In Malawi, it is said that locals do not really respect visual art. For those who see visual artists selling their merchandise by the road side, the attitude is that the sellers are targeting azungu (white tourists). So, when James Tambula discovered that he had a talent to use a pencil and create magic, he was not sure if he could pursue it as a full time career. When this reporter came across his art pieces at the just ended 10 days of Malawian Art exhibition at Latitude Hotel in Lilongwe, she was in awe of his expertise.
From faces to figures to landscapes, the pieces were simply breath-taking.
“I discovered that I had talent when I was in primary school. Throughout my school life everybody who saw my sketches told me I would be an artist. So, after MSCE I tried to study accounts but I dropped it and pursued Graphic Designing instead,” said Tambula in an interview.
The visual artist said after studying graphic designing he got a lot of help from seasoned artists like Boston Mbale, the late Vic Kasinja and the late Innocent Willinga who was also his workmate at Top Advertising and later at Roofhouse Ogilvy.
“Mbale told me that I should nurture my skills before I go for the money otherwise I would end up like guys who paint Imfa Sithawika. So, I took my time working as a designer at different organisations sharpening my skills,” he said.
Tambula decided to pursue a further art course in 2017 in South Africa where he ended up at Living Artists Emporium.
“This is where I was drilled into becoming the professional contemporary artist that I am today,” he said.
The visual artist said locally his highlights include his works at La Galleria, Kwa Haraba Arts Cafe, La Carvena, Jacaranda Cultural Centre and other places.
He disclosed that his art pieces which include faces, figures, abstracts, animals and other objects have been sold during various exhibitions all around the world.
The visual artist however said it is sometimes disheartening to note that some Malawians do not fully appreciate visual art and all the hard work that goes into it.
He said: “Yes, many times some people say my pieces are expensive but others do value and appreciate because they know the process. So, for those who don’t know I teach them so that they appreciate that being an artist is like any other profession which takes more than 10 years to become a professional.”
Tambula, who uses acrylics and mixed media on a canvas, said he is planning on starting to use metal soon.
“My favourite is figures and faces because figures tell a story while faces show expression,” said Tambula.
Tambula is of the view that Malawi has a bright future and has lots of talented visual artists.
“We need to have a national gallery, a museum, visual festivals and also government must involve us in decorating cities when they have international events,” he said.
Among other events, Tambula has participated in Wesm Art in the Park exhibition, 10 Days of Malawian Art, Breaking the Rules of Arts exhibition (in South Africa), among other exhibition.
The visual artist, who idolises Nigel Mullins from South Africa, is currently a managing partner of Artium Solutions Limited which is an advertising firm.
Visual artist Evelyn Chisambiro, who participated in the 10 Days of Malawian Art exhibition, said she hopes the government opens more doors for visual artists who have proved their talent over and over again.
She said: “As visual artists we expect more from government. During the exhibition, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture loved our work. He said he was impressed and was thankful that we are contributing to the economy of the country and to the development of the industry.
Latitude Hotel manager Roland Stilting said Malawi has talent and the future of visual artists is bright.
“More arts lovers seem to know more about visual art. Holding the exhibition was our way of recommitting to culture. Visual art was the first big chunk of the arts spectrum. The feedback has been positive,” he said.