On a crisp yet sunny Wednesday mid-morning, we met with Mrs Cynthia Zukas MBE, for insightful and thought provoking-discussion. Internationally and nationally reputed to have contributed enormously to the Arts, helping Zambian artists to prominence, as well as contributing to the future of the Zambian art world.
South African-born, and Lusaka-based artist, wife, mother, and all round humble individual, Mrs Zukas has made art in Zambia an art in itself. Our meeting was facilitated by Roy Kausa (read his interview here), we were agonisingly delighted to have the chance to meet Mrs Zukas – one of the founding members of The Lechwe Trust for the Visual Arts in Zambia.
The cooler months are upon us in the Southern Hemisphere, and after a spell of overcast days, it was fantastic to bask in the sunshine in the gardens of Zebra Crossing eaterie (Rhodespark, Lusaka), Mrs Zukas’ jovial demeanour matched perfectly with the weather. Also complementing the tone for the interview, is the warmth from the red hues, yellows, and oranges predominantly featured in her works, on display as part of the Jubilee Exhibition in Zambia – more to follow, below. Further adding to the ambiance, it just so happens there was an art class (which takes place every Wednesday) at the venue where the interview was.
Pots of English breakfast tea and a delicious heap of biscuits at the ready, we were all set to begin.
So who is Cynthia Zukas?
Born in the stunning Oceanside city of Cape Town South Africa, the eighty-something year old graduated with a BA degree in Fine Art (1952) from the University of Cape Town. She then went on to complete a graduate teacher’s diploma (in art) from the University of London. Whilst in the English capital, she met and married Simon Zukas – an influential and formidable force in Zambia’s struggle (1950s-60s) for independence.
Following independence, the Zukas family came to live in Zambia. Upon arrival Mrs Zukas knew she wanted to “contribute to this new country in a way that I felt best equipped, through my knowledge of art. I became involved in various art and heritage committees, and also started to sketch and paint. I was really excited by all I saw, and was particularly interested in the lives of the Zambian women: their hard lives, selling at the market, planting maize, and carrying babies on their backs. I was also fascinated by the tropical trees, the fruit and vegetables”.
Before long we were lost in time, as Mrs Zukas explained the influences and themes in her work. We were honoured to have a private walk-through tour of the exhibition, by
Mrs Zukas, who (similar to Zambia) celebrated 50 years of her work and life as an artist. The exhibition floor plan snakes around, follows a chronological pattern, and has posters from her respective public exhibitions, dating back from 1971 to the present day. The compositions, themes, and colours change over time. Rather apt, as what was a new country in the mid-60s, has evolved and also changed dramatically over time.
We didn’t get a chance to ask all of our questions, as we steered away from our usual interview format and spent a large majority of the time awed by her humility and kind nature. Rather germane, as we stepped out to make our way home, we spotted two young women carrying fresh produce on their heads, a sight we took special notice of, following our earlier conversation and many subject matters in Mrs Zukas work.