Pablo Picasso’s 1907 Les Demoiselles D’Avignon oil on canvas is one of his legendary paintings which evoked controversial anger from the public and critics. It depicted five prostitutes in a disconcerting manner surrounded by a savage aura of primitivism.
Writing on www.whitecubediaries.wordpress.com, Lydia Anderson said people found Picasso’s painting bizarre in its painterly flatness but also geometric deconstruction of the figure in the manner women were portrayed. That is the power of visual art that helped to kindle people’s emotions.
Back home, the ruling elite and political heavyweights have taken advantage particularly of the poor masses in the country. For example, some politicians, including other powerful people in society, have been embezzling public resources meant for development. Yet, none has come up with a controversial political piece to depict the suffering of the poor.
But as corruption continues to happen in the country, visual artist Ken Namalomba has taken an extra mile to investigate political causes which are devastating the country’s development through his multi-million kwacha painting titled Broken Love.
When the subject of the plunder of public resources is being tackled in the country, what quickly comes to the mind of many people is the infamous cashgate scandal where billions of kwacha were looted, leaving poor Malawians begging for development for days on end. But Namalomba has created a painting which depicts the root causes of suffering in Malawi.
Though not easy to interpret the story upon the first glance, Broken Love is a controversial painting which was officially unveiled last week Thursday in Blantyre at Kwa Haraba Art Gallery. It highlights numerous ills such as cashgate, narrow-mindedness, dependency syndrome and other evils currently harming Malawi, according to Namalomba.
He justifies his controversial painting in an interview with On The Arts: “I no longer see reasons why I should waste my skill and energy on decorative art yet my people are suffering in silence. Something is wrong with the country’s governance. Hence, the Broken Love painting.”
The painting is pegged at K7.5 million although the artist said the money is not worth people’s suffering.
“You can’t peg a value to the people’s tears or suffering in the country. Not even the K7.5 million price of this painting. The price tries to send a strong message to people of Malawi that the suffering is too much. We need to slow down corruption and the dependency syndrome,” said Namalomba.
He said numerous evils that powerful individuals in the country commit affect poor people on the ground.
“We exist because people exist and we are employed to serve the interests of a certain sector of people in our society. But it becomes problematic when we abuse our power and inflict pain and misery on the very people we serve,” he said.
Namalomba cited serious repercussions on corruption and other dishonest dealings on poor people.
“It doesn’t make sense for our hospitals to run without drugs because someone is embezzling public funds,” he challenged.
Generally, all art is political in nature because it engages society in some way, either influencing or influenced by it. But some works, such as Namalomba’s Broken Love converse more directly to concerns relating to the suffering of people in the country.
It talks about a number of things such as over dependence on donor aid, underutilisation of natural resources and the continued blame game among Malawians.
“Our focus is on donor aid that’s why we continue suffering because of dependency syndrome. And when donors stop assisting the country, we tend to be in depression. When we have resources, corruption creeps in. We need to rise above this to liberate our country from suffering,” said Namalomba.
He said at 52, Malawians should not have been crying for medicine in public hospitals or maize had it been there was no rampant corruption.
Commenting on the trend of visual arts in the country, Visual Arts Association of Malawi (Vaam) president Mike Chilemba urged the country’s visual artists to be advocates of change by producing objective works of art, like Namalomba.
“Namalomba’s painting is a masterpiece. Arts should break barriers. To this regard, let me take this opportunity to encourage visual artists in the country to be creative and advocate change,” said Chilemba.
He commended growing artists’ creativity and the establishment of private art galleries.
“Private art galleries improve competition among visual artists as they are putting their best capability to find space in such galleries. However, the only drawback in Malawi is lack of public art galleries which complement private galleries,” said Chilemba. n