Written by on March 2, 2019

WAYI WAYI is a name that is now very familiar once you get to Livingstone city, the tourist capital of Zambia. This name is very much attached to art; especially the art of two prolific and most profound visual artists, Lawrence Yombwe and wife, Agnes Buya.

The longest I visited Wayi wayi was when I was an apprentice to Mr. Yombwe himself. However, my journey this time took me to investigate the creative and innovative side of this couple, not just in their artistic vocation but in their art business as well. Their strategic thinking, knowledge and management skills, and incredible team work have seen the creation of a resident wing to Wayi wayi studio and art gallery.

The newly built resident wing of Wayi wayi art studio and gallery

The resident wing to the studio and gallery, is a long block with three partitions. The first two parts are meant for visiting artists, researchers, scholars, students and art collectors wishing to stay over and perhaps engage in either art business or scholarly work. While the third part is space for conferences and where visiting artists can do their work.

In the past few years and months Wayi-wayi has seen the arrival and departure of different artists and researchers, each with a different purpose and mission. These individuals have come not only from within Zambia nevertheless, from as far as the USA.

The first artist to take residence was a young sculptor whose talented hands baffled many. Roy Phiri aged 12 from St. Raphael Secondary School in Livingstone. His creates sculptures made from miniature material that he picks from around Livingstone. His robotic works at Wayi Wayi studio and gallery were created under the generosity and auspices of this couple.

Part of Wayi wayi studio displaying the couple’s works

From an international perspective Wayi wayi studio and gallery also saw the coming of artist Russell Ford all the way from the USA. A 67 year old retired award winning teacher of art in Hockinson middle and high schools and a onetime named Washington Art Educator of the year. Ford was invited as the first artist in residence at Wayi Wayi. His stay there left a mark. Furthermore, his interaction with artists also made a tremendous aesthetic contribution. 

Another artist worth mentioning is an installation artist, Ruth Stanford, whose presentation took place on the 2nd July, 2018. A professor of sculpture at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia – USA. She presented her marvellous work and took questions from the gathered artists.

The resident wing of Wayi wayi is very significant for many reasons as the contemporary art scene in Zambia continues to evolve in the face of ever changing challenges. First and foremost, it stands out as both a studio and gallery because of its unique and inimitable purpose and mission. As artists look for ways of marketing and establishing their art business; there is certainly an urgent need for facilities such as the one at wayi wayi.

The preservation of cultural values and art which are deeply rooted in the mbusa traditional motifs and visual elements present there, makes it a unique place where art and culture meet in an incredible way. Art is a chamber of culture. In other words, it rejuvenates and preserves culture.  Wayi wayi Studio and Gallery gives testimony to this visual dialogue between art as such and the harnessed cultural motifs that represent the existential Philosophy of the mbusa traditional values as well as the visual representations of social conceptions of taboo notions, as expressed by Agnes’ art. Furthermore, this makes it ideal for research, study and art exchange programmes that will contribute to the ongoing discussions on Zambian contemporary art.  Besides that, it is also a school for the youngsters whose parents take them there to have hands on experience of learning the basics of drawing and painting. This contribution to the Zambian contemporary art scene is vital in the development of contemporary art in Zambia. The amazing part of Wayi wayi, is its versatile character. It caters for both the young and the old, the seasoned as well as the upcoming artists, scholars as well as non-scholars, curators as well as ordinary art lovers. In the middle of all these programmes the two artists, Lawrence and Agnes, still find time to articulate their works of art while at the same time attend to their ever curious visitors, whose enquiries at times can take more of their time.

During my visit this time I was confronted by two fundamental questions; what really makes it uniquely attractive to both locals and foreigners? The second questions is: what has made Wayi wayi to gain this international status?  The vitality, originality, sense of hospitality and a deep sense of humanity here is the secret; before one engages in a conversation about the structures and facilities. This strategic approach of establishing a resident wing is a sure way of keeping the flavour of Zambian art as fresh as ever. The creativity of Lawrence and Agnes, needs recognition because culture and art preserved as they are, give life to a nation. One can tell the commitment and investment that has gone into this place just from the way the place appears. If this couple were focussed on luxurious living and eating; the place could not have reached where it is now.

Agness’s mixed media works expressing taboos

When passion, creativity and talent meet, the results are tremendous. Wayi wayi is a place where passion, hard work, creativity and innovation brew to form a taste of art that is unmatched. The results are evident in the way it is receiving attention not only locally but, internationally as well. Tourists, locals, visual artists, journalists, university students, researchers and scholars leave with a sense of appreciation. Not only that, it is the human spirit with a cheerful attitude one meets here, that add to Wayi wayi’s uniqueness. This ambitious couple is taking art to greater heights, redefining it in a society that has very poor visual perception and apperception for the arts. Indeed Lawrence and wife Agnes are bringing art to life once again in an economy that is struggling especially in the arts and cultural sector.

The journey of wayi wayi studio and gallery, from its inception to where it is now, is deeply reflected in the philosophy of Lawrence’s Art; in which he depicts the journey of life coupled with its complementary values such as love, justice, peace, respect, selflessness, responsibility and wisdom. Without any doubt these are fundamental values that form the human character. Wayi wayi has certainly evolved into a profound centre for research, study and viewing of art. Judging it from an aesthetic point of view, it has become a beacon of hope and resilience for the Zambian contemporary art.                                         

Just as this studio and art gallery has seen its ups and downs, the colourful acrylic paintings and Agnes’ taboo depictions give witness to this long and arduous journey the place has made in this harsh and biting economy. Perhaps it would be a good idea when you get to Livingstone to spare some time and make a visit to Wayi Wayi. What you will find there will leave you with a deep impression of life and the meaning of being African. In a society that has a tendency of looking down on artists, the power of art at Wayi wayi studio and art gallery is something that strikes the code of your existence. Its influence and sweeping authority is undeniable.

History is in the making here. With Agnes Buya’s newly published book titled “It is Taboo”, in which she articulates commonly held social beliefs and customs that need to be talked about. She further advocates for openness and dialogue about these cultural shocks. This book complements her visual self-expression. I am pretty sure that the power of Zambian Contemporary art and its ripples will be felt not only in Livingstone but all over Africa and the world over. Zambia’s contemporary art scene suffers the haemorrhage of a huge gap between artists, curators and art writers; hence, such efforts as the one made by Agnes cannot go without recognition and commendation. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article that Wayi wayi is a versatile place, from scholarly work to academics, studio work, exhibitions, as well as research and cultural studies. Indeed in a country with few writers and contributors towards art and cultural studies, this book is a milestone in the development of arts and culture. You can grab a copy from Candice’s Art shop, behind New Deli Restaurant along Lunzua road in Thorn Park. It is currently selling at K490.00 a copy.

Agnes Buya’s newly published book

In the next few editions, I will be heading to the recently created Lechwe Trust Art gallery in Thorn Park and then down to Livingstone once again to check on the National Art Gallery. I will then wrap it up with the Henry Tayali Gallery in the show grounds. Such facilities deserve the attention of the public because they remain centres of modern civilisation to this country.

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