘Zambian-ness’ whilst simultaneously challenging the Western stereotypical view of African modern art.
And lastly, what does 2016 hold for you?
It holds a lot of challenges ahead.