Dress Code: the politics of dress, oppression and self-determination in the works of Zemba Luzamba

By Kirsty Cockerill

Zemba Luzamba sits on a black swivel desk chair in his Cape Town home studio, surrounded by methodically organised paintings in progress, his white t-shirt freshly ironed is neatly tucked into misty blue jeans. The T-shirt is branded with the black logo of Picha, the art biennale held in his home town of Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of Congo). Fire engine red socks assert themselves before disappearing into his brilliantly polished shoes. I relax into a chestnut coloured leather couch warm from the sun, my feet comfortable on a Prussian blue and burgundy Persian carpet. Drinking tea out of crockery decorated with the cobalt blue willow pattern, we begin our conversation on the morning Africa hears that Robert Mugabe has died.

Through our conversation I seek to investigate three distinct yet interwoven aspects of Luzamba’s practise. The first is the inclusion of historically significant articles of clothing and the body posture of his subjects. The second relates to his use of paint, the colour, texture and compositional structure. The third is to understand the reasons that have lead Luzamba to produce his work in this way.

The conversation begins in his studio and continues for the next three weeks, first as a trickle of restrained emails, and later as a bouquet of voice notes. Luzamba is straightforward, charismatic, an easy and generous conversationalist when you get him on a subject he has feeling for. His manner of speaking, the pronunciation and affectation pumps gravitas into words and concepts he has passion for. The repetitive patterns of his speech builds the timing, a story teller of much grandeur, the voice notes are an auditory delight, English spoken with the reverberation of a French- African accent.

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