To curve a creative piece of art is such a valuable talent, which does not only need inspiration, but also requires resources and focus for it to be achieved. In other words, to produce a compelling artwork requires creative ideas and a whole world of time, soul and heart for one to concentrate.
But just imagine a work you have spent a great deal of time on and put all your efforts and creativity as magnificent work only to gather dust in your house or shelve of your shop? Instead, what you get from majority of people are heaps of praise of great skill vested in you without buying your work.
In a nutshell, this is the status of visual arts in Malawi. Visual artists argue that, for a long time, they have faced a continued negative perception of Malawian arts. Spokesman for Southern Region chapter’s Visual Arts Association of Malawi (Vaam), Peter Ndalama, said support for visual arts begins with inner appreciation among people. But this was not always the case among many Malawians.
Ndalama said: “The major problem which visual arts encountered in 2015 remains the same challenge which has been there for many years. It is to do with lack of appreciation of visual arts among many Malawians. We lack local people who can deeply understand visual arts and start supporting it.”
He said artworks of most visual artists in the country have improved over time. But still some quarters do not appreciate them due to lack of deep connection towards them.
He added: “There are several artworks that do appeal due to their artistic, sensitivity or controversy in nature. Yet a Malawian eye can’t see and appreciate that. So, I feel the problem is big and needs a mindset change.”
The Vaam spokesman, who also runs an art make-shift in Blantyre, suggested that arts be taught in schools so that people are fully introduced to its concepts and significance at tender age.
He said: “I believe through that way Malawi can start building a generation which appreciates arts for future benefits. Art is good for it helps to free our mind and satisfies our soul. At the same time, art helps us to express ourselves better in a way that we don’t under normal circumstances.”
On the other hand, 2015 saw visual artists engaging an extra gear, producing and exhibiting stunning works at different venues such as Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf), Kwa Haraba Arts gallery, just to mention but a few places.
Malawi is home to such gifted visual artists as Moment Chaweza, Dalitso Disi Chirwa, Bruno Matumbi, Jay Josh, Chrisford Chayera, Chifundo Subiri, Gilbert Guy B Mwaungulu, Chipiliro Chikwekwe, and Kondwani James Chunda whose powerful portrait which was exhibited at Baf depicted President Peter Mutharika and his Vice Saulos Chilima. He also displayed a portrait of South African gospel diva Rebecca Malope. But none of the artists made sales from their artworks.
Bearing a testimony to visual artists’ hard work in 2015, one of them Elson Kambalu was recognised during Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) innovation awards ceremony held at the Malawi College of Medicine Sports Complex in Blantyre.
The year also registered an imposing participation of female visual artists at different forums. For example, out of 12 artists that exhibited at Kwa Haraba Art gallery in Blantyre, five were females. These were Thokozani Liwimbi, Eneless Pemba, Thandie Mjima, Joyce Chiseled and Alice Takomana.
However, despite their courage to take the visual arts to the next level, lack of proper market continues to haunt the country’s visual artists, females in particular. The few existing spaces such as Ziboliboli both in Lilongwe’s Old town and Blantyre are not conducive especially to female counterparts. As a result, most of female artists play the trade in their respective homes and rely on acquaintances to buy their artworks in order to make a living.
“If you go at Zibolibi centres both in Blantyre and Lilongwe you will notice that the business environment is not conducive for female artists. And government should consider building a conducive venue,” said Mjima.
She cited Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) as one of the ideal places which government can consider creating space for visual artists in order for them to exhibit and market their work.
“This can not only help artists make their ends meet through arts but also help government to collect enough revenue,” she said.
During 2015’s Baf, through the minister of Sports and Culture Grace Chiumia, government expressed interest to turn Blantyre Cultural Centre into a haven of arts including visual arts. n