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When you look at the work of Stary Mwaba your first thought may very probably be, ‘Why have I never heard of this artist before?’ Stary Mwaba: remember the name, you will not forget his work. His paintings, within the cultural context of Zambia, his home, take great risks in their concepts and themes and yet his technique is so accessible, in other words he challenges the viewer without alienating them.
One of my favourites is entitled ‘I am not Your Stereotype.’ At first glance it may seem like a beautifully executed picture of a girl sitting, half-lounging (a common stance for Stary’s subjects) surrounded by abstract, almost human forms. But let’s look a little closer. First of all, see her hair, slightly golden brown in colour – unteased and natural. Then, let’s look at the thigh and the back that are exposed, with the light glinting off them, wrapped casually in a chitenge – a Zambian cloth that women wear traditionally for modesty or to protect their clothes from dirt. In Zambian culture it is taboo for a woman to reveal these areas of her body, and yet here they are on display. Move now to the face and note the look of lazy defiance. She is beautiful, she is African and she is not afraid.
Stary’s painting ‘Baby’ was not well received in South Africa. The depiction of a black girl holding a white doll was seen as inappropriate, as if the addition of a white doll was an oversight, a mistake. That girl holding a doll, has a great deal of power in my opinion. The doll has no clothes apart from socks, whereas the girl is fully clothed. This touch subverts the nature of the poor African girl running around in rags – it is the white doll that is naked. His marriage of technical skill, abstract exploration and genuine affection for his subjects in his paintings make your mouth water. If it is possible to be gently controversial, Stary Mwaba has achieved it. I believe this is just the beginning for Stary, his work is becoming more experimental as he grows as an artist. In September, not only will he exhibit in Lusaka, but also fly to New York to take part in a residency at the Watermill, Brooklyn. For more on his work you can visit his website: http://starymwaba.webs.com.