Malangatana, the artist from Africa

Plate 1: The Masters address
Source: Personal collection.

Plate 2: …and afterwards, flowers bloomed
Source: African Arts; Vol. V, Number 2; Winter 1972

He sprinkled water onto the paper, mopped it up a little then proceeded to draw on it in pen and red ink. A self - portrait soon emerged, some parts obscured as a result of the water. Then the artist went on to complete the composition by writing his address around the portrait. Anyone seeing the composition would imagine the paper was splashed by mistake - but that is not so. This is the everyday drama that surrounds the "greatest living artist in Africa" Malangatana Valente Ngwenye. Malangatana is an artist, poet, musician, dancer, actor and sculptor. Born in 1936 at Matalana village of Mozambique, Malangatana to me is Mozambique itself. He embodies the struggles of the people of Mozambique, the resistance to violence, the political upheavals (he spent eighteen months in prison on politically related charges) and the challenges of independence.

I first came into contact with Malangatana through his work at the Museum in Mozambique. As I viewed the work I thought how violent his paintings looked. Nearly all his paintings had a knife depicted somewhere. Cruel images, wide-eyed human bodies with extremely white teeth always looking upwards, painted in strong reds and browns. Many of these paintings were done around the time of armed struggle in Mozambique. Malangatana is a warm, down to earth, strong Mozambican icon who spends his time in his residence that doubles up as a museum and studio. He speaks at least six languages that include French, Spanish, Portuguese and English. He even managed "Habari gani."

It would not be fitting to talk about Malangatana, without a mention of his Matalana project. This is a village concept that will thrive on the rich cultural heritage of the people when completed. With his longtime friend, renowned architect Jose Forjaz, Malangatana has conceptualised a village that will facilitate skills development in traditional crafts such as weaving and sculpture, musical ensembles and exhibitions.

A UNESCO international goodwill ambassador, Malangatana is a great son of Africa. He celebrates his culture, enjoys his art and is passionate about the quality of life of his people.

Article by: By Lilac Osanjo, School of The Arts and Design, University of Nairobi