Canvassing myths of Malawi

There are several aspects about Malawian culture that are not told, but the Germany-Malawi Symposium, held under the theme ‘Myths of Malawi’, has exposed more on local myths and folktales while highlighting their moral significance.

The symposium, drawing artists from Malawi and Germany, has been taking place at Kris Heide’s residence in Mandala, Blantyre since Monday and ends today.

Chikabadwa with her paintings at the symposium
Chikabadwa with her paintings at the symposium

Artworks created by the 12 artists during the symposium will be exhibited today until 16 May at La Caverna in Blantyre. Thereafter, the exhibition will move to Lilongwe from June 4 until June 25 at the Old Town Mall.

Although all of the artworks created at the symposium have focussed on Malawian myths and folktales, there is variety in individual styles and genres.

At the veranda of the house-cum-art studio sat Eva Chikabadwa’s colourful portraits of folktales of Kamdothi and Kachitsa in a mixture of realism and fantasy.

“I like making my paintings so obvious to my audience because I learnt most Malawians find it hard to interpret and appreciate abstract art. So, I paint on the edge of realism and fantasy. As you can see, these are stories most Malawians know,” said Chikabadwa.

Inside the studio, with Malawian chitenje as canvas, were Kris Heide’s Sharing versus Envy paintings that welcomed one upon entry. On the sharing side, the human faces share their shadows, highlights and texture; on the envy side, they are separated by a barrier.

“I noticed that in both Malawian and German cultural values, sharing is the most common virtue, so I thought of a way of telling that,” said Heidi.

Moving around the studio one appreciates Peter Paul Ndyani’s untitled colour paintings which tackle the myths around getting riches and sacrifices and Theophany Nammelo — Eva Chikabadwa’s protégé — who painted The Tale of Animal Tails on three canvass frames jig-sawed together to complete the story.

Visiting German artists Michael Plaetshke, Karl Dautermann and Mark Krause were in the backyard doing final touches on paintings they produced during a ‘performance painting’ with inspiration from live music by Agorosso on Sunday at Mibawa.

In an interview with The Nation, Krause said he was inspired by the rhythm of Agorosso’s music with the slow tunes in the first section of the performance, provoking soft bush strokes and fast tempo inspiring heavy strokes.

“When I hear music I start to see faces and scenes that relate to it. It took me about an hour and a half to complete the painting. But it was not only the music that inspired the painting. It was the people around, the temperature, the Malawian culture and the general environment all together,” said Krause.

“I have learnt that for our Malawian counterparts, this is not just art for aesthetics, it is part of the culture, such as the beautiful stories they have told,” said Dautermann.

Malawian artist Kenneth Namalomba, a fresh graduate from Chancellor College, said he has learnt from his fellow artists that art is not only about money but about passion to share experiences.

“I have seen how these guys work. They are very hard working. Even the Germans confess that money is a secondary benefit for them,” said Namalomba.

For David Mzengo, the symposium has also been a platform for the artists to retell some myths that were endangered such as the Napolo myths.

Mzengo, who specialises graffiti, said he decided to paint his piece Floodlights: The Wrath of Napolo to give the recent floods a cultural perspective.

“I have been listening to the radio throughout time of the floods and I noticed that nobody is talking about Napolo. It seems people are forgetting the story,” said Mzengo.

But it was easy for Ellis Singano Junior as he retold stories from his father’s (Ellis Singano) book, Tales of the Old Malawi. Singano painted batik portraits of Pherezunje and Chimsoro.

The 12 artists will have an exhibition that starts today at La Caverna and runs for a month before moving to Lilongwe for an exhibition that starts on June 4 until June 25 at the Old Town Mall.

Heide said they intend to take the artworks to Germany where she will have exhibitions in a number of galleries in several cities. She also added that she is making a documentary and catalogue of the project which she will beam at the exhibitions in Germany.

“This will also boost the portfolios of the artists as they can use the catalogue to enter international competitions and festivals,” said Heide.

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