Despite tragic past, artist brings joy, beauty to paintings

Painting by the Zambian self-taught artist Paul Banda in his exhibition From Africa with Love at Compônere Gallery of Art.

By Sarah Weinman

The paintings by the Zambian self-taught artist Paul Banda in his exhibition From Africa with Love at Compônere Gallery of Art are so joyful and beautiful that I was shocked to learn he came to the United States under the most unfortunate circumstances: He was a victim of human trafficking.  (He is now a student at Washington University.) 

Though Banda’s paintings depict everyday scenes such as drum-playing and market day, he experiments with the concept of space through the use of lines and color, creating a modern take on traditional subject matter.  The artist’s exploration of objects in space extends to his construction of intricate wire sculptures of cars.

The acrylic painting titled Achipadzuwa (Beauty That Dims the Sun) portrays six women with abstract faces in long, flowing, colorful dresses whose bright colors (green, blue, red, and yellow) evoke the tropics.  The women wear oversized hoop earrings that touch their shoulders.  Banda’s long, loose, curving brushstrokes convey a sense of festivity, joy, and motion.

Women feature prominently in another equally striking and intriguing piece, Pa Msika (Market Place).  Four women stand in the foreground with large round baskets at their feet.  In the background, six more women with bundles walk in, across, and out of the frame.  The artist painted the figures, baskets, and the background in rectangular patches of various colors, pastels for the background and bold colors for the foreground.  Banda’s technique breaks up the women’s dresses, faces and their belongings into a colorful patchwork. 

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In addition to painting, the exhibition features complex wire sculptures of cars.  Kachoule (VW Beetle), 26” x 10” x 13”, is created entirely from wire.  Banda has left visible the inside of the car as well, including the engine, seats, steering wheel, and gearshift, all made from elaborate coils and twists of wire.  Kachoule and the other cars in the show are proportionate and delicate, artistic versions of scale models.

Paul Banda: From Africa with Loveis on view at Compônere Gallery of Art through September 27.  Compônere is located at 6509 Delmar Blvd.  Gallery hours are Monday – Thursday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.; and Sunday 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  For more information, call 314-721-1181 or visit